- Last updated:
- 24 Jan 2020
Forty years ago the name Eastern Yellow Robin didn’t exist! There were two species, the Southern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) and the Northern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria chrysorrhoa) which were regarded as separate species. Their size (15-16cm), habits and colouring with their grey heads and back, and bright yellow breast were alike but their rumps differed. The Northern species had a bright yellow rump while the Southern species was olive-coloured. In late 1970 it was decided that the two species were conspecific and were to be regarded as one species known as the Eastern Yellow Robin consisting of two races or two forms. The northern race (E. chrysorrhoa) is present from Cooktown south to northern New South Wales where there exists a certain amount of integration between the northern and southern forms. Further south the dominant race (E. australis) extends south into Victoria reaching south eastern South Australia (Tassie misses out). In Western Australia the Western Yellow Robin and the White-breasted Robin are closely related, belonging to the same genus, Eopsaltria.
The Eastern Yellow Robin inhabits a variety of environments such as rainforests, wet eucalypt, scrubby and wet gullies, ranges, paperbark and coastal woodlands and parks. Crucial to their survival in all these environments is the presence of a substantial middle to lower understory. If either of these vegetation layers are overly cleared or destroyed there can be a serious decline in the presence of Eastern Yellow Robins.
Like most of the robin family they are friendly little birds and will tolerate some human presence. They have a very inquisitive nature and will arrive to investigate unusual sounds watching quietly from a nearby branch. Similarly, they seek out their prey from vantage points on branches or clinging sideways on the trunks of a tree, scanning the ground with keen eyes for any small insects or ground spiders among the leaf litter or grassy areas. When they spot movement they dart to the ground and snatch their prey then fly immediately to a safe branch to devour their catch.
Their monotone call of a clear piping whistle can be heard early morning and evening and occasionally on an overcast day. It is generally the first call to start the dawn chorus, hence the meaning of Eopsaltria - dawn singer. At times they utter harsh scolding notes. Another call heard in the evening consists of two or three “tewp-tewp” finished by a sharp whistle with a tail flick and a wing drop. I love to hear this call when the robins come into my garden in the twilight when they take the opportunity to catch some tasty morsels safe from their predators who have retired to their night roost. Through the fading light I can just make them out darting down for insects in the grass - what sharp eyes they must have. They have a long day being the last to settle for the night despite being up at dawn.
There is also another call which is heard from late June until November which is a repetitive sharp two-noted call of “chop-chop” which starts up while still dark and continues for 20 minutes non-stop then ceases suddenly just as the first glow in the sky heralds the day. Sometimes a second caller will join in making the bush resonate with these fascinating calls which seem to be associated with the robins’ breeding season. When I first came to live on my little patch of bush this call mystified me. It would wake me every morning but due to the lack of light I was never able to locate the source. Then one evening I heard the call and crept towards the sound and there on a branch to my surprise was the Yellow Robin with his little body throbbing with the effort and flicking his tail on each “chop chop”.
Both sexes are similar in plumage colour and pattern but the female is slightly smaller. Juvenile Eastern Yellow Robins are dark brown with pale streaks, while the young adult robins are slightly duller than the parents. Their cup-shaped nest is placed in a vine or a low tree fork beautifully constructed of bark (paperbark if handy) and dry fibre bound with spider web and lined with soft leaves with external decorations of patches of bark and lichen. The male feeds the female while she incubates the eggs on the nest and together they raise the nestlings – usually two or three. After each feed the parent will stop for a moment to collect the gelatinous faecal sac excreted by the young and then dispose of it away from the nest. Nature is wonderful!
The other resident robin in this region is the Pale-yellow Robin (Tregellasia capito) present in dense rainforests in the low to middle canopies. At 13cm it is smaller than the Eastern Yellow Robin and although not closely related they do share many characteristics such as quiet friendly natures, clinging to tree trunks while searching for insects and similar nest construction.
Our lovely Yellow Robins give such character to our environment. Let’s hope enough suitable habitat survives to keep them here always.
Article by Janet Whish-Wilson
Photos courtesy of Rob Kernot