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    Spotted. The birds who flew to earth, and then will leave

    NewsBird NewsMonday 28 November 2011
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    Australia

     

    What is more astounding? The most beautiful wild bird in Melbourne has the power of invisibility. Or, the invisible bird tunnels into the ground to make a nest?
     
    Meet the spotted pardalote, Pardalotus punctatus.
     
    The birds are moderately common in suburbs where eucalypts are dense and the understorey is untidy. They hunt insects in the leafy upper canopy. Timid, tiny, too high, they are usually located only by their frequent calls.

     

    Until in spring when, for a few weeks, they return to earth to walk among humans and cats and foxes. Brave and silent, driven by the urge to breed.
     
    Now they are seen. Birds can emerge at a walker's feet and weave around legs, oblivious to well-behaved people. A lustrous black jet, bold white dots on the back (females are spotted yellow on the head), a flash of yellow at the throat and warm red on the rump.
     
    A pair, each about nine centimetres long, might dig a 60-centimetre-long burrow that opens into a dormitory for six: mum and dad and, initially, pea-sized white eggs.
     
    Parents are equal partners in child-raising. One will fly off, catch an insect and return to a branch overlooking the nest. It reconnoitres, ignores the bloke with a camera, drops to the ground, pauses to look about again, then walks underground.
     
    A minute or two later, the other emerges to hunt.
     
     
    Exit from a burrow is remarkable - the spotted pardalote is a vertical take-off machine. It jumps from its tunnel. Head and shoulders emerge, feet out of sight, body stretched and tilted forward, wings at its sides to clear the opening. The pardalote leaps about twice its own height before taking wing - out and flying in about half a second. Nests are sited in banks of earth to assist clearance.
     
    Subterranean life lasts three weeks. When the chicks are ready, the family returns to the treetops. Insubstantial, a rumour, a voice. Until next year.
     
    Parks and open spaces in cities belong to large, aggressive birds. Sit quietly by a pardalote nest in a thickness of remnant bush or green wedge anomaly and other shy, woodland birds might appear - robins, wrens, fantails and honeyeaters.
     
    If you are lucky, a spotted pardalote will lower its cloak of invisibility.
     

     

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