As we get deeply into autumn, I find myself missing the northern colors that mark the season – the rich oranges, yellows and reds of brilliantly changing foliage. In Florida, we’re fortunate to be lush and green year-round, but that also means we miss that iconic change of seasonal hues (though we have our own seasons, never fear). So, for this month’s featured birds, I’m going to highlight those amazing colors I miss – fortunately, there are many stunning birds that boast bright autumnal colors year-round in their plumage, starting with a lovely bird that, ironically, you’d find where it is now spring rather than fall.
Name: Spotted Pardalote, Diamond Bird or Speckled Manakin
Scientific Name: Pardalotus punctatus
Scientific Family: Pardalotidae (Pardalotes)
Habitat: Prefers open eucalyptus and gum tree forests, ideally with somewhat wet climates to encourage higher insect populations and more sap production for richer food sources. These birds are also found in parks, yards or gardens where mature eucalyptus trees are present in sufficient numbers to create a dense canopy.
Range: Endemic to Australia, found only in the southern and eastern regions of the country, including Tasmania. They are most often seen closer to the coast, though certain subspecies thrive in drier interior areas. These birds do not migrate, but may be somewhat nomadic and disperse more widely after the breeding season.
Spotted pardalotes are painted with the rich colors of a northern autumn – oranges, yellows, tans and reds, with black and white accents that make them even more elegant. Males have a black crown with uniform white spots that contrasts with a thick, white eyebrow. The cheeks, nape and back are gray with black scaling and may show a brown or buff wash on the back. The black wings have three white spotted wing bars and white spots near the tips of the feathers as well. The rump is yellow or yellow-red, and the tail is black with white spots near the corners. The throat and upper breast are yellow, and the abdomen and flanks range from creamy white to buff-brown. The undertail coverts are yellow. Females are more buff overall and have a plain white or buff throat, and the spotting on the crown may appear buff or yellow.
These are spritely little birds, very active, energetic and curious. Yet they are tiny, and because they prefer to hide high in the canopy, they’re less often seen than you would imagine – that colorful plumage that is so photogenic is also superb camouflage among dappled leaves. For such tiny birds they have big voices, however, and their two-note calls can ring throughout the forest even if they don’t show themselves. Because they are insectivorous, they are more challenging to attract to backyards, but they can become fond of suet and mealworms, especially if the yard’s landscaping includes mature trees so they can feel suitably secure and comfortable.
I’ve never yet been privileged to see these birds, but when I do travel to Australia – and I most certainly will be – they will be high on my must-see list, no matter what season it is.
What birds do you think have the most autumn-like colors? Share your thoughts in the comments, and you might see one of them featured in an upcoming week!