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Pseudo Babblers: Pomatostomidae

Gray-crowned Babbler (pomatostomus Temporalis): Species Account

Physical characteristics: The gray-crowned babbler is also called the chatterbox, the happy family, the red-breasted cackler, and the happy jack. It is the largest of the pseudo babblers, measuring 9.5 to 10.5 inches (24 to 27 centimeters) long and weighing 2.2 to 3.2 ounces (65 to 90 grams). This bird has a dull brown body with the characteristic pseudo babbler white markings. It displays a reddish patch on its outer wings when it flies, and its undersides range from dull brown to deep russet brown. It has a brown bill, black feet, and pale cream-colored eyes. The back and center crowns of the head are gray, giving the bird one of its names.

Geographic range: The gray-crowned babbler can be found mainly in northern and eastern Australia, and is also located in a small region in southern New Guinea.

Gray-crowned babblers live in groups, and if there are several breeding pairs within the group, they will use the same nest and share incubation duties. (Illustration by Marguette Dongvillo. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: The gray-crowned babbler lives in trees of moderate height and sometimes in shrubs. It prefers eucalyptus, cypress, and paper-bark trees. Since much of its habitat has been cleared for agriculture, this species has been limited to clusters of trees along roadways in their territories. They stay within these narrow bands of trees because they are not strong fliers and are reluctant to fly over open land.

Diet: This species eats mainly insects.

Behavior and reproduction: The gray-crowned babbler is not afraid of heights. It will forage as far as 66 feet (20 meters) up a tree, turning over leaves and poking into crevices in bark. In drier regions where trees do not grow as tall, this bird will also sift through the litter on the forest floor and even scratch in the dirt, looking for food. Sometimes, it will try to catch flying termites on the wing.

This species is rather social, foraging in groups of twelve to fifteen over 25 to 37 acres (10 to 15 hectares) and sleeping together in dormitory nests. Their loud "yahoo yahoo" calls mark territory but also warn of predators and act as a means of staying in touch with all members of the social group.

These birds find mates not only in the Australian spring and summer, but also in the fall. Two to four eggs are laid in huge, messy, dome-shaped nests made from twigs that are built in the forks of branches of shrubs or trees 9.8 to 32.8 feet (3 to 10 meters) high. The female incubates the eggs for eighteen to twenty-three days. The young are fed in the nest for twenty to twenty-two days. If there are several breeding pairs within the group, they will use the same nest and share incubation duties. Sometimes, there are as many as ten or more eggs in these communal nests.

Gray-crowned babblers and people: There is no known significance to humans.

Conservation status: The gray-crowned babbler has seriously reduced its numbers and is already extinct in South Australia and in Victoria. Its territory has been reduced because of clearing nearly 90 percent of their habitat for agricultural use and to build roads. Overuse of the land because of irrigation practices has raised the ground water level and caused serious changes in the bird's habitat. In addition, the introduction of invasive weeds and grazing livestock has led to continued destruction of the native vegetation. Complicating this scenario are competitors such as noisy miners that have further stressed the food supply and species including the Australian raven that are competing for nesting sites. Because of these factors that reduce available food sources and restrict nesting to certain areas, population numbers for this species have dropped dramatically since the 1960s. It is, therefore, listed as endangered, or at high risk of becoming extinct, by the Australian government, though it is not listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). ∎



Higgins, P. J., and J. M. Peter, eds. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 6, Pardalotes to Shrike-thrushes. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Perrins, Christopher. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Richmond Hill, Canada: Firefly Books, 2003.

Robbins, Michael. Birds (Fandex Family Field Guides). New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1998.

Schodde, R. Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Collingwood, Australia: CSIRO, 1999.

Simpson, K., and N. Day. A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Ringwood, Australia: Penguin Books Australia Ltd., 1996.

Weidensaul, Scott. Birds (National Audubon Society First Field Guides). New York: Scholastic Trade, 1998.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPseudo Babblers: Pomatostomidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Gray-crowned Babbler (pomatostomus Temporalis): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, PSEUDO BABBLERS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS