Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Hitherto considered to include R. melanolaema and usually R. kubaryi (see both species). Often considered conspecific with R. semirubra and R. dryas (see those), and current arrangement, with race torrida isolated in N Moluccas, appears improbable; indeed, torrida accorded full species status in one recent treatment#R. Comprehensive assessment of molecular, acoustic and ecological evidence required. On present evidence, forms five vocal groups#R: (a) Australian nominate and intermedia (“see-saw” songs); (b) Solomons commoda, granti, rufofronta and russata, presumably with unsampled brunnea, ugiensis, kuperi and agilis (high-pitched ascending or descending patterns); (c) D’Entrecasteaux louisiadensis (loosely given whistled song, much lower-pitched than Australian); (d) Yap versicolor (closest to louisiadensis); and (e) Micronesian saipanensis and mariae (rich descending whistles); but, curiously, the song of far-outlying torrida appears to fall within range of vocalizations of Solomons group. Plumage differences suggest ten groups possible. Guam form †uraniae extinct. Fifteen extant subspecies recognized.
15·5–17·5 cm; 8–13·5 g. Nominate race has forehead rufous, crown, face, nape and mantle dull grey-brown, shading to rufous on lower back, rump and uppertail-coverts; upperwing grey-brown; tail rufous over basal half, becoming dark grey-brown on remainder, rectrices tipped light grey, broadly so on outer feathers, narrowing towards centre; chin and throat white, upper breast with medium-broad black band, posterior borders of feathers scalloped white, lower breast and belly white, flanks and undertail-coverts fawn-buff; iris dark brown; bill dark blackish brown, pale base to mandible; legs dark brown. Sexes alike. Juvenile lacks black-and-white throat and breast markings, has crown and mantle dull rufous, wing feathers edged rufous, rectrices tipped light rufous, throat off-white, breast mottled buff and brown, belly pale rufous, undertail-coverts rufous; immature like adult but with rufous fringes on feathers. Races differ mainly in size and in colour and pattern of forehead, back, breast and tail: intermedia is like nominate, but lores and below eye usually blacker, belly more extensively white, and pale tips of rectrices slightly broader, more sharply demarcated and cleaner greyish white; torrida has crown darker brown, rump and basal rectrices darker rufous, wing shorter; louisiadensis has chin and throat white, breastband strongly scaled posteriorly, ear-coverts very dark brown, rectrices rufous only on very basal portion; granti differs from previous in having ear-coverts black, rectrices rufous on basal half; commoda is similar, but upperparts paler and with rufous more extensive anteriorly, ear-coverts brown; rufofronta has ear-coverts blackish brown, only extreme bases of rectrices rufous; brunnea is like last, but upperparts darker and more brownish, ear-coverts blackish; russata has grey-brown crown and nape sharply demarcated from bright rufous back, breastband narrow with faint scaling; kuperi has rusty forehead more extensive than previous, nape colour gradually merging with that of back, and latter duskier; ugiensis is like last, but lower back and rump paler, chin and upper throat black, rectrices with broader white tips; agilis has forehead tawny, uppertail-coverts light rufous, rest of upperparts grey-brown, ear-coverts black, lower cheek and malar region white, chin white, throat black, undertail-coverts ochraceous; mariae is dark brown above, lores and ear-coverts blackish, chin and small part of anterior throat white, thin white malar streak, rich brown breast and belly; saipanensis similar to nominate but deeper brown above, more richly coloured on rear underparts, with bold white tips to rectrices; and versicolor has upperparts darker, chin and throat white, and belly whitish.
ssp torrida Moluccan Fantail
ssp saipanensis Marianas Fantail
ssp versicolor Yap Fantail
ssp louisiadensis Grey-tailed Fantail
ssp russata Russet-backed Fantail
ssp ugiensis Dark-throated Fantail
ssp agilis Nendo Fantail
ssp rufifrons Rufous-fronted Fantail
Varies geographically. Song in Australia (nominate race) a single high-pitched squeak, accelerating into series of brisk high-pitched descending seesaw notes; in New Guinea (louisiadensis) a long tinkling series with loud trills and more tentative whistles or a “squeaky wavering descending series”; on Bougainville (commoda) described as distinct series of high-pitched short notes, first twp longer, “zeec-zeee-ze-ze-ze-ze-ze”; on Saipan (saipanensis) “beautiful rolling whistle, starting rather shrilly, then rolling on”. Song typically heard sporadically throughout the day, but especially at end of dawn chorus. Other calls incude a single soft whistled “huit”, high-pitched squeaky “chip-chip” or “tsit-tsit”, and a single, often sharp “chip”.
Preferences vary throughout range; influenced by presence of closely related species, resulting in segregation by habitat and/or altitude. In Australia, found in rainforest, monsoon forest, riverine vegetation, swamp woodland, dense eucalypt (Eucalyptus) forest; on migration may occur in open or urban situations. Hill and montane forest in N Moluccas. In New Guinea, forest on islands without closely related species; mangroves and mid-montane oak (Quercus) forest on Goodenough I. Inhabits primary forest and old-growth forest, some secondary and degraded forest, hill forest and lowland primary forest in Solomon Is; low, dense growth on New Georgia. In Northern Marianas, found in forested areas and vine-draped crevices in the lava on Saipan; extinct Guam race (uraniae) recorded in forest and forest scrub with leafy undergrowth. Many populations do not range far from sea-level, whereas others extend to different altitudes where hills or mountains present; on Obi, in N Moluccas, apparently occurs in narrow band at 760–1000 m, elsewhere to 1400 m in NE & SE Australia, 1600 m on Goodenough I and c. 1500 m in Solomons (Kolombangara); to c. 830 m on Bougainville, where replaced at higher elevations by R. drownei.
Food and feeding
Arthropods, mainly insects, including beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera), mayfies (Ephemeroptera), bugs (Hemiptera), hymenopterans, lepidopterans; some spiders. Prey between 0·5 mm and 10 mm in length; most small items swallowed whole; large items held in feet against perch, dismembered, then eaten. Feeds from ground to upper canopy, but mainly in low to middle strata of forest; in various studies, 1–21% of foraging on ground, 10–18% below 1 m, up to 60% or more 1–4 m above ground, up to 30% at 5–10 m; usually forages at lower level than R. albiscapa where both present in E Australia. In NE Australia, usually forages at higher levels in dry season than in wet season. Frequently feeds in outer foliage and thin proximal branches, also among shrub and bracken stems and on tree trunks, less often on ground. Uses static searching from perch infrequently; when does so, pursuit-flights short, simple manoeuvres. Most prey located by progressive searching through foliage, continuously moving, mainly by hopping; captures prey by flycatching (usually short sallies), less frequently by gleaning, “tumble-chases” or hovering. Often joins mixed-species flocks, composition of which varies throughout range; often including monarchs (Monarchidae), shrike-thrushes (Colluricincla), scrubwrens (Sericornis), honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), gerygones (Gerygone), whistlers (Pachycephalidae), white-eyes (Zosteropidae), thornbills (Acanthiza), Australian treecreepers (Climacteridae) and Australasian robins (Petroicidae). May specifically follow other insectivores taking prey flushed by these species.
Season Oct–Feb (81% of eggs laid Nov–Dec) in Australia, Nov–Jan at higher elevations (above 600 m); formerly nested in Feb–Mar in Northern Marianas (Guam), while on Saipan there is evidence of breeding in Jan–Apr and Oct–Nov, and nesting might occur year-round in this region; eggs in late Jan in Louisiade Archipelago (Rossel I); females in breeding condition in Aug in S Bougainville; in Solomons, dependent young in Sept on San Cristobal and birds with enlarged testes in Oct on Kolombangara and Nov on New Georgia; 1–2 broods per season. Territorial; from study in NE New South Wales (Australia), male establishes territory 10–21 days after returning to breeding grounds, sings from prominent perches to advertise territory and attract females; evidence of site-fidelity over several years. Both sexes search for nest-sites, final selection made by female, male may feed mate until nest constructed; nest built by both sexes, taking 8–15 days, a compact cup of grass and other fine vegetable fibres bound externally with spider web, with hanging “tail”, base of nest and tail apparently made before cup formed, external diameter 55–64 mm, height (without tail) 50 mm, “tail” 64–94 mm, internal diameter 32–55 mm, depth 22–38 mm; usually placed in small fork near end of horizontal branch or twig, up to 10 m (seldom more than 5 m) from ground; mean home range size in NE New South Wales 1·25–1·45 ha. Clutch usually 2–3 eggs (sometimes four in Australia), light yellowish buff, very pale to rich cream, off-white or light buff, with light brown or lavender to dull reddish-brown or blackish spots and blotches (often with some underlying blue-grey spots) forming well-defined wreath around larger end, size 15·7–18·3 mm × 12·4–14 mm, laid at c. 24-hour intervals; incubation by both sexes, which sit very tightly, sometimes allowing themselves to be touched, period c. 14 days in New Guinea area, 15–17 days in Australia; nestlings fed by both parents, fledging period c. 11 days; chicks huddle together in dense vegetation 5–12 m from ground for 3–4 days before moving apart, each fledgling tended by single adult, become fully independent 4–5·5 weeks after leaving nest. Parasitized in Australia by Pallid Cuckoo (Heteroscenes pallidus), Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis), Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) and Brush Cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus); last-mentioned is primary nest parasite in Solomons (San Cristobal). Hatching success 37·3–62·8 %; fledging success low, in one study 15·7%. In ringing studies, greatest longevity nine years one month.
Most populations resident; extensive seasonal movements recorded only for Australian breeding populations. Nominate race leaves SE Australian breeding grounds late Feb to early Apr, immatures departing 1–3 weeks after adults; present in S New Guinea Aug to mid Nov, returns to breeding localities in Aug–Dec. Migratory flights undertaken in early morning (from just before daybreak until sunrise) and late evening (sunset until dark) or mainly at night; moves singly or in small flocks; during N passage frequently appears in unsuitable areas (buildings). Strong fidelity to breeding area; 98·8% of ringed individuals recovered were less than 10 km from site where first ringed. NE Australian race intermedia exhibits altitudinal migration; descends from highland breeding areas to coastal lowlands and islands in non-breeding season.
Status and conservation
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Guam population (uraniae) presumed extinct; last recorded in 1984, since when apparently extirpated by brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis), which was introduced on Guam during Second World War; heavy use of pesticides may also have been at least a contributory factor in the early decline of this population. Elsewhere in Micronesia, this species is uncommon to common, reaching extraordinary densities on Saipan, in the Northern Marianas, where up to c. 2400 birds/km² in limestone forest estimated in early 1990s, although island-wide there was evidence of a decline between 1982 and 2007, when the overall population was thought to number between c. 40,000 and 70,000 individuals. Furthermore, there is no room of complacency, as numbers on Rota, in same region (endemic race mariae), are estimated to have declined by more than 40% between 1982 and 2004 (causes are not certainly known, but could be multifarious). On the other hand, on Aguijuan the population is believed to have increased in the 25-year period post-1982, and was estimated at in excess of 10,000 birds in 2008. Uncommon and local in N Moluccas, but at least locally abundant in SW Solomons. In Australia, common in N, decreasing to S, and common in non-breeding season in N Queensland. Some threat from habitat fragmentation, and from loss of main breeding habitat and of corridors utilized during migration. Uses logged forest (but less so than unlogged areas); recolonizes clear-felled areas within four years.
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