A reader contacted me recently asking if I could identify the “Figaro bird’ that was driving him to distraction on the course of the New Town Bay Golf Club.
It was so named because it sounded as if the mystery bird was singing “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro,” as in Amadeus Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro.
“The call is shrill and I hear it every time I play golf at New Town Bay,” wrote the reader, who also identified two streets bordering the hole of the course where it was heard most frequently, inviting me and go and have a listen myself.
Usually I get invitations to see birds and nests in gardens – tawny frogmouths being the most frequent source of call-outs – and the actual location of a bird sound was a new one on me, although I often get phone calls and emails from readers about mysterious sounds, or even recordings at times.
The recordings of bird songs I must say are the easiest to identify, simply because trying to mimic a bird sound, or even write in words what it might sound like, is nigh impossible, and can have some very amusing results.
“Figaro”, though, sounded like a good starting point and just as I was about to leave for New Town Bay by chance I heard the “Figaro bird” calling in my own garden.
Immediately I recognised it as the striated pardalote, a more familiar rendering of its call sounding as though it is saying “pick-it-up, pick-it up.”
I have to agree with the reader that the call is very loud and far carrying for a bird which is only about eight centimetres in length, and often difficult to see.
The striated pardalotes are one of three members of the pardalote family found in Tasmania, but the only one to migrate to the mainland in winter. The other two are the very common spotted pardalote and the rare and endangered forty-spotted pardalote, mainly found on Bruny Island.
When I heard the “Figaro” call, I was surprised to find that the pardalotes were still about because in previous years I had noted that I had not heard them singing once we had entered the first or second week of autumn.
The striated pardalotes are also the first migrants to arrive, and they can sometimes be found at the Waterworks Reserve in the last week of winter before spring arrives on September 1.
At this time, and into spring, they are very vocal as the males establish breeding territories centred on deep cracks in the sandstone walls that divert the Sandy Bay Rivulet around the reserve’s reservoirs. All the pardalotes are cavity nesters, either finding holes in trees or in man-made structures, even excavating holes themselves sometimes in grassy embankments.
With no need to drive to New Town Bay to identify the sound for the reader, I instead directed him to BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards website, which has recordings of common bird sounds.
“That’s it,” came the reply immediately, “that’s the Figaro bird!”