Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield begin breeding at 4-5 weeks of age

Having studied the local Red Wattlebirds and identifing individuals through photography and videos for about 6 1/2 months now I recently started asking myself questions about these birds. I've noticed that over a 6 1/2 month period something odd was happening around my neighbour Carol's place with these birds.

Currently I'm observing the fifth observed generation (from before the 14th August 2012 to the first week of December 2012) Red Wattlebird that is probably a male as it is hanging around the area, as if making the area it's home.

This is what has been happening: The first generation male made the area his home, then found himself a mate. In all the commotion of finding himself a mate his parents showed up then disappeared after a few days to a week. He bred with his mate and they had a chick. He nested in a nearby area. At close to 1-2 weeks later when the chick/s had fledged the parents disappeared from the area. The one juvenile stayed in the area by itself, alone, until almost it was 1 months old. Then it found itself a mate. Not long later the parents came back to visit and the 1 and a bit month old bird seemed very excited by seeing it's parents. A while later, maybe a week, the parents disappeared never to be seen again (if my memory serves me correctly).

This whole process repeated itself exactly with the second generation male, and third and fourth generation males leaving (currently) the fifth generation chick which now remains and which is slightly larger than it's parents. However, this fifth generation male has been disappearing from it's territory lately. I'm guessing it is looking for a mate right now.

The strange thing about all of this is I have never heard of any bird species that only raise one brood in one area/nesting site then leaves the area only for it to repeat itself with the next generation son. I do not know where the parents go after they have their first lot of offspring, nor do I know if they reproduce again. But I have a theory (see image below).

My theory of what male Red Wattlebirds do and
where they go during the breeding and non-breeding
Maybe, with this particular "family" of Red Wattlebirds, their firstborn children are raised in this area, and their secondborn children are raised in another area, and the thirdborn children are born in even another location, etc? This seems like the most logical explanation to me as to why the parents don't stay in the area and maintain a territory nor have any more children here. But why they don't raise another brood here is the real question to be asked. And why are they breeding at just one month old, every month, is a question that needs an answer. In other parts of Australia Red Wattlebirds breed only once or twice per season, not close to 4 times per season.

After having gone through all the posts and notes I've written up about the local Red Wattlebirds I have discovered they breed, at first, at the age of one month old. They only appear to have one offspring, although they may lay 2 or more eggs. At the age of 14 days old the fledged chick is 9/10ths fully grown and is already living by itself. By one month old it is attracting a mate and ready to breed and breeds successfully within the next two weeks in the immediate area of where it was born. It does not use the same nest it was born in rather it makes a new nest.

I have been fortunate to study each new offspring being born, raised and fledged in the immediate area. However, Red Wattlebirds are not common to Tenterfield. I only know of four individuals that temporarily live in Tenterfield - in the immediate area of where I live; the two parents; and the one offspring with it's mate. I am uncertain if other Red Wattlebirds live in other parts of Tenterfield but if they do then the number count would be identical to that of my area - just 4 individuals over the course of one month - or 3 if a chick has hatched - or 2 if the parents are nesting - or 1 if the chick is alone before it starts breeding.

I have never heard of any bird species that is physically and sexually mature at the age of just one month old, as is the case for Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield. I find it ironic that the number of Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield remains constant. I have not seen them "defending their food sources from other honeyeaters" as what appears to happen in other places in Australia. There are also no rivals with Red Wattlebirds in the immediate area, yet new chicks are able to find themselves a mate every time without fail. The whole area of the Northern Tablelands must be full of Red Wattlebirds but their numbers so widely scattered that it's impossible to do a population count.

This leads to many questions being asked. like "Once a Red Wattlebird has children do they have more children the following month?" "Do the parents always keep in contact with their male offspring?" "Is it possible that the male Red Wattlebird parent form knowledge of their grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, etc through the visiting of their male offspring?" "Do they know of their family lineage?" "If this occurs with the male offspring what happens with the female offspring?" "Why are male offspring being visited by their parents yet the female mates are not visited by their own parents?" "How long do Red Wattlebirds actually live for in the wild?" "Why do male Red Wattlebirds put so much emphasis on calling out to it's parents in the first place?" "What caused Red Wattlebirds to breed in this strange manner in the first place?" "Is this increase in their breeding cycle a part of some sort of adaptation or evolution instigated by climate change?" "Do these particular birds migrate at any point in their lives?" "Does this mean that they have shorter lifespans than Red Wattlebirds that breed less frequently?"

The breeding cycle of the Tenterfield Red Wattlebirds is a mystery. All I know is that going on what I've read about Red Wattlebirds on the Internet on bird websites, the local birds should not be breeding as often as they do. But they are and I think I will never know why. If you think you might know the reason why they are breeding at intervals of about every one and a half months then please leave a comment below.


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    1. I am getting my information from watching what the Red Wattlebirds around here actually do. I watch and I listen for their calls throughout the course of a whole day, 365 days a year. I have photographs to prove they are breeding every 6 weeks. I take lots of photos of the bird life around here every chance I get. I watch and I learn what they are doing. That is where I am getting my information from!

      At times it is not easy to collect information about the Red Wattlebirds as they are secretive when they are nesting. I avoid going anywhere near their nest - most of the time I can't find their nest anyway.

      Listening for their sounds and watching what the birds do is a good starting point at understanding and learning about birds. The rest comes easy but don't forget to take lots of notes when you observe a bird doing something.


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