Many of our small bush birds are drab. With their dull brown or grey coloration, many tend to blend into the background. A glaring exception to this is the Crested Shrike-tit. With its outlandish Mohawk hairstyle, bold black-and-white striped face, and a bright yellow front, this species appears very conspicuous. Yet, when it is feeding in the canopy of trees, Shrike-tits are often very difficult to see, and it is only the sound of them tearing off pieces of bark from branches with their stout bills to feed on invertebrates underneath that alerts us to their presence.
Crested Shrike-tits are confined to mainland Australia, where there are three distinct subspecies. The eastern population is the most widespread. It occurs in two populations, one in the Wet Tropics of northern Queensland, with the main population extending from the Tropic of Capricorn in coastal Queensland, through south-eastern Australia to the southern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. This population is widely separated from the population in the south-western Australia by the semi-arid expanses of the Eyre Peninsula and Nullarbor Plain. The third population, which is endangered, occurs patchily in northern Australia, in the Top End region of the Northern Territory and adjacent parts of the Kimberley. It is separated from the south-western population by the deserts of the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions, and from the Wet Tropics birds by the drainage basin of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Birds from these populations all look rather similar, but there are subtle differences in their size and appearance. Eastern birds are green above and gold below; south-western birds have a white belly and upperparts tinged with yellow; and northern birds are a curious mixture of the two, with upperparts like eastern birds and underparts like their western relatives. These differences have evolved over thousands of years of being separated from one another, as the deserts expanded with climate change to gradually isolate these populations.
The accompanying map shows the widely separated populations of the Crested Shrike-tit on mainland Australia.
If you want to discover more information about this species or any other birds that occur in Australia, just follow this link and you can explore Birds Australia's Atlas of Australian Birds.