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Welcome to Birdata 03 September 2015

Orange Chat: Jewel of the Desert

P. Slater

Of the four species of chats which live in Australia, the two most colourful are the ones that are most likely to be seen well outside their usual range. The Crimson Chat and the Orange Chat both occur on the plains of arid and semi-arid plains of inland parts of mainland Australia, where they inhabit the vast expanses of bluebush and saltbush shrublands that characterize the areas once covered with an inland sea.

The Crimson Chat is a striking bird, with crimson plumage on the top of its head, breast and rump, contrasting with a white throat- patch and a black mask and upperparts. It occurs almost everywhere in the inland, and is the most widespread of the chats. The other widespread chat of the inland is the Orange Chat, which has brilliant orange plumage on its head and underparts, with a contrasting black throat patch. It too is widespread in the inland, but mainly in the eastern half of Australia.

One of the most interesting aspects of these birds is their ability to move when droughts affect the inland regions. The succulent grey-green foliage of the bluebush and saltbush allows these shrubs to survive in the harsh arid conditions, but when the drought becomes too severe, they stop producing fruit, depriving chats of a major source of food. The insects and other invertebrates become less abundant during droughts too, and the chats are forced to move in a desperate search for food. It is at times like this when there are great influxes (or 'irruptions') of chats in areas further south and east, where they seldom occur in normal climatic conditions.

The accompanying map shows that Orange Chats are widespread in arid parts of eastern Australia, but are more sparsely scattered in Western Australia. Records on the Adelaide Plains in South Australia and the Mallee in north-western Victoria reflect the irruptions that were recorded during the severe drought in the early 2000s.

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 BirdLife Australia's Atlas of Australian Birds.

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