The sittellas are a family, Neosittidae, of small passerine birds found only in Australasia. They resemble nuthatches, but whilst they were considered to be in that family for many years they are now afforded their own family. They do not migrate other than for local movements.

The sittellas are small woodland birds with thin pointed down-curved bills, which they use to extricate insects from bark. Nests are open cups in forked branches.

They were formerly classified in two separate genera with the black sittella in Daphoenositta and the varied and Papuan sittellas in Neositta. The two genera are now usually merged with Daphoenositta having priority.

Daphoenositta chrysoptera
Varied sittella, Daphoenositta chrysoptera
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Neosittidae
Ridgway, 1904
Genus: Daphoenositta
De Vis, 1897
  • D. miranda
  • D. chrysoptera
Neosittidae distribution
Global range (In red)

Evolution and taxonomy

The true evolutionary affinities of the sittellas have long been clouded by their close resemblance to the Northern Hemisphere nuthatches.[1] As late as 1967 the sittellas were retained in that family by some authorities, although doubts about that placement had been voiced in the previous decades. Both their climbing technique and overall morphology are extremely similar; however they differ both in their sociality and their nesting behaviour, as sittellas create nests on branches whereas nuthatches nest in cavities in trees. In addition the specifics of the morphology of the leg differed, with sittellas having leg muscles more similar to those of the honeyeaters. Their placement was then moved to various families, including the Old World babblers (an infamous wastebin taxon), the true treecreepers (Certhiidae, which range across the Holarctic and Africa) and the Australian treecreepers (Climacteridae). Their relationship with the Australian radiation of passerines was suggested by S.A. Parker on the basis of egg colour, nest structure and nestling plumage, and their position in this radiation was vindicated by Sibley and Ahlquist's DNA–DNA hybridization studies.[2] These researchers placed the sittellas in a monotypic tribe within the superfamily Corvidae. Today they are afforded their own family in a clade close to the berrypeckers and longbills (Melanocharitidae) and the whistlers (Pachycephalidae).[1]

The sittellas comprise a single genus, Daphoenositta, which contains two species. The two species were once considered to be two genera, but when the two were lumped the genus name of the less well known black sittella was adopted (due to priority), while the family retained the family name based on the junior synonym (Neositta). The most common species, the varied sittella, was once thought to represent several separate species, including five species in Australia, but in spite of considerable variation in plumage there are extensive zones of hybridization where the forms overlap (including an area of Queensland where all five Australian subspecies exist),[3] and are now thought to be a single species with eleven subspecies. The black sittella has three recognized subspecies.


Varied Sittella Kobble07
The bill of the varied sittella is upturned.

The two species of sittella are small passerines which resemble nuthatches in appearance.[1] The wings are long and broad, and when spread have clearly fingered tips. The family has a generally weak flight, which may explain their inability to colonize suitable habitat on islands like Tasmania. The legs are short but they have long toes, but in spite of their lifestyle they show little adaptation towards climbing. They have short tails and are between 10 and 14 cm in length and 8 and 20 g in weight, the black sittella tending to be slightly larger and heavier. The bill is dagger shaped in the case of the black sittella and slightly upturned in the varied sittella. The plumage of the black sittella is mostly black with a red face; that of the varied sittella is more complex, with the numerous subspecies having many variations on the theme. The sexes of some subspecies have entirely black heads, other white, and others dark crowns and paler throats. The backs of most subspecies are grey with darker wings, and the undersides are generally streaked or white. All sittellas exhibit some sexual dimorphism in plumage.


The calls of sittellas are generally simple and uncomplicated. Apparently the family has no need for long distance territorial calls, and the majority of calls are simple contact calls utilized to retain flock cohesion.[1] The most commonly heard call is the chip contact call, although there also exists a rallying call (to call together the group), as well as begging calls issued by incubating females.

Habitat and behaviour

The sittellas are social and generally restless birds of scrub, forests and woodlands. In Australia they generally avoid only the dense rainforest, whereas in New Guinea this is the only habitat they inhabit, avoiding only lowland forest. They generally live at low densities, between 0.1 to 0.6 birds per hectare, and are sedentary. The sittellas are generally highly social, usually being found in groups of five or more individuals and only more rarely in pairs. Studies of varied sittellas in New South Wales suggest that they live in clans of eight to twelve individuals and defend mutual territories against other groups. Within the groups, mutual preening is common, and in the evening the groups roost communally as well. Birds traveling to the evening roosts do so at slightly different times, timing their arrival at 30–60 second intervals, presumably so as not to attract the attention of potential predators. Roost sites are usually high in trees on slightly inclined dead branches. All the birds in the group roost next to each other, touching, and facing the same direction.[4] Amongst Australian birds varied sittellas are usually the first to arrive at roost sites in the evening and the last to leave in the morning, although they are not necessarily the first to sleep or last to wake. At the roost site the position occupied along the branch is generally not random; instead males generally adopt positions at the edges of the group whilst young birds tend to be found in the centre.

Diet and foraging

The principal component of the diet of sittellas are insects and other arthropods.[1] In one study in new South Wales adult beetles were the most common component of the varied sittella's diet, around 36%; particularly favoured were weevils, ladybirds, leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) and click beetles (Elateridae). A further quarter of the diet was composed of spiders and true bugs. Also taken were beetle and moth larvae, grasshoppers, termites, wasps and bees. Ants were taken relatively infrequently compared to other Australasian birds in similar niches. The proportion of any one item in the diet apparently varies geographically and seasonally, for example another study found that beetle larvae composed 87% of the diet. The diet of the black sittella has, like other aspects of its biology, been little studied, although the stomach contents of one that were examined contained caterpillars and spiders.

Sittellas forage on horizontal branches and the trunks of trees. Their foraging techniques has been described as hopping rapidly along the length of a horizontal branch, pausing briefly to peer for prey, occasionally hanging underneath the branch but usually on top of it. Most of the time is spent on branches rather than on the trunks. Birds on the trunks may travel upwards or downwards. Within the forest sittellas usually forage in the canopy. There are sexual differences in foraging, with males and females choosing to forage in slightly different microhabitats within the tree.[1] Prey items are usually gleaned directly from the bark, although in a few instances sittellas will sally from the branch in order to snatch aerial prey. Having obtained prey sittellas will use their feet to hold it while they eat it, in a similar manner to parrots, and will also use their feet in order to hold back strips of bark in order to pry underneath it. There have even been isolated reports of tool use in some populations of sittellas.[5] Sticks were used to pry boring beetle larvae out of cavities, in a similar fashion to that of tool using woodpecker finches of the Galapagos.


Very little is known about the breeding of either of the two species of sittella in New Guinea, although black sittellas in breeding condition have been observed August and May,[6] suggesting that they may either be biannual breeders or year round breeders. The varied sittella populations in Australia are cooperative breeders (and the group composition of black sittellas suggest they are too),[7] and possibly have to be in order to be successful. There is some evidence that not only to groups cooperate in raising the young, not an uncommon strategy in birds, but have a plural breeding system, where more than one pair inside the group nest, and the group help raise both broods. There have even been instances of two females sharing a nest.

95% of the nests found in a study in New South Wales were in stringybarks, particularly the species Eucalyptus macrorhycha. The nests were almost always located high in the tree. Nest construction took around 7 days, but lining and decorating the nest added a few days to this. Nest building duties were shared amongst the group, and the speed of construction depended on how many birds were involved. Nests are usually placed in the prong of two branches, and is a deep cup decorated in the bark of the tree it is built in, thereby camouflaging it. Around 2–3 eggs are laid and incubated by the breeding female (or females if two are sharing the nest) for 19–20 days.[7] Whilst incubating the breeding female is fed by the breeding male and helpers. After hatching the female broods the young for a few days, and for up to two weeks at night. The chicks are fed for 19–20 days in the nest. After fledging the chicks have a protracted period of parental care lasting up to 80 days, although 60 days is more usual.



  1. ^ a b c d e f Noske, R. (2007) "Family Neosittidae (Sittellas)", pp. 628-639 in Del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2007). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
  2. ^ Sibley C and Ahlquist J (1982). "The Relationships of the Australo-Papuan Sittellas Daphoenositta as indicated by DNA-DNA hybridization". Emu. 82 (3): 173. doi:10.1071/MU9820173.
  3. ^ Ford, J (1980). "Hybridization between contiguous subspecies of the varied sittella in Queensland". Emu. 80: 1. doi:10.1071/MU9800001.
  4. ^ Noske, R. (1985). "Huddle-roosting behaviour of the Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera in relation to social status". Emu. 85 (3): 188. doi:10.1071/MU9850188.
  5. ^ Green, C. (1972). "Use of tools by Orange-winged Sittella" (PDF). Emu. 72 (4): 185–186. doi:10.1071/MU972178f.
  6. ^ Rand, A.L. (1936). "The Rediscovery of the Nuthatch Daphoenositta with Notes on Its Affinities" (PDF). Auk. 53 (3): 306–310. doi:10.2307/4077967.
  7. ^ a b Noske, R (1998). "Social Organisation and Nesting Biology of the Cooperatively-breeding Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera in North-eastern New South Wales". Emu. 98 (2): 85. doi:10.1071/MU98009.

External links

Black sittella

The black sittella (Daphoenositta miranda) is one of two species of bird th in the Neosittidae family.

It is found in endemic to New Guinea, where it is found in the highlands.

Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve

The Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve is a protected nature reserve in the central western region of New South Wales, Australia. The 86.4-hectare (213-acre) reserve is situated 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of West Wyalong and may be accessed via the Newell Highway and The Charcoal Tank Road. The reserve is an important refuge for native flora and fauna in a highly fragmented landscape, one in which the majority of the original vegetation has been removed.

Coleophora sittella

Coleophora sittella is a moth of the family Coleophoridae. It is found in south-western and eastern China.The wingspan is about 12–13 mm.

Forgotten Songs (artwork)

Forgotten Songs is a public artwork by Michael Thomas Hill located in Angel Place, Sydney. The installation was part of the 2009 Sydney Laneway Temporary art scheme, afterwards, due to the popularity of the installation, in 2011, the project was turned into a part of the 9 million dollar permanent laneway installations.The Laneway temporary art program ran between 2008 and 2013 with the main goal of laneways activation, innovation stimulation in the city and, in general, injecting new energy into the urban life. The program consisted of two stages. Forgotten Songs artwork was a part of the second Laneways program titled By George! Hidden Networks. The principal aim was to address two key issues of urban renewal in city's lanes and climate change. Other than Forgotten Songs installation, seven other artworks participated in this stage.

Giant weaver

The giant weaver (Ploceus grandis) is a species of bird in the Ploceidae family. It is endemic to São Tomé Island. It can climb trees and branches, rather like a treecreeper or sittella. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Goobang National Park

Goobang is a national park located in New South Wales, Australia, 296 kilometres (184 mi) northwest of Sydney. It protects the largest remnant forest and woodland in the central west region of the state, where interior and coastal New South Wales flora and fauna species overlap. Originally named Herveys Range by John Oxley in 1817, the area was reserved in 1897 as state forest because of its importance as a timber resource, and was designated a national park in 1995.

The park contains a camping ground and a hiking trail, Burrabadine Peak Walking Track, a 3.6 km round trip moderate hike.

List of birds of Australia

This is a list of the wild birds found in Australia including its outlying islands and territories, but excluding the Australian Antarctic Territory. The outlying islands covered include: Christmas, Cocos (Keeling), Ashmore, Torres Strait, Coral Sea, Lord Howe, Norfolk, Macquarie and Heard/McDonald. The list includes introduced species, common vagrants and recently extinct species. It excludes extirpated introductions, some very rare vagrants (seen once) and species only present in captivity. Nine hundred and fifty extant and extinct species are listed.

There have been three comprehensive accounts: the first was John Goulds Birds of Australia, the second Gregory Mathews, and third was the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (1990-2006).

The taxonomy followed is from Christidis and Boles, 2008. Their system has been developed over nearly two decades and has strong local support, but deviates in important ways from more generally accepted schemes.

List of birds of Victoria, Australia

This is a list of birds of Victoria, Australia.

Victoria is Australia's second-smallest state but has high biodiversity, with 516 bird species recorded — around 54% of Australia's total of 959 bird species in just 3% of Australia's land area.Birds are present in high concentrations in some areas, including the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee in Melbourne's suburbs, which is a haven for tens of thousands of birds, due to a combination of permanent water, varied landforms and plant species.Victoria contains a wider variety of natural habitats than any area of similar size in Australia. Habitats range from warm temperate rainforest in the far east of the state (East Gippsland), cool temperate rainforest, heathlands, mallee (stunted eucalypt) scrubland, grasslands, open woodland, montane forest, permanent lakes, estuaries, large permanent rivers, ocean and bay coastline. 4 million hectares of the state's 23.7 million hectare total land and marine area is protected in National Parks and conservation reserves.

List of endemic birds of Australia

This article is one of a series providing information about endemism among birds in the world's various zoogeographic zones. For an overview of this subject see Endemism in birds.

List of wineries in Western Australia

This is a list of wineries in Western Australia, arranged in alphabetical order by name of winery.


Melithreptus is a genus of bird in the honeyeater family Meliphagidae. Its members are native to Australia. It is generally considered to contain seven species, although some authors have classified the related blue-faced honeyeater within this genus.

The genus was originally defined by French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1817. William John Swainson had coined the term Eidopsarus in 1837. He named the black-headed honeyeater Eidopsarus affinis in 1839, which Gould, likely unaware, described as Melithreptus melanocephalus in 1844.It has been further subdivided into two subgenera, Melithreptus and Eidopsarus based on foraging habits. Those of the former subgenus forage for insects in foliage or canopy, congregate in larger flocks, and are found in more open dry sclerophyll forests. They also have smaller feet and a less prominent or missing nuchal bar. Members of the subgenus Eidopsarus forage by probing for insects in bark of tree trunks and branches, generally in eucalypt forest and rainforest, and travel in small family groups. They have sturdier legs and feet and a more prominent nuchal band.

Biologist Allen Keast studied the genus extensively across Australia, and noted that a member of each group were found together in many parts of the country, with the trunk-foraging species averaging 10% larger - thus the smaller lunatus occurs with the larger gularis, and this is most exaggerated in Tasmania, where the difference between affinis and validirostris is even more marked. Keast proposed that the two species were diversifying into other niches in the absence of other mainland trunk-feeding species, shriketits, treecreepers and sittella, in the case of validirostris, and smaller species with affinis. Furthermore, the bill of the shorter-billed taxon in areas where the trunk feeder was absent grew longer, as chloropsis did in Western Australia.Molecular markers show genus split from the ancestors of the blue-faced honeyeater somewhere between 12.8 and 6.4 million years ago in the Miocene epoch. That species differs from them in its much larger size, brighter plumage and more gregarious nature and larger patch of bare facial skin.The white-throated honeyeater split off between 9 and 5 million years ago, independently of the other three members of the subgenus Melithreptus.The strong-billed honeyeater separated from the other members of Eidopsarus between 6.7 and 3.4 million years ago.Classically, six species have been recognised, but evidence published in 2010 confirms the distinct status of Gilbert's honeyeater. In former years, the golden-backed honeyeater (M. laetior) of northern Australia was considered distinct, but it has a broad band of overlap (with intermediate forms) with the black-chinned honeyeater and is hence considered a subspecies of it.

Moorooduc Quarry Flora and Fauna Reserve

The Moorooduc Quarry Flora and Fauna Reserve is located in Mount Eliza, Victoria, Australia and occupies approximately 27 hectares of land. There are entrances to the reserve located on Allison Road, Canadian Bay Road, Two Bays Road and Station Street near the Moorooduc Railway Station.

Sex ratio

The sex ratio is the ratio of males to females in a population. In most sexually reproducing species, the ratio tends to be 1:1. This tendency is explained by Fisher's principle. For various reasons, however, many species deviate from anything like an even sex ratio, either periodically or permanently. Examples include parthenogenic species, periodically mating organisms such as aphids, some eusocial wasps such as Polistes fuscatus and Polistes exclamans, bees, ants, and termites.The human sex ratio is of particular interest to anthropologists and demographers. In human societies, however, sex ratios at birth may be considerably skewed by factors such as the age of mother at birth, and by sex-selective abortion and infanticide. Exposure to pesticides and other environmental contaminants may be a significant contributing factor as well. As of 2014, the global sex ratio at birth is estimated at 107 boys to 100 girls (1000 boys per 934 girls).

Sibley-Monroe checklist 13

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.

Simpson Falls

The Simpson Falls, a cascade waterfall on the West Ithaca Creek, is located within the Mount Coot-tha Forest, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Ulandra Nature Reserve

The Ulandra Nature Reserve is a protected nature reserve that is located in the west hills of the Southern Tablelands and eastern Riverina regions of New South Wales in eastern Australia. The 3,930-hectare (9,700-acre) reserve is situated approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) south-west of Cootamundra and 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south-east of the village of Bethungra.The reserve's main feature is Mount Ulandra. Immediately west of the reserve lies an undulating plain that varies between 200 to 300 metres (660 to 980 ft) above sea level which rises abruptly at Mount Ulandra to its summit at 761 metres (2,497 ft) above sea level. The reserve was dedicated in 1981 to protect stands of Cootamundra wattle. The reserve is used for foraging and reproduction by the threatened superb parrot. It was then progressively added to until 1983.

The reserve is listed on the Register of the National Estate. Its Statement of Significance there reads as follows:

'This nature reserve constitutes a highly important remnant of regionally representative open forest in the agricultural district of the south-west slopes, dominated by Callitris endlicheri and a variety of eucalypts. These vegetation types do not survive within the region to any great extent beyond this reserve. The reserve contains the invasive ornamental Acacia baileyana growing in a portion of its relatively restricted natural distribution. The reserve also appears to furnish critical reproductive and foraging resources for the threatened superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) as well as significant habitat for another vulnerable bird species, the turquoise parrot (Neophema pulchella). Moreover, it represents almost a sole habitat isolate for many species which can be regarded as regionally uncommon due to the extent of clearing, and for irruptive/migratory nectarivorous and insectivorous passerines. Included within Ulandra Nature Reserve is a relatively undisturbed catchment (feeding Merrybundinah Creek); such a phenomenon is a rarity within an agriculturally transformed landscape of this type.'

Varied sittella

The varied sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera) is a small, around 10–11 cm long, songbird native to Australia and New Guinea. It is also known as the Australian nuthatch, orange-winged sittella and the barkpecker.

Western Sydney Parklands

The Western Sydney Parklands is an urban park system and a nature reserve located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The NSW government has spent around $400 million for the park. The park is governed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and is listed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. The Parklands begin in the north in the City of Blacktown, cross the City of Fairfield, and end in the City of Liverpool.

The parklands, being approximately 5,280-hectare (13,000-acre) in size and 27 kilometres (17 mi) in length, are one of the largest in the world, and they would feature picnic areas,

sports grounds and walking tracks. The parklands attract 430,000 to 790,000 visitors annually. In addition, the parkland provided lands for the 2000 Olympic Games.

White-browed treecreeper

The White-browed Treecreeper (Climacteris affinis) is the smallest of the Australo-papuan Treecreepers and sole family member adapted to arid environments. The species foraging strategy involves climbing the trunks of trees in search of invertebrate prey on and under bark. Although some populations within the species range have declined, the species IUCN conservation status is of Least Concern.


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