The male has a bright yellow underside and nape, olive-green back and wings, a black head and chest-band, and a white throat. A notable exception is the Norfolk golden whistler (P. p. xanthoprocta) where the plumage of the male is female-like. In Australia females are overall dull brownish-grey, though some have yellowish undertail coverts. In females of the Balim whistler (P. p. balim), which is the subspecies in the Snow Mountains in the Papua Province of Indonesia, the entire underparts (except the whitish throat) are deep yellow. Both sexes have a black bill, dark legs and red-brown eyes.
Australian golden whistlers have a strong, musical voice.
Distribution and habitat
The Australian golden whistler can be found in almost any wooded habitat, especially dense forests. It eats berries, insects, spiders, and other small arthropods. They usually feed alone and obtain food from the lower to middle tree level, or they may alternatively take part in mixed-species feeding flocks.
This species breeds between September and January. Male and female both work on the nest, which is a shallow bowl made of twigs, grass, and bark, and bound together with spider web. Only one brood is raised per season and both birds share incubation and care of young. Eggs hatch 15 days after they are laid and the young leave the nest after 12 days.
The Norfolk golden whistler (P. p. xanthoprocta) declined for many years due to habitat loss and fragmentation and possible due to introduced predators such as the black rat. Most of the population is now restricted to the Norfolk Island National Park. This has resulted in it being listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government. Another island subspecies, the Lord Howe golden whistler (P. p. contempta) remains common, but was listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government due to its small range. It is not listed anymore.
In Popular Culture
In Dougal Dixon’s After Man: A Zoology of the Future, hypothetical descendants of the Australian golden whistler are shown living on the newly formed tropical islands of Pacaus, located several thousand kilometers east of Australia, 50 million years in the future, long after humanity dies out. Australian golden whistlers were the first birds to arrive on the islands, blown across the ocean from Australia. The whistlers then began to diversify into the different species of Pacauan whistlers (Insulornis). They appeared when all the ecological niches were thrown open to them, so the whistlers really developed spectacularly, producing both insectivorous and seed-eating as well as highly predatory forms.
All the species within this Insulornis genus are now highly specialized and quite different from one another exceptingI. harti, which is similar in form to the original ancestral bird.
The insect-eater, I. piciforma, develops a strong, chisel-like bill with which it tears into the bark of trees to get at burrowing insects. Its feet are modified to allow it to cling to the vertical trunks and the bird closely resembles the extinct woodpeckers.
Nuts and tough seeds are eaten by the nut-eater, I. macrorhyncha, a parrot-like species which has developed a massive bill and the powerful musculature to operate it. This bird has retained the perching feet of its ancestor and has grown a long tail to balance the weight of its large head.
Almost all the Pacauan whistlers are preyed upon by their hawk-like relative the hawk whistler, I. aviphaga, which shows the same adaptations that are found in birds of prey, irrespective of their ancestry (a hooked beak, binocular vision through forward-facing eyes, and a high degree of maneuverability in pursuit).
The new whistlers themselves can be preyed upon by snakes.