I decided to go for a walk early one December morning while in Cape Tribulation in the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland. It was already hot and humid, and when the sun did poke through the trees it did so with sting. As I walked down the track I could see the mountain range in the background rising up into the sky and draped in a variety of deep brilliant greens. Mist lingered over the mountains but was slowly being burnt off by the rising sun.
I wandered back towards where I had been staying after watching some beautiful blue butterflies and numerous birds which were often difficult to see in the forest trees. I came to a large clearing near some buildings and rounded a small patch of trees. I had been told that a male Victoria’s Riflebird displayed and sung in the trees, but this was not the case today. I did hear though, a small chattering like call that reminded me of lorikeets. I looked around to find two tiny fig-parrots perched at the end of a branch that they were fossicking around on. They are incredibly pretty birds with bright green bodies, and a little yellow under the wing. The male had patches of red, blue and purple on and around his face, and the female had red and blue, and a more muted pastel cheek, but she was still beautiful in a more subtle way.
Double-eyed Fig-Parrots are the smallest parrots in Australia, reaching about 150 mm long and 30-43 g. For comparison, Rainbow Lorikeets which are common in the eastern states are about 230 mm and 89-163 g. There are three subspecies of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots in Australia, marshalli, macleayana and coxeni that differ in facial colours and distribution. The ones I saw were macleayana, which have no red between the beak and eye like marshalli, and coxeni have orange below the eye and a bit of mauve below that. The three subspecies are isolated from each other but occur on the east coast of Australia from Cape York down across the border of New South Wales. The subspecies Coxeni, which was named by naturalist John Gould after his brother-in-law Charles Coxen, is one of the rarest parrots in Australia, with an estimated population of perhaps a couple hundred birds. However, despite this it is thought that the population is not declining. Uniquely, fig parrots excavate their own nest hollows in rotten tree branches or trunks where they will lay two eggs. Unsurprisingly, fig parrots eat figs, as well as several other types of fruit. They also eat seeds and wood-boring grubs which would be a scrumptious find after spending all that effort excavating a nest hollow.
Fig parrots can be challenging to see due to their small size, rapid flight and ability to blend into their surroundings, but this is no reason to not keep an eye out for them. If you find yourself in tropical or semi-tropical forests on the east coast of Australia you may find some of these wonderful little birds foraging through the canopy rewarding you with their stunning beauty and interesting habits.