Last week I wrote about our camping trip to Langi Crossing for Grant’s birthday. We are very lucky that it is a reliable place to observe Varied Sittellas and they are often observed on the drive in on the gravel road. They are very distinct in flight due to their white wings being clearly visible and size wise there is no other bird similar. When you are walking through the bush or sat in camp it is the sound of the Varied Sittellas that you hearor not as the case may be.

I always seem to hear some of the smaller shriller sounding birds, which Grant does not. Examples are the fairywren species and the Varied Sittella. We can be walking through the bush and I will say “stop” and he will ask what I have heard. Invariably it doesn’t take long and we find what I had already heard. It turns out there is a word for this condition-presbycusis. Presbycusis is age-related hearing loss in humans, but I have also discovered that birds, fish and amphibians do not experience presbycusis due to the fact that they can regenerate their cochlear sensory cells. So, whilst we get older and start to struggle to hear the birds they can still hear us!

Last year when we camped at Langi Crossing the family of Varied Sittellas that are usually in the area had birds amongst them that were clearly juvenile. The younger birds sat close together much of the time. On this recent visit when I heard the Varied Sittellas around camp (and told Grant!) all of the birds were equally developed, so it was not clear which had been the parents. There were six individual birds, which spent a lot of time upside down feeding and flitting from tree to tree in search of food.

Varied Sittellas are generally vocal, so “if” you have heard them you then find them and then you try and photograph them! That is exactly what happened that weekend-hear, see and then attempt to photograph them. It was overcast at first, so the grey background in the header photograph doesn’t do them justice. Varied Sittellas flit around so much it can be challenging to photograph them to say the least!

Varied Sittella in a typical pose with bad lighting!

Varied Sittella hiding/feeding amongst the leaves

Varied Sittella rear view-no problem!

Varied Sittella

I suspect you have noticed that the Varied Sittellas have brightly coloured legs and feet, so that can be handy too! They are only 10-11cm long, so one of the smallest birds in Australia and if you are suffering from presbycusis you will be relying on your eyesight for any little bit of movement.

Well, it is my birthday today, so I am getting older too and there is no doubt that sooner or later we will both struggle with high frequency sounds. It’s good to know that the birds do not suffer from presbycusis, because they will move when they hear us and then we will see them! That’s comforting to know!

Written by Clare M
Clare and her husband, Grant, have lived permanently in Broome, Western Australia since 1999 after living in various outback locations around Western Australia and Darwin. She has lived in the Middle East and the United States and traveled extensively in Europe. She monitors Pied Oystercatchers breeding along a 23km stretch of Broome's coastline by bicycle and on foot. She chooses not to participate in social media, but rather wander off into the bush for peace and tranquility. Thankfully she can write posts in advance and get away from technology!