Habitat: Cicadabirds (Edolisoma tenuirostre) utter sporadic bursts throughout the day only when they advertise or signal their territory during breeding season. Often several hundred meters away, these birds fly in swift undulations through the canopy of tall forest trees, often to perches just over the treetops. It is difficult to observe them because of their solitude, their lack of communication, and their silence when they are not breeding.
Cicadabirds in Australia are divided into two distinct populations, with different seasonal behaviors. One species, found along the northern Cape York Peninsula from the Kimberleys to the northern Kimberleys, is sedentary or locally nomadic and speaks in a slow and low-pitched manner. While it retreats into pockets of rainforest in the dry season, May-October, it spreads out into denser eucalypt and paperbark forests and mangrove swamps to breed during the monsoonal wet season, November-April. There is also a migratory population along the eastern Australian coast, which has rapidly buzzing territorial notes.
Migration: During the winter months of February-April, it migrates north from Cape York Peninsula to New Guinea to spend non-breeding months. In August-October, it returns to the Atherton tablelands to breed, spreading south to near Melbourne through tall eucalypt forests. The same well-spaced territories may be defended aggressively by males year after year by individuals or pairs. Building the meager nest appears to be the responsibility of the male. It can take him nine to eleven days to dismantle the structure and rebuild a nearby operation if the pair is disturbed.
Identification: Male: Upper and underparts are grey-blue. An indistinguishable black line runs through the eye. Wing coverts and flight feathers are black-edged slate-grey; underwing coverts are grey-blue. Also, the central tail feathers are blue-grey with black tips; the rest are black with light blue-grey tips. Eye dark brown. Bill and feet are black.
Female: The upper parts are brown-grey. Black streaks from the bill through the eye to buff streaked ear covers; eyebrows off-white. Wing coverts and flight feathers are dark brown with buff or cream edges. Two central tail feathers are grey-brown with buff edging; the rest are black-edged buff. Throat white; rest of underparts cream-buff, lightly barred black. Underwing coverts cinnamon.
Immature: Similar to adult females but lightly scalloped with black and white above; barring below more conspicuous. Eyes are mud-brown. The bill and feet are light brown.
Vocalization: Dry rasping cicada-like calls give the Cicadabird its name. Cicadabird is usually silent, but in breeding months males emit loud, high-pitched, slow buzzing notes repeated about 12 times: kree-kee-kree or kee-kee-kee.
Alarm calls by both sexes are sharp, whistling tcheep; parrot-like tweet-tweet-tweet, wheet-wheet-wheet. When the female approaches the nest, she often makes a rolling clewk-clewk or tchuit-tchuit call.
Nest & Breed: Nesting and breeding occur between October and March, but mostly between November and January. This is a shallow cup of fine twigs and bark interwoven with cobwebs and stuck together by saliva, topped with lichen and moss, and lined with finer material. It is usually placed on a bare horizontal fork 2-28 meters above ground. Unless the female is brooding, adults rarely spend more than a minute at the nest while feeding. A single large egg is laid at sunrise, and only the female incubates it. In many cases, the male feeds her on the nest, but just as often she leaves to forage by herself. Both members of the pair feed the nestling, often in bursts of up to six visits per hour.
Egg & Incubation: The bird lays one egg, which is slightly glossy; pale blue to green-grey, spotted and blotched with red-brown and grey, with slate-grey underlying spots and blotches at times in an irregular zone at the larger end; oval shape, about 32 x 22 mm. The incubation period is about 21-22 days for females. Young will fledge in 26-28 days.
Distribution: The Cicadabird is moderately common from Broome, Western Australia, around the coasts to near Melbourne. In the northwest of the range, it inhabits mangroves, monsoon forests, and paperbark swamps; to the east, it inhabits tall coastal and mountain eucalypt forests, rainforests, and mangroves. Also occurs from Celebes to the Solomon Islands.
Diet: Cicadabirds feed quietly in foliage at tree tops on beetles, wood crickets, stick insects, and fruit and seeds taken from leaves and bark, as well as a variety of adult and larval insects.
Alternative Names: This bird is also known as Caterpillar-catcher, Jardine Caterpillar-eater, Jardine Triller and slender-billed cicadabird.
Size: Cicadabird size is about 250-270mm long, while the male is larger.
Subspecies: There are up to 33 subspecies; two in Australia: one smaller in the northwest to the Cape York Peninsula, the other larger on the east coast.
Family: The cicadabird is a species of bird in the family Campephagidae to the order Passeriformes.