Family: The pilotbird (Pycnoptilus floccosus) belongs to the family Acanthizidae in the order Passeriformes. This species is endemic to south-eastern Australia. It is a species of passerine bird that is monotypic within the genus Pycnoptilus. In 1851, the famous ornithologist John Gould was first described.
Habitat: Pilotbird is a ground forger, hops poking about the litter under ferny cover beneath gully wet sclerophyll and temperate rainforests. Sometimes, as a family, pilotbirds bathe in shallow pools and also sun themselves out flat, spreading their wings and raising their feathers. Although this is mostly sedentary, it is a common bird.
Diet: Each bird works along, tail part-cocked, turning over debris with its bill for worms, insects’ other invertebrates, and occasional berries. A poor flier, it rarely ranges more than a meter up into shrubbery.
Behavior: Pairs call in brief bursts with a resounding guinea-a-week, partly to keep contact and partly to advertise territory, and they exploit ground newly raked over by lyrebirds. This connection between call and a lyrebird’s feeding ground has been used as a quick guide to the presence of lyrebirds, hence the name Pilot Bird.
The established pairs hold territories throughout the year and display agonistically to drive out other birds, including their own young. Nests are only built by females. It takes up to nine days to construct, although replacement nests are completed within three to four days. Eggs are laid late in the morning and probably 48 hours apart, but incubation does not begin until the second egg.
Incubation is carried out by the female, but the male will often call her off and feed her near the nest. She will also forage briefly for food. During egg hatching, the male continues to bring food and carry faecal sacs while the female broods; when the young grow, the female brings food herself. In the first few weeks after fledging, the young hide under vegetation or debris but soon begin roaming with their parents or splitting up, each being tended to by a parent.
Identification: Both sexes are similar. The upper parts are brown with a rufous wash. Face to breast ochreish, scalloped brown; flanks brown; belly white; undertail rufous. The eyes are amber in males and bright red in females. The bill and feet are dusky. The immature (as adults) eyes are grey-brown.
Vocalizations: Pilotbird double note with a louder second note given during nest building; other single and double notes in alarm and contact. The song is loud, ringing, whistled guinea-a-week, ending in a rising whip crack.
Nesting and Breeding: Pilotbird nesting and breeding occur in August–January. Nest a bulky, untidy dome with a side entrance of bark strips, leaves, and roots; lined with feathers after the female commences laying; hidden in a litter of forest floor, usually on the side of a bank or under a shrub or fallen branch. Fan-tailed cuckoos sometimes parasitize the nests.
Eggs and Incubation: The bird lays 1 or 2 eggs, grey-green to smoky brown, with a wash of color round at the large end; oval, about 28 x 20 mm. The incubation period is about three weeks for females. Young fledge in 15–18 days. During nestling, the male bird feeds the female.
Distribution: Pilotbirds are found in coastal wet forests to subalpine woodland between the Blue Mountains, Wollemi National Park, New South Wales, and Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne in Victoria.
Subspecies: There are two subspecies:
  • Pycnoptilus floccosus lives in alpine areas.
  • f. sandfordi lives in a lowland forest.
Status: The population is stable within its small range. However, habitat is threatened due to bushfires, climate change, and severe weather.
Alternative Names: It is also known as Guinea-a-Week.
Size: The Pilotbird size is about 170 mm in length and weighs 27 grams (0.95 oz).
Read More: Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx basalis)
The pilotbird (Pycnoptilus floccosus) belongs to the family Acanthizidae in the order Passeriformes.
The pilotbird (Pycnoptilus floccosus) belongs to the family Acanthizidae in the order Passeriformes. Photo Credit: David Cook


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