Behavior & Habitats:

The beautiful Varied Sittella is a tree-living bird both when foraging and at rest. This stocky little bird scurries nonstop across tree trunks and branches in small groups. They flit rapidly from one tree to another, floating and dipping on rounded wings like butterflies, and keeping in touch with a chorus of thin, high whistles. They conceal themselves in bark cracks or hang motionless in branchlets, resembling leaves, if they are frightened. The Sittella are widely distributed throughout the mainland forests and woodlands, preferring rough-barked eucalypt trees, and avoiding rainforests.
Party members seem to stay within the same home range or breeding area throughout the year, which may be expansive enough to give the impression that local sittellas are nomadic. After breeding, sittellas form larger, temporary aggregations of up to 30. They are normally grouped in pairs or parties of up to 12. Incubating female and her young are fed by all members of the group while the nest is being built in a camouflaged manner. Some birds feed the young of later broods even when they are less than three months old. As birds wait for their turn to visit the nest, queues often form. Sadly, so much activity makes nests easy to locate, and predators destroy many of them.
The beautiful Varied Sittella is a tree-living bird both when foraging and at rest.
The beautiful Varied Sittella is a tree-living bird both when foraging and at rest. Photo Credit – patrickkavanagh

Foraging Behavior:

Their foraging behavior differs considerably from that of other bark foragers, tree-creepers. While they often hang upside down, they do not work along the underside of branches and usually climb down the trunk head-first. A distinctive zigzag pattern is adopted when they cross branches, leaning over and peering one way and then the other, flickering one or both wings to scare cryptic prey. When they reach the end of a branch, they often turn around and hop quickly back toward the trunk. A slightly upturned bill is used to probe crevices and find prey beneath bark flakes, especially on dead branches.
Generally, males work the inner, thicker bark parts of trees, while females work the outer bark. They use one foot-mostly the left one-to pin down a large insect while stabbing it with the bill after catching it. Tree-creepers rarely eat ants, their staple food. It is common for sittellas to sit together at rest and preen themselves or each other. Three birds huddle together, and the outer two groom the middle one while it seems to go into a trance.
When one of the outer birds tries to squeeze into the middle position, it may sometimes lift one of the other birds off its perch by squeezing between its legs. Birds fly to their roost sites before dusk, usually the base of a dead branch. After the first two birds have settled, the other members of the group arrive, and one by one wedge themselves between them, pushing the outer bird farther along the branch. It continues into the night with much jostling of positions until all fit.

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The five Australian races of the Varied Sittella are distributed circularly around mainland Australia. Each is distinctive in coloration but wherever it comes into contact with another they interbreed freely; all forms are connected in central Queensland by a hybrid population.


Generally, adults are brown-grey above and white below, with or without streaking. Black, white, or sooty heads are common. The back is mid-grey-brown with or without black streaks. White is the color of the rump plain. On the flight feathers, the wings are black with a complete cinnamon bar (southern races) or partial white bar (northern races).
Blacktail tipped with white except for central pair of feathers. The throat is white, black, or streaked; the breast and belly are white with or without dusky streaks; and the undertail is white chevroned black. The eyes are yellow to orange; the eye-ring is yellow. It has a long, black bill with a buff base (southern) or a short, yellow bill with a black tip (northern). Yellow feet and dusky claws.
Sooty head, orange wing bar, streaks above and below; black-capped (larger than rest) race: black cap with white (male) or black (female) face, orange wing bar, no streaking; White-winged race: head as Black-capped, white wing bar, only back streaked; Striated race: head black to throat (female) or streaked white on the face (male), white wing bar, boldly streaked above and below; White-headed race: as Orange-winged race, but all head white. IMMATURES: As adults but white tips on primary coverts (first year). Juveniles mottled white overhead and back, less streaked below; feet dull brown.

Call & Song:

When foraging, Varied Sittella makes a single, monotonous whistled chip. A shrill chatter is produced by incubating females and young. However, Varied Sittella’s song is a high, drawn-out double-whistle, with the first syllable higher pitched, seee-weee, in a twittered chorus.

Nest and Breeds:

Nesting and breeding take place between September and January in the south; July-October and again between February and March in Queensland. The nest consists of a tubular cup of fiber bound with cobwebs, coated with bark and lichen flakes for camouflage. 5-25 meters above ground, the nest is built into a two-pronged fork of a dead branch.


A varied Sittella lays two or three eggs that are dull blue or greyish white, boldly blotched with greyish and reddish brown, and with dusky slate spots. In terms of size, the eggs are around 17 x 14 mm in oval shape. Approximately 18-20 days are needed for the female to incubate. In about 20 days, the young fledge. Within 11 weeks of fledging, the young have almost lost their mottling on their upper parts. In a season, two broods may be raised.

Alternative names:

The bird is also known as Treerunner, ‘Nuthatch’, and Barkpecker.


The size of Varied Sittella measures about 120-130 mm in length.


The Varied Sittella hunt for food and include beetles, bugs, spiders, bees, and caterpillars.


In terms of distribution, Varied Sittella is found in woodlands and open forests throughout the mainland; it is also found in Montane New Guinea. About nine races and there are five in Australia: Orange-winged in the southeast; Black-capped in the west and south; White-winged in the northwest; Striated in the northeast; White-headed in the central east.

Read More – Satin Flycatcher (Myiagra cyanoleuca)

The bird is also known as Treerunner, 'Nuthatch', and Barkpecker.
The bird is also known as Treerunner, ‘Nuthatch’, and Barkpecker. Source


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