The White-throated Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) has an appearance quite unlike any other member of the bird family Cisticolidae in which it belongs, and it exhibits its own unique behaviour. The treecreeper is one of Australia’s small birds, but it can often be heard before it is seen; its loud, piping call is a common sound in the dry, open eucalypt forests where it lives. It’s common in the Blue Mountains.
The Australian species of treecreepers are part of a small family that inhabits woodlands, scrubs and gardens throughout much of Asia and Australia. Like many families in evolutionarily ancient lineages, they have adapted to taking advantage of ecological niches left vacant by other species which have moved on to occupy different environments.
In particular, they have evolved to take advantage of nesting opportunities provided by birds such as honeyeaters and parrots, who usually nest high up in trees but whose young are easy prey for predators like snakes. To avoid such dangers, these birds often build their nests at least ten metres above ground level (the same height as most eucalypts) where predators can’t reach them easily.
The White-throated Treecreeper is dark brown, with a distinctive white throat and chest, and white streaks on its flanks, edged with black. The wings have a red bar that is visible in flight and the undertail is barred. The female has an orange mark on the sides of the face. Like other treecreepers, spends most of its time foraging in trees and has a short, spiralling flight.
Where did this bird come from?
By looking at fossils, scientists can piece together an evolutionary history for birds. A fossil from a treecreeper-like bird was found in Germany. Scientists were able to put DNA from that fossil into a modern day treecreeper’s genome and clone it (you could read more about how they did that here).
They then sequenced its genome and compared it to genomes of other birds. This allowed them to reconstruct a family tree of sorts which showed where each species came from. This is called phylogenetics and you can learn more about it here.
The female White-throated Treecreeper builds the nest and incubates the eggs, but both sexes care for the young. Two broods may be raise in a season. The nest is made in a tree cavity, which is lined with bark, fur and hair.
What does this mean for conservation?
Being able to relate to our flora and fauna, through their evolution and ecological stories, can connect us on a deeper level. When we know more about them we are better equipped to protect our environment. Treecreepers aren’t as common or charismatic as some other animals, but they tell an important story about how Australia’s native plants and animals evolved in isolation from species elsewhere in the world.
The evolutionary history of treecreepers is very different to that of birds found in Europe and North America, which may have similar habits. This means that when it comes to conservation efforts for treecreepers, we need to look at local factors affecting populations – like changes in fire regimes – rather than using approaches developed for other bird species around the world.