The Mysterious Black-faced Monarch

By | June 7, 2022

The black-faced monarch (Monarcha melanopsis) gets its name from the black band on its face, which is only visible in older adults. Adults have grey bodies with rufous underparts and wings, and this colour scheme changes as the birds age. Juveniles have brown plumage and their wings are tipped with black and white bars, which are distinctive to their species. Their beaks are black, their eyes red, and their legs grey-black. The black-faced monarch’s eyesight is excellent, which helps them see well at distances.

Black-faced Monarch

What does it look like?
The black-faced monarch is a medium sized, glossy bird with dark brown wings and tail. The back is grey and its underparts are rufous red. The face is white with a prominent black stripe through its eyes which extends to its beak. The bill, legs and feet are black or dark grey. It has short rounded wings and a long tail. It has two calls: one is a high pitched scolding call; another is an alarm call that sounds like kee. The juvenile black-faced monarch resembles adults but it has pale buff tips on its wing feathers. Its plumage becomes darker as it matures and its facial markings become more pronounced as well.

Where does it live?
The black-faced monarch can be found throughout the Blue Mountains and along eastern Australia, particularly in highland regions. It is native to New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. In Victoria it was believed to have become extinct at some stage, but has since been rediscovered in several locations including Werribee Gorge, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and Albury Forest.

This species is not migratory but will move southwards during winter months.

Black-faced Monarch

What does it eat?
The black-faced monarch has a long and slender bill, which is adapted to probing deep into flowers for nectar and pollen. Its diet also includes insects. The black-faced monarch is found in open forests, woodland, eucalyptus groves and gardens with flowering plants.

How do I spot one?
They are usually seen alone or in pairs and do not form flocks. Take a walk in any wooded area of Australia and keep an eye out for monarchs. They’re easy to spot, with their striking colouring, but there are some things to look out for if you want to ensure you see one. For starters, they’re usually solitary birds – so don’t be surprised if you only see one at a time. As well as being solitary, black-faced monarchs can also be territorial. This means that even though they may be spotted near each other, it is unlikely that two will appear together.

Black-faced Monarch

Juvenile Black-faced Monarch

If you come across a male and female feeding together, chances are it is a pair. Another way to tell whether or not you have found a pair is by looking at their behaviour: males will often perch higher than females when feeding on nectar from flowers; females tend to feed closer to ground level than males.

Ask Roz Concierge

Is there anything to worry about?
Although black-faced monarchs tend to be very common and conspicuous, particularly on their breeding grounds in autumn, they’re surprisingly little known. Some ornithologists even question whether they should be considered a distinct species. However, with its unusual plumage (and loud chee chee call), it’s hard to miss.