Masked woodswallow (Artamus personatus)

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Male masked woodswallow perched
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • As its name suggests, the masked woodswallow has a conspicuous face mask, which is darker and more distinct in the male than in the female.
  • The masked woodswallow has a soft, twittering song, but it is also known to mimic the calls of other bird species.
  • The masked woodswallow is said to look like a small, slim starling when gliding gracefully in flight.
  • Areas of open forest and woodland are the preferred habitat of the masked woodswallow.
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Masked woodswallow fact file

Masked woodswallow description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyArtamidae
GenusArtamus (1)

A graceful glider when in flight (3), the masked woodswallow (Artamus personatus) is a rather striking, sexually dimorphic bird (2). As its name suggests, the male masked woodswallow has a black face and throat (2) (3), which contrasts starkly with its slate-grey upperparts and with a white crescent bordering the black mask at the rear (2) (4). The underparts of this species are pale (4), and the tail is tipped with white, while the thick, pale blue-grey bill is black-tipped (2) (4). The masked woodswallow’s eyes are dark brown, and its legs are grey to black (2).

The female masked woodswallow looks like a much duller, paler version of the male (2) (3) (4), with a less distinct face mask (3) which is largely grey (4). The underparts of the female masked woodswallow have a browner tinge than in the male (2) (4). Juvenile masked woodswallows are similar in appearance to the female, but are much duller, being mainly dark brown with a greyer tail and wings. The upperparts of the juvenile are streaked and spotted whitish, while the underparts are diffusely streaked whitish (2).

Sometimes known to mimic the vocalisations of other species (2), the masked woodswallow is often first detected by the calls of flocks flying overhead (5). The calls of the masked woodswallow include a loud, musical ‘chrrt’ or ‘chapp-chapp’, but this species also makes softer ‘chrrup’ sounds. Its song is described as a soft, twittering series of notes (2).

Synonyms
Ocypterus personatus.
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Masked woodswallow biology

A highly nomadic species (2) (4), the masked woodswallow is usually found in parties of up to 20 birds (5), although it is also known to travel in larger flocks numbering more than 1,000 individuals (2). In the eastern half of Australia, these larger flocks tend to be formed of several species, with masked woodswallows mixing with other birds such as white-browed woodswallows (Artamus superciliosus) (2).

The masked woodswallow is known to move around in response to changes in rainfall and temperature (4), generally travelling northwards after the breeding season and returning south when food becomes available (2).

The masked woodswallow usually breeds in the southern half of Australia. Its breeding season runs from July through to March, although most breeding occurs between September and December. This species is generally a solitary nester, but it may also form loose breeding colonies, with nests located ten metres apart. Nest building occurs as soon as the flock settles at a site, and the nest is usually completed within one week. Both the male and female masked woodswallow take part in nest building, creating a shallow, open cup using twigs, grass and sometimes rootlets or plant stems, and lining it with drier, finer material. The nest is usually built within a shrub or the forked branches of a tree (2).  

A masked woodswallow clutch contains 2 to 3 eggs, which are incubated for 12 days. Both sexes are involved in egg incubation, as well as chick brooding and feeding. The chicks fledge the nest at about 12 or 13 days of age, and are cared for by the adult birds for a further 12 days or more (2).

The diet of the masked woodswallow is largely insectivorous (2), although this species also feeds on nectar (2) (3) (5). Insect prey is mostly taken when in flight (2) (3) (4) (5), with the masked woodswallow uttering continuous chirruping calls and scolding notes while foraging (5). Some insects are gleaned from the ground (3) (4) (5), and may be pounced upon from a perch (2).

At dusk, the noisy, chattering flocks of masked woodswallows gather in communal roosts, often shared with white-browed woodswallows (A. superciliosus), where they rest in foliage, tree crevices, or behind sheets of peeling bark (5).

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Masked woodswallow range

The masked woodswallow is widespread across mainland Australia (2) (5) (6), but it is not found in the tropics north of 15 degrees South, on the eastern and south-eastern coasts, or in the forests in the southwest of the country (2).

This species is an irregular migrant (5), and is highly nomadic. Throughout the cooler months, it is more commonly seen in the north of the country, moving southwards in the summer (6) or during inland droughts (5). The masked woodswallow is a vagrant to Tasmania, Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island and New Zealand (2).

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Masked woodswallow habitat

The masked woodswallow prefers areas of open forest and woodland (2) (4) (6), particularly those formed primarily of eucalypts, with a sparse understorey and a grassy ground layer (5). Scrub and heath are also prime masked woodswallow habitat (4), and this striking bird can sometimes be found in farmland (2) (4) and in vineyards (4).

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Masked woodswallow status

The masked woodswallow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Masked woodswallow threats

The masked woodswallow is widespread and common, and there are currently no known major threats to this species. As a result, the masked woodswallow is not considered to be globally threatened (2).

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Masked woodswallow conservation

As the masked woodswallow has an extremely large range (7) and is not thought to be at risk of extinction (2), there are currently no known conservation measures in place specifically targeting this species.

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Find out more

Find out more about the masked woodswallow:

Learn more about bird conservation in Australia:

Find out more about conservation in Australia:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Gleaning
The catching of prey by plucking it from or within foliage.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Incubation
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Insectivorous
Insect-eating.
Sexual dimorphism
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
Vagrant
An individual found outside the normal range of the species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Robertson, H. and Heather, B. (2001) Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. BirdLife International (2011) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Dorling Kindersley Ltd., London.
  5. Tzaros, C. and Shimba, T. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
  6. Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
  7. BirdLife International (September, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=5863
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Image credit

Male masked woodswallow perched  
Male masked woodswallow perched

© Don Hadden / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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