Australian Bush Birds
Black-faced Woodswallow  -  Artamus cinereus
Black-faced Woodswallow
Black-faced Woodswallow perched on a tree along the Barclay Highway, Queensland.
Black-faced Woodswallow in flight
Black-faced Woodswallow in flight showing the various shades of grey in its plumage.
The Black-faced Woodswallow - Artamus cinereus - has a light smoky-grey head and back, under parts pale smoky grey; roughly triangular shaped black face mask over the eyes and extending down to the chin; the short bill is blue-grey with a darker tip. Underparts are pale smoky-grey. Wings are a blue-grey with whiter grey beneath. Rump is black, short tail feathers are black with white tip. Eye dark brown, feet mealy black. 18 to 19 centimetres.

Lives mainly in drier open woodlands west of the Great Dividing Range. Mainly sedentary birds remaining in the same foraging area for years; can be locally nomadic outside breeding season. Ready fliers but feet are weak; on branches it shuffles and when on the ground to pick up nesting material or insects it hops weakly.

Black-faced Woodswallow - page 2
map map Live in small communal groups of several pairs plus offspring. At night all members cluster into a tight ball in a sheltering hollow. Feeds on insects taken on the wing during brief sorties from low perches; insects are caught with bill and feet. Also takes prey from the ground and feeds among foliage on insects and nectar. Birds twitter constantly in flight and on perches to maintain group contact.

Breeding takes place from August to January; sometimes after rain in arid areas. Pairs court by mutual wing-waving and tail-rotation. Nests, built in about 6 days, are shallow, skimpy bowls of twigs and grass stems in a well-hidden fork in a bush or on a fence post, 1 to 5 metre above the ground.

Three or four eggs are laid, 22 mm by 17 mm, oval, white with purplish-brown blotches concentrated at the large end. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs (for 14 to 16 days) and feed the young. Parents may be helped in feeding the young by unmatched birds in the group. Young fledge in 18 days.

Common names include Grey-breasted Woodswallow, White-bellied Woodswallow, White-vented Woodswallow.

The mask alone is insufficient to identify this species. The Dusky Woodswallow sometimes has a similar dark mask, but the Black-faced Woodswallow is mainly grey overall (black under the tail) while the Dusky Woodswallow is more of a dusky brown with bluish wings and white feathers on the wing leading edge.