Australian Bush Birds
Dusky Woodswallow  -  Artamus cyanopterus
Dusky Woodswallow
Dusky Woodswallow perched on a post at Cassilis, near Omeo, Victoria. The main plumage colour is a shade of grey instead of brown but the white streak on the wing leading edge and the gunmetal blue-grey of the front wing are both visible. The white streak is only seen on the Dusky Woodswallow.
dusky woodswallows on branch
Two Dusky Woodswallows on a branch beside the Murray River at Mildura.
Dusky Woodswallow - page 2
map map The Dusky Woodswallow - Artamus cyanopterus - has smoky greyish-brown plumage, sometimes with less brown and more dark grey. Rump and under-tail dark, nearly black. Wings slate in colour, leading edge shows white line when folded; line found only in dusky wood swallows. Front of wing coloured dark blue. Underwing white-grey. Tail black with white tip. Eye dark brown, bill bluish with black tip, dark patch around eyes sometimes extending down to base of bill. Feet mealy black. Males and females are similar. 17 to 18 cm.

Immature birds coarsely speckled cream on brown; bill brownish.

Lives around coastal and eastern Australia in eucalyptus forest and woodlands; in territory far denser than other woodswallows but the Dusky forages in the same way as other versions. They sit watchfully on exposed branches, especially on the topmost branches of dead gum trees, making soaring flights to seize flying termites. Often sit together on high branches, preening one another with their tails rotating. Live in small communal groups of 10 to 30 and cluster together to roost in a tight mass in tree-hollows. Flocks amalgamate in winter and several hundred or so may jam themselves into hollow trees to sleep. This clustering is thought to conserve body heat; they sometimes huddle on chilly days.

Dusky Woodswallows in the southeast are migratory; most moving north as far as inland New South Wales or Central Queensland in winter. Virtually the entire Tasmanian population moves to the mainland in winter. Groups return to breeding areas after winter and do not spread out over the countryside but establish small territories. They nest together in close proximity so neighbouring pairs, or the whole flock, can help in the defence of a single nest by mobbing a predator with scolding chattering.

dusky woodswallows in flight
Dusky Woodswallows taking off from a high branch.
Breeding takes place between August and January. In courtship the pair perch together and the male offers food to the female; she faces the male and adopts a begging position with body depressed, head thrust forward and extended wings quivering. Before mating both birds perform a silent display; with wings fluttering up and down then rotating the partly fanned tail emphasising the white-tipped feathers.

The nest is a small basket of twigs, grass, stems and rootlets; often lined with a few green plant stems; placed in an exposed position from 1 to 11 metres above ground, or on top of a broken stump, or behind pieces of half-shed bark. Three or four eggs are laid, cream with purple-brown spots and blotches, particularly at the larger end; oval, about 23 by 17 millimetres. Incubation takes about 16 days.

Dusky Woodswallow - page 3
Male and female share all nest duties including building the nest and tending the fledglings. Sometimes other adult birds - not necessarily previous year offspring - help to feed the young.

Nestlings remain in the nest for 16 to 20 days depending on weather, availability of food and the number of chicks. They leave the nest before they can properly fly but are well camouflaged with mottled plumage and have strong claws to cling to branches. Young birds usually stay in the parental flock.

There are two separate populations. An eastern one ranging from the Atherton Tableland south to Tasmania and South Australia. Atherton birds do not migrate, southern birds migrate in winter to warmer parts. The western population is found in southwest Western Australia.

The Little Woodswallow and the Black-faced Woodswallow are similar to the Dusky Woodswallow but the Dusky Woodswallow is the only woodswallow with a white leading edge on the wing. The Dusky also tends to have a smaller face mask restricted mostly to the eyes and down to the upper bill.