Robins would have to be among my favourite birds and the Red Capped Robin is obviously a member of this family. It is found in the drier regions of Australia across much of the continent. Generally, the Red Capped Robin inhabits scrub and open woodland. Whilst the male is quite distinctive with his red cap, red breast and black neck, the female is a dull grey brown. The lack of colouring in many females in the bird world often makes it difficult to distinguish the breed of bird.
The Red Capped Robin is predominantly a ground feeding bird eating insects and spiders. Despite the fact that it is widespread, it can be uncommon in those parts where it should be as a result of human activity.
A small red and black plumaged bird is perched on a branchlet against a background of small bare branchlets in a tree.
Both sexes have a small, black bill, and dark brown eyes and legs. Immature birds initially resemble the female; it is only with their second moult, which takes place at around a year of age that males adopt their distinctive adult plumage. The red-capped robin moults once a year, after the breeding season, which takes place between December and April.
A small bird with pale brown plumage and reddish tint to chest and cap is perched on a twig against a background of small bare branchlets in a tree.
Adult males can breed at one year of age, and may do so while yet in non-breeding plumage, but they are less successful at reproducing at this age. The oldest recorded age is 5 years and 7 months for a bird banded near Beverley, Western Australia, in 1990.
A variety of calls have been recorded, described as ‘tinkle’ and ‘blurt’ songs. These are similar across mainland Australia but distinct on Rottnest Island; on the isolated island, birds rarely linked successive songs.
This species may be confused with the related flame robin (P. phoenicea) and scarlet robin (P. boodang), but the male can be distinguished by its red crown (white in the other two species) and smaller size; furthermore, the male flame robin has dark grey rather than black upperparts. Female and immature birds are harder to distinguish, but can be differentiated by the reddish tinge of the crown and whiter underparts.
Distribution and Habitat
The red-capped robin is found across Australia, except for Tasmania, Cape York, the Top End, and most of the Kimberley (there have been occasional sightings in the southernmost parts). Offshore populations exist on Rottnest Island, as well as Greenly and Pearson Islands off the Eyre Peninsula, but it is not found on Kangaroo Island. Although widespread, it is uncommon in many areas; it is rare east of the Great Dividing Range, in coastal regions in the south of the continent, and in the northern parts of its range—it is seldom encountered north of 20°S. Its movements are generally poorly known, particularly outside the breeding season. It is sedentary in much of the southern parts of its range, although the red-capped robin is a spring and summer visitor to the Nullarbor Plain and Adelaide region in South Australia, and central Victoria. It is a winter visitor in the northern parts of its range.
The red-capped robin prefers more arid habitat than its relatives, and inhabits drier areas, while the scarlet robin occupies wetter forests, where they co-occur. The red-capped robin’s preferred habitat is dry Acacia, Callitris, or mixed scrubland or woodland, dominated by such species as mulga (Acacia aneura), Georgina gidgee (Acacia georginae), raspberry jam (Acacia acuminata), black cypress-pine (Callitris endlicheri), white cypress-pine (C. columellaris), and slender cypress-pine (C. preissii) with understory shrubs, such as Cassinia, hop-bush (Dodonaea), emu bush (Eremophila), and spinifex (Triodia).
The species has generally fared badly with human change to the landscape. Once common on the Cumberland Plain in Sydney’s western suburbs, it has now almost disappeared from the Sydney Basin. It has also disappeared from the vicinity of Rockhampton in Queensland, and declined on Rottnest Island, and in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. Field studies in small patches of remnant vegetation indicate reduced survival rates there.
The feral cat is known to prey on the red-capped robin, and several bird species, including the Australian raven (Corvus coronoides), grey shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), grey butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus), and white-browed babbler (Pomatostomus superciliosus) raid nests and take young. There is one record of a brown-headed honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris) feeding on an egg. Predation is the commonest cause of nest failure.
The red-capped robin is generally encountered alone or in pairs, although groups of up to eight birds—a mated pair and their young—may be seen in autumn and winter. The species may join mixed-species flocks with other small insectivorous passerines; species recorded include the willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys), southern whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis), rufous whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) and black-faced woodswallow (Artamus cinereus) in Queensland, and the chestnut-rumped thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis), buff-rumped thornbill (A. reguloides) or inland thornbill (A. apicalis) in Western Australia.
The red-capped robin typically perches in a prominent location low to the ground, often flicking its wings and tail. It is very active and does not stay still for long. The female has been reported as being fairly tame, while the male is more wary of human contact.
The red-capped robin is territorial during the breeding season; the area occupied has been measured between 0.25 and 1.2 ha (0.6–3 acres). A pair lives and forages within their territory before dispersing in autumn. The male proclaims ownership by singing loudly from a suitable perch at the territory boundary, and confronts other males with a harsh scolding call should they make an incursion. Two males have been seen to face one another 30 to 1 m (98.4 to 3.3 ft) apart, flicking wings and manoeuvring for position in a threat display, while the female is incubating her eggs. Both sexes also react to the playback of song recordings. The male will also defend against incursions by male scarlet robins, and conversely avoid foraging in the latter species’ territories. Most juvenile red-capped robins are unable to live in territories occupied by adult birds, and need to travel to find unoccupied land; the furthest dispersal recorded to date has been 36 km (22 mi), from Terrick Terrick National Park across farmland to Gunbower National Park in northern Victoria.
The breeding season takes place over five months from August to January with up to three broods raised. The male proposes suitable nest sites to the female by rubbing his body over a suitable tree fork, all the while trilling continuously. He may indicate several sites before the female ultimately makes the decision where to build, at which point she constructs the nest alone. The nest is a neat, deep cup, made of soft dry grass and bark. Spider webs, feathers, and fur are used for binding or filling, and the nest is generally placed in a tree fork, or sometimes a mistletoe bush. It may be decorated with lichen and camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings. Two to three dull white eggs tinted bluish, greyish or brownish, and splotched with dark grey-brown, are laid on consecutive days, with each egg measuring 16 mm × 13 mm (0.63 in × 0.51 in).
The diet consists of insects and other small arthropods. One study of red-capped robin faeces conducted near Kambalda, Western Australia, revealed 96% of their diet was made up of beetles, while ants made up the remainder. Other prey recorded include spiders, and insects such as grasshoppers, including the Australian plague locust (Chortoicetes terminifera), adult and larval butterflies and moths, including geometer moths, dragonflies and damselflies, mantises, antlions, true bugs, including chinch bugs of the family Lygaeidae and shield bugs, various types of beetles, earwigs, and flies such as blow-flies and horse-flies.
The red-capped robin mostly pounces on prey on the ground, although it can swoop and catch creatures while airborne. Less often, it gleans (takes prey while perched) in low-lying vegetation, almost always less than 3 m (9.8 ft) above the ground. The prey is most commonly on the ground when caught, although airborne insects are sometimes taken. A low branch may be used as a vantage point in hunting.