Last updated on 1-Nov 2017
Often tame, confiding and curious, the Red-capped Robin is regularly recorded as part of mixed-species feeding flocks, often joining with other small insectivorous species, especially with various species of thornbills.
The male Red-capped Robin is black above and white below with a distinctive scarlet-red cap, white shoulders, and a red breast that contrasts strongly with a black throat. The black wing is barred white and the tail is black with white edges. Females are quite different in appearance: grey-brown above and off-white below, with a reddish cap, brown-black wings barred buff to white, and some have faint red on the breast. Young birds are similar to females but are streaked white above, have a pale buff wing bar, and their breast and sides are streaked or mottled dark brown.
Males sing with characteristic dry, repeated trill: ‘dit-dit-drr-it’. Both sexes have a ‘tick’ call. Bird call recorded by: Fred Van Gessel
The Red-capped Robin is found from Queensland (rarely above latitude 20°S), through New South Wales, mainly west of the Great Dividing Range, to Victoria and South Australia. Also found in Western Australia in inland regions north to the Pilbara region, rarely seen on the south coast or far south-west. An isolated population occurs on Rottnest Island. Widespread in Northern Territory south of latitude 20°S. The Red-capped Robin will visit areas along the east coast during droughts.
The Red-capped Robin is found in most inland habitats that have tall trees or shrubs, such as eucalypt, acacia and cypress pine woodlands. It is mainly found in the arid and semi-arid zones, south of the Tropics, with some extension into coastal regions. The species is seen on farms with scattered trees, as well as vineyards and orchards. It is only occasionally reported in gardens.
Foraging Red-capped Robins usually pounce onto their prey on the ground from an elevated perch, such as a low branch or a stump. The species has also been recorded raking the leaf litter with its feet, regularly stopping and holding its head cocked to one side, presumably to detect any prey it has disturbed.
The Red-capped Robin feeds on insects and other invertebrates. It forages on the ground or in low vegetation, and will often perch on a stump or fallen branch, darting down to take insects from the ground. Can be seen in mixed feeding flocks with other small insect-eating birds such as Willie Wagtails, Rufous Whistlers and Black-faced Woodswallows.
Red-capped Robins breed in pairs within a breeding territory established and defended by the male. The male sings from perches around the boundary of the territory to deter other Red-capped Robins and also other robin species, such as the Scarlet Robin, P. multicolor. The female chooses a nest site in a tree fork and builds an open, cup-shaped nest of bark, grass, and rootlets, bound together with spider web, lined with soft materials, often camoflaged with lichen, bark and mosses. The male feeds the female during nest-building and incubation. The female incubates the eggs alone and both sexes feed the young. Once the young have fledged, they may remain in their parents’ territories for up to one and a half months before dispersing. Nests may be parasitised by cuckoos. Predators of nestlings include the Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica, and the Grey Butcherbird, Craticus torquatus.
Research by the Australian Museum (Major et al., 1999) has shown that male Red-capped Robin density is much lower in small, linear bushland remnants than in large non-linear remnants. The small remnants represented a higher risk of predation, making them much less suitable as breeding habitat.