Last updated on 1-Nov 2017
Commonly occurring in the saltmarshes of southern Australia, the White-fronted Chat, with their bold black-white-and-grey plumage, is often seen foraging for insects and their larvae among the succulent leaves and stems of stunted saltmarsh plants. They construct neat nests from grass and plant stems in which they lay three tiny eggs. Once thought to be a type of thornbill, scientific studies have shown that chats are actually honeyeaters.
Male White-fronted Chats have a white face, breast and belly, dissected by a distinctive black band across the breast that extends around to the back of the head. Females have similar markings but they are gradations of grey-brown, rather than black-white, and the breast band is narrower. Immatures are similar to the female, but the breast band is very faint or missing.
Short ‘tangs’ sounding like a plucked rubber band. Bird call recorded by: Fred Van Gessel
The White-fronted Chat occurs across southern Australia (including Tasmania) from Shark Bay in Western Australia around to the Queensland/New South Wales border.
The White-fronted Chat lives in salt marsh and other damp areas with low vegetation such as swampy farmland and roadside verges. Sometimes occurs on beaches and the edges of lakes.
Once thought to be a type of thornbill, scientific studies have shown that chats are actually honeyeaters.
White-fronted Chats often forage in flocks of around 20 birds that congregate in areas where there are temporary outbreaks of insects.
White-fronted Chats run along the ground, picking up small insects, usually less than 5 mm long. Midges, kelp-flies, plant bugs and beetles are popular food items.
White-fronted Chat males and females form pairs towards the end of winter, while they feed in flocks. They sometimes nest in loose colonies, with nests as close as 5 m to each other. Males defend a small nest-site territory, but not necessarily for a whole breeding season. Second clutches will often be laid in locations that are different from earlier nests. Males follow their mates closely, during their fertile period, watching them from prominent perches, and chasing any males that may approach them. Only the female builds the nest (guarded closely by the male at all times), but both sexes take equal roles in incubation and feeding of the young.