Bird of the month

May's bird of the month: Hooded Robin

Friday, 3 May 2024

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5 things about Hooded Robins

Have you heard of the Hooded Robin? Here are 5 things you may or may not know about May’s bird of the month, the Hooded Robin.

To the left of the frame, a grey and white female Hooded Robin is perched on top of a banksia against a pale yellow and green background among several banksia flowers.
A female Hooded Robin perched on a banksia. Photo by Jason Moore

1. They’re big (well, for a robin)

Measuring around 16cm long, the Hooded Robin is one of Australia’s largest robin species. Unlike some of their more brightly-coloured cousins, the males are strikingly black and white, named after their distinctive black head and neck (or ‘hood’) – while females are mostly grey-brown. Juvenile birds are darker brown in colour with heavy white streaking and are well-camouflaged to their surroundings, often spending long periods perched on the ground among leaf-litter.

To the left of the frame, a black and white male Hooded Robin is perched on an exposed dead branch, turned towards the camera and facing to the right against a blotched orange-brown background.
Male Hooded Robins have distinctive black and white markings. Photo by Anna Every

2. They’re widespread woodland-dwellers

Hooded Robins are widespread across mainland Australia. Part of their scientific name derives from the Greek dryas, meaning ‘wood-nymph’ – as they prefer lightly timbered habitat, especially woodlands and shrublands dominated by acacias or eucalypts. They mostly occur in semi-arid and arid zones, and are often recorded in areas with an open understory and dead or fallen timber, which provides a suitable perch for foraging.

Four subspecies are recognised across Australia across a variety of habitats, with slight differences in size and plumage.

3. They sing to the moon

While Hooded Robins are typically shy and quiet during the day, males are often one of the first species to call in the morning among the first soloists in the pre-dawn chorus. Their song is described as a far-carrying series of soft, descending notes, a rapid piping or a high-pitched metallic squeak to attract a mate, declare their territory or ward of potential predators.

“Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata cucullata)” from xeno-canto by Marc Anderson.

Males sing from perches to advertise their territory, and both sexes are known to aggressively defend their nesting territory – chasing, pecking and scolding other, sometimes much larger, birds.

4. They perch and pounce

Hooded Robins feed on invertebrates (mostly insects), as well as small lizards and frogs and occasionally seeds. They choose a low, exposed perch (such as a dead branch, tree stump, rocky outcrop or fence post) to quietly search for nearby prey and then pounce. Once they’ve caught their meal, they return to perch to feed – a foraging technique known as sallying.

To the right of the frame, a black and white male Hooded Robin is perched on an exposed stump, facing to the right against a blotched pale brown background.
Hooded Robins catch their prey by pouncing on them from an exposed perch close to the ground. Photo by Jason Moore

5. They’re in decline

Sadly, Hooded Robins are in trouble. Their population has declined over much of their range with many recorded local extinctions, as a result of extensive land clearing for agriculture, habitat loss and fragmentation.

The South-eastern Hooded Robin population (Melanodryas cucullata cucullate) has declined by over 50% over the last decade alone, and this subspecies was listed as nationally Endangered in 2023 – while the Tiwi Islands Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata melvillensis), found only on Bathurst and Melville Islands, hasn’t been seen since 1992 and is listed as Critically Endangered, possibly extinct.

Hooded Robins are also threatened by nest predation and predation by invasive species, altered fire regimes, competition with other species (especially Noisy Miners) and the impacts of climate change. If you’re fortunate enough to have Hooded Robins on your property, you can help protect them by maintaining and improving their habitat – by planting a dense understory of native shrubs and groundcovers to deter Noisy Miners, and limiting the removal of firewood and fallen timber.