For some people in the Northern Hemisphere, myself included, Christmas plus sunshine and palm trees is mind-blowing.
And on top of that, we now have a robin that’s yellow, not red.
If you take a right from Australia for about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) you’ll stumble across New Caledonia, and this is where the yellow-bellied robin, or flyrobin, makes its home. More specifically it’s found on the islands of Grande Terre and Île des Pins, and can be seen flitting about between branches, trunks and the ground, occasionally pausing to sun itself.
It’s not especially fussy about its forest home, opting for dry, wet, and open woodland where available, and singing with a warble or sounding the alarm with a buzz. It lays its two pale blue, reddish-flecked eggs in a cup-like nest, and while Mum incubates them, it’s thought that as with other robins, Dad will occasionally serve her dinner.
Both sexes have a blazing yellow belly that’s easy to spot, which makes its method of hunting all the more impressive.
Its usual M.O. is to ambush bugs and insects from above, plucking them out of leaf litter before flitting off again, and while there may be the odd spider or scorpion around, there are no venomous neighbourhood reptiles or indigenous mammals except bats. So with few native predators, it’s no surprise this little robin is doing pretty well for itself, despite being found nowhere else in the world.
It looks incredibly similar to other Australian species like the eastern and western yellow robin (Eopsaltria australis and E. griseogularis respectively). Even its eggs look like a paler version of the eastern’s.
But we think it split off from cohorts the lemon-bellied flyrobin (Microeca flavigaster) and a small grey robin known as a jacky winter (Microeca fascinans) about 8 million years ago.
That’s not the only degree of separation, though.
In their 2009 study, Loynes et al. suggested the yellow-bellied robin had initially been slotted into the same genus as the Australian robin, Eopsaltria, because of their yellow and grey bellies and other similarities.
However, following their analysis, and pointing out that it was the only non-Aussie of the group, they recommended it join the genus Microeca, of lemon-bellied and jackie winter fame – it split off from them previously, after all. Let’s hope it wasn’t acrimonious.
For now, its accepted name is Cryptomicroeca flaviventris, but the majority of details I found were still under its previous name. There is very little information about this flitter, so after researching every name possible, I gave up and ran a background check on its family, Petroicidae.
Here abounds more surprise than confusion.
It consists of Australasian robins, but they defy expectations on two levels.
Firstly, they’re not at all related to Eurasian robins. They simply followed the evolutionary trends and adapted in the same way.
Secondly, they’re descended from, among other birds, the corvids. Again, if you asked some people in the Northern Hemisphere what would be the “least Christmassy” bird, they’d probably pick a crow, which is usually associated with death and foreboding.
While the yellow-bellied robin doesn’t have a red breast, at least it has a Santa beard.
If you’re so inclined, have a Merry Christmas!
And if not, ignore the previous sentence, and devour all the decadent food and drink that’s around for some reason.
Latin: Cryptomicroeca flaviventris / Eopsaltria flaviventris
What? Australasian robin with a yellow belly and Santa Claus beard.
Where? New Caledonia, specifically in dry or humid woodlands on Grande Terre and Île des Pins.
How big? 14-15 cm / 5.5-5.9 inches long.
Endangered? Despite only living in one place, it’s relatively common and not under threat, so considered Least Concern by the IUCN.
Probable motto: My yellow feathers aren’t the only weird thing!
They look sweet. Do they need my help at all?
Here’s a Christmas gift for you – no they don’t. They’re considered locally common and Least Concern globally.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
BirdLife International. 2017. “Cryptomicroeca flaviventris (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2017: e.T22704857A118826699.
Boles, W. 2019. “Yellow-bellied Robin (Cryptomicroeca flaviventris)“. In: del Hoyo, J. et al. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Duron, Quiterie et al. 2017. “Invasive rats strengthen predation pressure on bird eggs in a South Pacific island rainforest“, Current Zoology 63(6):583-590.
Dutson, Guy. 2011. “The birds of Melanesia“. Christopher Helm.
Loynes, Kate, et al. 2009. “Multi-locus phylogeny clarifies the systematics of the Australo-Papuan robins (Family Petroicidae, Passeriformes)“, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 53:212-219.
Mayr, Ernst. 1945. “Birds of the Southwest Pacific“. The Macmillan Company.
“Obituary: Richard Bowdler Sharpe“. 1909. British Birds.
Stokes, Tony. 1980. “Notes on the Landbirds of New Caledonia“, Emu Austral Ornithology 80(2):81-8.
Walters, Michael. 2006. “Colour in birds’ eggs: the collections of the Natural History Museum, Tring“, Historical Biology 18(2):145-208.
Featured image credit: “Frontal view of a yellow-bellied flyrobin perched on a vertical branch”, by Lars Petersson.