Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Family ARTAMIDAE Vigors, 1825

Compiler and date details

Files of R. Schodde & I.J. Mason, 2001; updated and upgraded by N.W. Longmore, Museum Victoria, 2006

  • Artamidae Vigors, 1825.
    Type genus:
     Artamus Vieillot, 1816.



The family Artamidae is broadly dispersed across the south-western Pacific islands and extends to south-eastern Asia (Dickinson 2003). Otherwise this family of 23 species has its distribution centred on Australia and New Guinea. Four Australian genera, 80% of the total genera and represented by 15 species, are distinguished within this family (woodswallows, butcherbirds, Australian Magpie, and currawongs). Woodswallows occur throughout the tropical south-western Pacific islands, Australia and New Guinea, the Indonesian Archipelago, and south-eastern Asia. Butcherbirds and the Australian Magpie are distributed through Australia and New Guinea with introduced populations of the latter species in New Zealand. The currawong is the only genus endemic to Australia with an isolated population on Lord Howe Island. A fifth genus, Peltops, is endemic to New Guinea.

ultrataxaare recognised as occurring in Australia and its island dependencies (Schodde & Mason 1999). The family has adapted to occupy most Australian habitats. Many species within the genus Artamus are either highly nomadic or migratory; the other two genera, Gymnorhina and Strepera, are sedentary or show minimal movement trends. Four species are shared with New Guinea (Cracticus quoyi, C. mentalis, Gymnorhina tibicen, and Artamus leucorynchus), the latter or its allospecies have extended their distribution into the Pacific island chains. In each instance they are all represented by distinctive ultrataxa.

The family has terrestrial and arboreal gleaning habits and one genus, Artamus, has well-developed aerial skills. Most are insectivorous although there is one deviation from that. Woodswallows have a brushed tongue structure, adapted to feeding on nectar. Three genera are gregarious, particularly Artamus: large flocks of woodswallows are a feature of the Australian interior. Gymnorhina and Strepera often congregate in flocks either as non-breeding adolescents or as winter congregations. Australian Magpies, currawongs and butcherbirds have adapted well to human incursions, often frequenting human habitation and parks.

The shallow, cupped nests are stick structures placed in tree forks: Australian Magpies and currawongs usually place theirs at some height from the ground; butcherbirds' nest placement varies upwards from low trees. On occasion butcherbirds will construct their nests in unusual situations such as in the head of tree ferns. Woodswallows have similar nesting habits, although they often construct their nests in hollows of low tree stumps. The artamids are strongly defensive of their nest sites, the single-pair nest territory is large; an exception is the woodswallows - they often nest in loose colonies. Eggs, in clutches varying from two to five, are heavily marked by shades of brown, red, green and grey; such marks are primarily spots and blotches.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
12-Feb-2010 (import)