|Range||northern and eastern Australia, southern Papua New Guinea, and the Kai Islands in Indonesia.|
The Australasian figbird (Sphecotheres vieilloti), is a species of medium-sized figbird native to a wide range of wooded habitats in northern and eastern Australia, southern Papua New Guinea, and the Kai Islands in Indonesia. It was formerly considered a subspecies of Sphecotheres viridis, then simply referred to as the figbird (a name still commonly used in Australia, where the Australasian figbird is the only figbird). It is common in large parts of its range, and occurs in numerous protected areas. Consequently, it is rated as Least Concern by BirdLife International and the IUCN.
Traditionally, all figbirds have been considered part of a single species, Sphecotheres viridis, but all recent major authorities recognize three species, the Australasian figbird (Sphecotheres viieilloti), the green figbird (Sphecotheres viridis) and the Wetar figbird (Sphecotheres hypoleucus). The split is primarily based on differences in measurements and plumage, and on biogeography. Additionally, the Australasian figbird has sometimes been split into two separate species, the more northern, yellow figbird (Sphecotheres flaviventris) and the green or southern figbird (Sphecotheres vieilloti), but the two intergrade widely where they come into contact, supporting the view that they are part of a single biological species.
The Australasian figbird has five subspecies, in taxonomic order:
- Sphecotheres vieilloti cucullatus – Kai Islands in Indonesia. Possibly a junior synonym of Sphecotheres vieilloti flaviventris.
- Sphecotheres vieilloti salvadorii – southern Papua New Guinea.
- Sphecotheres vieilloti ashbyi – northern Western Western Australia and Northern Territory, Australia.
- Sphecotheres vieilloti flaviventris – north-eastern Australia.
- Sphecotheres vieilloti vieilloti (nominate) – south-eastern and east-central Australia.
The Australasian figbird has a total length of 27–29.5 cm (10.6–11.6 in) and a jizz comparable to that of other orioles. It is sexually dimorphic, and the racial differences are almost entirely limited to the male. Males of all subspecies have a black tail with broad white tips to the outer rectrices, white crissum (around the cloaca), blackish primaries, a black head, distinct bright red facial skin, a black bill with a red base, and pinkish legs. In the nominate subspecies, the body is largely olive-green, and the throat, neck and chest are grey. The subspecies cucullatus, ashbyi and flaviventris are yellowish olive-green above, and bright yellow below (including the throat). The last subspecies, salvadorii, resembles previous, but with a grey throat, collar and chest similar to the nominate subspecies, thereby giving it an intermediate appearance not unlike some hybrids between nominate and flaviventris in Australia.
Females are drab-colored, being dull brownish above, and white below with strong dark streaking. They have greyish facial skin, and a greyish-black bill. Juveniles resemble females, but the streaking below is typically not as strong. The other orioles in its range, the brown and olive-backed orioles, are superficially similar, but have entirely red bills when adult.
As suggested by their name, Australasian figbirds are largely frugivorous, but also take small insects, nectar and small seeds. While largely a resident species (although the southern population may be migratory), it is nomadic in response to the availability of food.
Unlike most orioles, Australasian figbirds are gregarious, often forming flocks of 20 to 40 birds during the non-breeding season, and even breeding in small, loose colonies. The flimsy saucer-shaped nest is made from plant-material, and usually placed relatively high in a tree. The clutch of two to four eggs is incubated by both sexes, and typically hatches after 16–17 days. It has been recorded nesting near the aggressive spangled drongo and helmeted friarbird, possibly gaining an advantage as they keep potential nest-predators away. Australasian figbirds sometimes fall victim to nest parasitism by Pacific koels.