LOGRUNNERS Orthonychidae
The Logrunners are a small Australasian family composed of just two species in the genus Orthonyx: the Chowchilla (left) and the Logrunner (below). These close-up pictures are both by California photographer Ed Harper during one of his visits "down under." Both species live on the ground in wet humid forests of eastern Australia and, in the case of Logrunner, locally in montane New Guinea. Although they sometimes forage in thickets or undergrowth for berries, they primarily scratch or  dig in the leaf litter for small prey items like insects and earthworms. During these efforts they brace themselves with their stiffened tails that end in sharp spines (vaguely like the tails of woodpeckers who use their tails for an entirely different sort of bracing). They scratch with both feet and toss leaves aside with their bills; these movements create characteristic small circular cleared areas on the forest floor.
The Chowchilla (above) is dark brown above and white below (male) or with a reddish throat and white belly (female). Both sexes have prominent eye-rings. They inhabit the northern highlands of eastern Australia. The Logrunner (right) has a more complex pattern of grays and tans with a black side-stripe but, like the Chowchilla, it is sexually dimorphic. Males have white throats while females have rusty throats. Both birds shown on this page appear to be males. The Logrunner lives in more southerly mountains and east coastal forests.

Sibley & Ahlquist (1990) and Sibley (1996) showed that this small group of birds is one of the great corvid assemblage that arose in Australasia. This discovery severed the link which had long been proposed between this group and quail-thrushes & allies (Simpson & Day 1996). There had even been theories these birds were babblers before the analysis of biochemical evidence.

Both species are primarily found in pairs and can often be best located in the shaded understory by their vocalizations (the Chowchilla is particularly vocal in the dawn chorus). My own experiences are quite limited but my success in watching these cool birds has been by walking alone, quietly and slowly, on paths through the forests of Australian national parks in either the Atherton tablelands (Chowchilla) or coastal east Australia (e.g., Barren Ground reserve in New South Wales for Logrunner).

Pairs defend territories year-round and are entirely sedentary. Females build side-entranced domed nests make of sticks placed on the ground or in low brush.

Photos: The Chowchilla Orthonyx spaldingii photo and the Logrunner Orthonyx temminckii photo were taken by W. Ed Harper during a 1998 trip to Australia. Photos © 2001 W. Ed Harper, used with permission; all rights reserved.

Bibliographic note

There is no family book as yet, and the Handbook of the Birds of the World has not yet reached this group, but the Australian literature that includes this family is reasonably extensive (e.g., Blakers et al. 19984, Coates 1990, Schodde & Mason 1999, Simpson & Day 1996).

Literature cited:

Blakers, M., S. J. J. F. Davies, and P. N. Reilly. 1984. The Atlas of Australian Birds. Royal Australian Ornith. Union, Melbourne Univ. Press, Carlton, Victoria.

Coates, B. J. 1990. The Birds of Papua New Guinea. Part II. Dove Publ., Ltd., Alderley, Australia.

Schodde, R., and I.J. Mason. 1999. The Directory of Australian Birds, Passerines. CSIRO Publishing.

Sibley, C. G. 1996. Birds of the World, on diskette, Windows version 2.0. Charles G. Sibley, Santa Rosa, CA.

Sibley, C. G., and J. E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.

Simpson, K, and N. Day. 1996. A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, revised 5th ed. Penguin Books Australia Ltd., Ringwood, Victoria, Australia.




Page created 24 June 2001