The Brown Songlarks (Cincloramphus cruralis), also Australian Songlark, is a small passerine bird found throughout much of Australia. A member of the Old World Warbler family, the species is notable for sexual size dimorphism, among the most pronounced in any bird.
It is a moderate-sized bird of nondescript plumage; the female brownish above and paler below, and the larger male a darker brown.
The Brown Songlark was described by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and Thomas Horsfield as Megalurus cruralis in 1827. John Gould placed it in the genus Cincloramphus in 1843, describing it as C. cantatoris. However, the specific names of the former authors took priority. It is a species of Sylviidae, the Old World Warblers, a successful passerine family. It shares the genus Cincloramphus with the Rufous Songlark, another species endemic to much of Australia.
Cincloramphus is derived from the Greek words cinclus/κιγκλος “wagtail” and ramphos/ραμφος “beak”) and cruralis from the Latin root crur- “leg, shin”.
Male Brown Songlarks are 23–25 cm long versus 18–19 cm for females and may weigh 2.3 times as much. In general, the birds have a dusky pale- streaked with darker brown plumage and pale eyebrows. The underparts are brownish-white in the female, and darker brown in the male. Breeding males may display a cinnamon colour. Its eyes and bill are black, and its legs grey. Juveniles are smaller and paler with pinkish-brown bills. The call has been described as loud and creaky. The male is the principal singer, calling from perches or when rising above breeding territory.
Distribution and habitat
The bird is found throughout all of Australia, except parts of the far north, and not in Tasmania. There are particularly dense populations in the southern parts of the country. It prefers open pastures and grassy scrub and feeds on seeds and insects. The species is highly nomadic. Local numbers fluctuate depending on rainfall and the bird will often flee from drought affected areas.
The Brown Songlarks has a large range, between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000 kilometers²; while population size has not been quantified the bird is reported to be common. The IUCN thus lists it as a species of “least concern” and it is considered “secure” by Australian authorities.
Nesting occurs from August to December. The nest itself is a deep cup of herbaceous material well concealed in shrubbery or tall grass. There is generally one clutch per breeding season, consisting of 2 to 5 pale pink eggs with reddish brown spots and flecks 23 mm x 17 mm in size. Females provide most of the parenting. Foxes and snakes prey upon nests.
Sexual dimorphism (visual physical differences between the sexes)
The sexual dimorphism of the species has been the subject of study. Males are highly polygynous and compete directly for mates, giving rise to the pronounced size differential. Preferring open terrain, there is significant habitat heterogeneity (sameness) and excellent visibility across Brown Songlark territories. This allows males to defend large territories and support multiple nesting females.
Research has shown an interesting corollary to the dimorphism of the species: though males are larger than females, females hatch from larger eggs and are initially heavier than their brothers. This may provide them with an early competitive advantage. Particularly, in periods of low food availability, the greater nutrient reserves of female hatchlings may skew the sex ratio toward “cheaper” daughters. Whether it is advantageous for mothers to favour the smaller or larger sex in size dimorphic species remains ambiguous