Orthonychidae – Logrunners & Chowchilla

Australian Logrunner Orthonyx temminckii ©Ian Montgomery Website

The logrunners Orthonychidae are a family of birds which comprises just three species of passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea. The three species use their stiffened tails to brace themselves when feeding.

he Australian L:ogrunner Orthonyx temminckii is from northeastern New South Wales and southeast Queensland, where it is very local in its distribution, and strictly terrestrial in its habits. The wings are barred with white, and the chin, throat and breast are in the male pure white, but of a bright reddish-orange in the female. The remiges are very short, rounded and much incurved, showing a bird of weak flight. The rectrices are very broad, the shafts stiff, and towards the tip divested of barbs. The population which is found locally in New Guinea is now generally considered a separate species, the Papuan Logrunner Orthonyx novaeguineae.

The Chowchilla Orthonyx spaldingii, from north-east Queensland is of much greater size than either species of logrunner, and with a jet-black plumage, the throat being white in the male and orange-rufous in the female.

Logrunners are semi-terrestrial birds of weak flight. They are strictly carnivorous, with insects and larvae being their chief food, whilst the larger Chowchilla will also eat small lizards. They find their food by digging in the soil, using their spiny tails as a support in the wet forest. In accordance with their nonseasonal, warm rainforest habitat, logrunners can be very long-lived. The Chowchilla, the sole species with any banding data, has an average lifespan of around five years and has been known to live for seventeen.

Logrunners have a somewhat unusual social structure. They are basically monogamous, but male offspring are often retained on the natal territory for more than a year after fledging. Despite this, only the female ever feeds the young; the much larger males stay primarily for the purpose of territorial defence and protecting the female from predation. Similar patterns of retention of young without alloparental care also occur in the Speckled Warbler, the corvid genus Perisoreus and the bustard genus Eupodotis.

Like the lyrebirds, logrunners typically breed in the southern winter from June to September, though this is often extended depending on weather conditions by a month or more. Both the Chowchilla and the Papuan Logrunner lay only one egg, whilst the Australian Logrunner typically lays two though a few reports exist of clutches of one or even three. The eggs are very unusual in their tubular shape, and are pure white in colour, whilst the incubation period is among the longest for any songbird. The young generally become independent of the female in two to two and a half weeks, which is an exceptionally short time for an insectivorous altricial Australian bird, where parental dependence of forty to sixty days post-fledging is typical.[8] This is probably why, unlike in birds of drier habitats in Australia, alloparental care is superfluous for rearing young and may actually increase the risk of predation. The nests are domed and constructed entirely of sticks, and are located on the ground below a tree. They have special coverings to prevent the extremely heavy downpours typical of the eastern Australian coast from damaging the egg(s). Males are described as performing dancing antics like those of the lyrebirds

This family consists of just three species, which are:

Papuan Logrunner Orthonyx novaeguineae
Australian Logrunner Orthonyx temminckii
Chowchilla Orthonyx spaldingii

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 3

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