The Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea) is a moderately common resident of the coolest parts of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Like the other two red-breasted Petroica robins"?the Scarlet Robin and the Red-capped Robin"?it is often simply but inaccurately called the robin redbreast.
Like many brightly coloured robins of the Petroicidae it is sexually dimorphic. The male has a brilliant orange-red chest and throat, and white frons. Its upperparts are iron-grey with white bars, and its tail black with white tips. The female is an undistinguished grey-brown. The robin has a small black bill and eyes.
The Flame Robin is one of five red- or pink-breasted species of robin in the genus Petroica; they are colloquially known as "Red Robins" as distinct from the "Yellow Robins" of the genus Eopsaltria. Although named after the European Robin, is not closely related to it or the American Robin. Along with the other Australian robins, it was classified for many years as a member of the old world flycatcher family Muscicapidae, before being placed in the whistler family Pachycephalidae. The robins were also placed in their own family Petroicidae, or Eopsaltridae.
Sibley and Alquist's DNA-DNA hybridisation studies placed the robins in a Corvida parvorder comprising many tropical and Australian passerines including pardalotes, Fairy-wrens and honeyeaters as well as crows. However, subsequent molecular research (and current consensus) places the robins as a very early offshoot of the Passerida ("advanced" songbirds).
The Flame Robin was first described by the French naturalists Jean René Constant Quoy and Joseph Paul Gaimard in 1830 as Muscicapa chrysoptera. It was later described in its current genus by John Gould in 1837 as Petroica phoenicea, and it was this latter binomial name that was used since that time. Given this, Quoy and Gaimard's name was declared a nomen oblitum and Gould's a nomen protectum. The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek words petro- "rock" and oikos "home", from birds' habits of sitting on rocks. The specific epithet is also derived from Ancient Greek, from the word phoinikos "red".
It was previously commonly known as the Flame-breasted Robin, and was gradually abbreviated to Flame Robin.
Birds are around 14 cm (6 in) in length. The male Flame Robin is easily distinguished by its bright orange-red plumage of the throat, breast and abdomen. The colour alone is not a reliable guide, as some Scarlet Robins take on an orange hue, but while male Scarlet and Red-capped Robins have red breasts and black throats, the Flame Robin's breast plumage extends right up to the base of the bill. The male has dark grey head, back and tail, with a white frons, wing bar and outer tail shafts. It is also a little slimmer and has a smaller head than the Scarlet Robin, and is clearly larger than the Red-capped. The female is plain-coloured; pale brown overall, and a lighter buff underneath, with small white marks on wings and over the bill. The bill, legs and eyes are black.
The Flame Robin mostly breeds in and around the Great Dividing Range, the Tasmanian highlands and islands in Bass Strait. With the coming of cooler autumn weather, most birds disperse to lower and warmer areas, some travelling as far as eastern South Australia, southern Queensland, or (in the case of some Tasmanian birds) across Bass Strait to Victoria. Birds breeding in the warmer climates north of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales tend to retain their highland territories all year round.
Like all Australasian robins, the Flame Robin is a perch and pounce hunter, mainly eating insects, and often returning to a favourite low perch several times to stand erect and motionless, scanning the leaf-litter for more prey. They are typically seen in pairs (during the spring and summer breeding season) or in loose companies in more open country during winter.
Breeding season is August to January with one or two broods raised. The nest is a neat deep cup made of soft dry grass, moss and bark. Spider webs, feathers and fur are used for binding/filling, generally in a tree fork or crevice, or cliff or riverbank ledge, generally within a few metres of the ground. Three or four dull white eggs tinted bluish, greyish or brownish and splotched with dark grey-brown are laid measuring 18 mm x 14 mm.
Male & Female, Girraween NP, S Queensland