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It’s a … thornbill!

January 17, 2022

Thornbills are one of the most difficult bird groups to distinguish. I knew one birder who gave up birdwatching because she “got sick of staring at thornbills trying to guess what kind they were” and took up botany instead – plants don’t fly away.

We have five species of Acanthiza – the thornbill family – in the district: Brown, Striated, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped. Plus there is the weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris) which is like a thornbill except that it has a ‘wee’ bill instead of a ‘thorn’, that is, its beak is shorter and fatter – it is also Australia’s smallest bird.

All thornbills build dome nests with a side entrance and are insect-eaters primarily.

Learning thornbills is indeed too complicated and exacting to interest many people, so I will suggest one simple distinction: two of them forage on the ground; the rest never leave the trees.
The Yellow-rumped and Buff-rumped are ground foragers. Although they use trees for nesting and sleeping and refuge, they feed in busy little flocks on the ground.

All you have to decide then is whether the yellow colour on the rump (only visible when they open their wings usually) is bright yellow or dull yellow (=buff), which sounds easy, right?
Also the Yellow-rumped has brown eyes and the Buff-rumped has white eyes, which is another distinction hard to make from a distance.

Perhaps it would be sufficient to say “Thornbill!” and be glad that these delightful little creatures share our glorious planet.

Leave the identification to pedants.

Buff-rumped thornbil – A. reguloides. The buff on the rump is just visible
Yellow-rumped thornbill A. chrysorrhhoa

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