Skip to content

Now is the Winter of the Spinebill

July 23, 2022

One of the daintiest, prettiest birds in the garden is the Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorynchus tenuirostris). It is a member of the Honeyeater family and one that, unusually, is more likely to be found in Winter in our district than the warmer months. Like currawongs and robins, they tend to move from higher altitudes and wetter forests out through the valleys, gardens and farmland in the cooler months.

Australia is the home of honeyeaters; they are not found in Asia, Europe or America, only Australia and surrounding islands. This is because our trees produce more nectar than those of other places. We have forests of trees that burst into masses of flowers producing rich honey-like nectar. And these trees – especially Eucalypts and Melaleucas – depend on birds for their pollination. Bird-pollinated plants are exceeding rare in the rest of the world; they are dominant here. And honeyeaters aggressively and noisily defend their patch when trees are in blossom.

The Eastern Spinebill is a specialist feeder on heaths which have tubular flowers, and therefore has the longest, thinnest beak of any honeyeater. The Latin name means ‘spine bill thin beak’. As they probe the flowers for nectar (and the Pink Heath is flowering now) they get daubed with pollen which they pass on to the next flower. You can see pollen on the base of the bird’s beak in the photo. Their loud piping call reminds me of Winter as it echoes through the Yea fog on cold days.

They love to visit native gardens and it is a good thing they do so in Winter, because come Springtime they would be in competition with big bossypants like Red Wattlebirds and New Holland Honeyeaters. When you’re small, dainty and pretty you don’t pick fights with the tough guys.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: