Ian’s Bird of the Week – Atherton Scrubwren

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Atherton Scrubwren ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 05-18-15

I’ve just spent a few relaxing days camping with friends on the shores of Lake Tinaroo on the Atherton Tableland west of Cairns, so here is the eponymous Atherton Scrubwren a pair of which were foraging in the undergrowth on the edge of the rainforest behind the toilet block. You do of course take your camera with you everywhere, don’t you?
Lake Tinaroo by Ian

This is one of about a dozen bird species that are endemic to the Wet Tropics of Northeastern Queensland. Like several others, e.g. the Golden Bowerbird and the Mountain Thornbill, it is a bird of the highland rainforest, usually found about 600m/2000ft, occasionally down to 400m/1300ft. Lake Tinaroo is at an altitude of 670m/2200ft and be reached by the Gillies Highway from Gordonvale. This highway follows an extraordinary and interminably windy route up the escarpment from the coast, and is the only route on which I suffer from motion sickness even when I’m doing the driving. It is very scenic with spectacular views over the Goldsborough Valley, if you are feeling well enough to appreciate them.

Atherton Scrubwren (Sericornis keri) by Ian

The Atherton Scrubwren is probably the least distinctive of the Wet Tropics endemics, being small (13.5cm/5.3in long), brown and unobtrusive and very similar to the more widespread, slightly smaller Large-billed Scrubwren (third photo) found in rainforests along the east coast of Australia from Cooktown in NE Queensland almost to Melbourne. Their ranges overlap in the Wet Tropics below 750m/2500ft, the usual upper limit of the Large-billed, and the species differ in subtle differences in colour and facial pattern and foraging behaviour.

Atherton Scrubwren (Sericornis keri) by IanThe best field-marks are the difference in angle of the bill: straight in the Atherton (second photo) and bent slightly upwards in the Large-billed (third photo). The Atherton forages on or closes to the ground (the one in photos 1 and 2 was about 30cm/12in above the ground), while the Large-billed is arboreal and forages on the branches and in the foliage of trees. The Atherton has a buff eye-stripe which merges with the lower part of the face and throat, has dark flanks and under-tail coverts and a yellowish wash on the breast and underside. The Large-billed is supposed to have a beady eye, but that’s getting even more subtle.

Large-bill Scrubwren by IanDespite the similarities between these two species, genetic studies indicate that the Atherton Scrubwren is probably more closely related to the well-known – and easier to identify – White-browed Scrubwren which occurs in eastern, southern and western Australia and was also present near where we were camping.


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
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Lee’s Addition:

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Mat 13:31-32)

Ian has introduced us to some more of his Australian Scrubwrens, plus a tip to always carry your camera. They seem to be such tiny birds. Glad they posed for Ian at that beautiful lake.

Ian’s Whole Acanthizidae Family

Acanthizidae – Australasian Warblers


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