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Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)


The Eastern Spinebill is about 150 millimetres long including the long, narrow beak. 

The head is glossy black. Chin and throat are white with rufous centre. There is a black crescent over the shoulder whilst the underparts are cinnamon-brown. The females are said to have duller plumage but we are hard pressed to tell the difference amongst the many “Spinebills” that live in our cold climate garden.

Their flight is fast and rather erratic. Their wings make a distinctive “flip-flop” sound when in flight. Their call has been described as “rapid piping”.

Eastern Spinebills feed on insects and nectar. Their beaks are ideal for extracting nectar from the tubular flowers of native plants such as correas, eremophilas and grevilleas. We often see birds hovering, like hummingbirds, as they extract nectar from flowers.

Their nest is a small cup of twigs, grass and bark combined with hair and spider’s web. Nests are usually between one and five metres from the ground. Eastern Spinebills nest every spring in both clematis and Wonga Vines on our patio only a couple of metres from our back door.

Eastern Spinebills are found on and east of the Great Dividing Range from northern Queensland to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. 

When we first moved to our property, Yallaroo, there were no Eastern Spinebills, in fact there were no small birds at all. This was because there was no shrub understorey. As the garden developed ‘Spinebills’ began arriving. Our first sighting was a cause for celebration. Since then the gardens have played host to at least ten individuals at a time. They were the forerunners of all the resident small birds that make living such a pleasure in our cold climate garden.

There is a Western Spinebill that is found in the southwest corner of Western Australia. In this species, the male retains the colourful plumage whilst the female has drab, rather uniform colouring.

Warren and Gloria Sheather

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