Chestnut-rumped thornbill

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Chestnut-rumped thornbill
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill1.jpg
At Mount Wood, Sturt Desert, NSW
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Acanthizidae
Genus: Acanthiza
Species: A. uropygialis
Binomial name
Acanthiza uropygialis
Gould, 1838
Chestnut-rumped thornbills posturing, (sequence of 5 photos in less than 2 seconds, Sturt Desert, NSW).

The chestnut-rumped thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis) is a small passerine bird in the family Acanthizidae, endemic to Australia.

Specially named for its pale-chestnut rump from mediaeval Latin uropygium, the rump.[2] Its other names include chestnut-tailed or chestnut-backed thornbill, tit or tit-warbler, chestnut-rumped tit or tit-warbler.[2] A plain, pale thornbill, with pale eyes, it is widespread throughout inland Australia, West of the Great Dividing Range to the West Australian coast but is absent in the far north and humid southwestern WA.[3] It is a cooperative breeder like some of the other thornbills [4]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

Acanthiza Uropygialis, Gould (1848), Birds of Australia. Vol 3. plate 56, from National Library of Australia website.[5]

Described and classified by John Gould in 1838 in Synopsis of Birds of Australia, from a specimen collected in Liverpool Plains NSW.[6]

Type, male, No17602 (525) is in the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, United States. A specimen from the Gould collection is in the British Museum.[7]

Mathews[8] (1912) recognised a number of different subspecies of Acanthiza Uropygialis: A.u.ruthergleni, mellori, augusta, nea, murchisoni and condora,[8] with A.u.kycheringi added in 1922. Campbell[7] (1925) added subspecies Geobasilus uropygialis moora and G.u. erema. Where the genus Geobasileus, referred to ground feeding thornbills.[9]

However, Mack[10] (1936) and Mayr & Serventy[11] (1938) reorganised the species into two subspecies, A.u. uropygialis and A.u. augusta. Recent studies do not recognise subspecies but indicate that variations in plumage colouration, is clinal.[2][12][13]

The Acanthiza had been previously placed in the Pardalotidae family, but are now part of the Acanthizidae.[13]


Chestnut-rumped thornbill (Sturt Desert, NSW).

Length: 9.8 cm (9-11); wing span 15.5 cm (14-16.5); weight: 6 g.[2][14]

Mid-sized thornbill similar in size and shape to inland thornbill (A. apicalis) and slaty-backed thornbill (A. robustirostris). Pale and plain with pale iris similar to buff-rumped (Acanthiza reguloides), western (A.inornata), slender-billed (A. iredalei) and yellow-rumped thornbills (A. chrysorrhoa).[2]

Pale grey-brown upper, rich chestnut rump and mostly black tail with pale tips, pale mottled ear-coverts and rufous suffusion on forehead and crown. Plain whitish underbody. The sexes are alike, with no seasonal variation.[2][3]

Slight geographic variations, birds of the more arid inland are paler and greyer above, with a slightly paler rump patch and cleaner white below than those in coastal and subcoastal regions. May be confused with rufous birds with rufous-brown rump patch such as brown thornbill (A. pusilla), inland thornbill (A. apicalis) and slaty-backed thornbills (A. robustirostris).[2][15][16]

Gregarious usually in small flocks, twos or threes and sometimes with other thornbills and small passerines. Active, restless, forages in shrubs, trees and ground, searching briskly, flitting, hopping in foliage and low branches of trees and shrubs, probing into crevices and bark and hopping on ground searching among fallen debris.[2][15]

Flight similar to other thornbills, cover to cover in low undulating dashes.[2]

Voice is penetrating, with a far-carrying song of similar phrases. Mimics.[3]

Juveniles are similar to adults, but plainer with duller head pattern, and pale buff tail tips, not white. Iris is slightly duller, cream or greyish white. Nearly fledged juveniles have pale yellow gape.[2][14]

Distribution and population[edit]

Map of Australia with chestnut-rumped thornbill distribution.[17]

Endemic to mainland Australia.

Qld: widespread in S, to W of Great Divide, in South Western, South Central and W. South-Eastern Regions. Generally S of 23° S.[16][18]

NSW: widespread W of Great Divide, including w. slopes of Northern Tablelands and southern Tablelands, Canberra.[2][19]

Vic: Widespread in Mallee, Wimmera and North Districts N of 37°S.[2][20]

SA: Widespread in many regions, but generally absent from SE, ( though few records exist).[2][21][22]

WA: Generally absent from Nullarbor Plains. Farther west largely absent from south coast, widespread in areas W of 123°E from 32°S North to 22°S in Pilbara region. Widespread in Gibson Desert, and scattered sites in Great Victoria Desert.[2][23][24]


Chestnut-rumped thornbill, about to fly off (Sturt Desert, NSW).
Chestnut-rumped thornbill, rear flight view (Sturt Desert, NSW).

Chestnut-rumped thornbills are resident or sedentary,[25] but some movement occurs. No large-scale movements are known, though some individuals occasionally move long distances.[26] Non-breeding flocks disperse before breeding.[2][27]


Dry woodlands and shrub lands, mainly of mulga and mallee[2][28]eucalypts.[19] Thickets, saltbush, bluebush, lignum, open pastoral country, among dead trees and stumps.[3] In arid & semi-arid zones extending to temperate and subtropical zones,[2][17][29] in a wide variety of land forms including sand dunes, flood plains, rocky hillsides, plateaux and gorges.[2][30][31]


Chestnut-rumped thornbills (Sturt Desert, NSW).


Chestnut-rumped thornbills are mainly insectivores but occasionally eat seeds. Studies on stomach contents show spiders, insects, plants, seeds and buds.[2]

They mostly forage in foliage and from branches of shrubs and low trees but also regularly on the ground, by gleaning 81.8% (leaves, twigs, branches, ground), sallying 4.37% and 13.9% by probing into bark.[15] The young are fed tiny insects and small white grubs.[32]

They are gregarious and rarely seen singly. Feeding flocks are usually small parties of up to ten, and less often up to 20 birds, associating with brown thornbill (A. pusilla),[30] yellow-rumped thornbill (A. chrysorrhoa), southern whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis), white-browed scrubwrens (Sericornis frontalis) or redthroats (Pyrrholaemus brunneus), and occasionally joined by silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis).[2]

In South Australia during winter, may congregate in mixed feeding groups with yellow (A. nana), yellow-rumped (A. chrysorrhoa) and buff-rumped thornbills (A. reguloides), with up to 100 or more birds in groups.[2]


Pair of chestnut-rumped thornbills (Sturt Desert, NSW).

Most records of chestnut-rumped thornbills breeding involve pairs, however they appear occasionally to breed co-operatively.[4] Breeding season is June - December, and two broods, possibly three can be raised per season. The ovoid eggs are laid at two-day intervals. They are very fine, slightly glossy, flesh-white and minutely freckled all over with reddish brown and purplish brown, particularly at the large-end.[2][14][33] Nest sites are usually in hollows, often vertical, in live and dead trees, with the entrance at the end of a spout, crevice or knothole, in the side of a branch or trunk. They also nest in stumps, logs or branches lying on the ground and in fence posts.[2][34]

The chicks are altricial and nidicolous, with both adults feeding the nestlings and fledglings.[15][35] The fledging period is around 18–20 days.[2]

Both adults are involved with building nests,[15] which are small, neat and domed usually ovoid, with a rounded entrance at side or near top. If inside a hollow, the entrance is often flush with the opening of the hollow. Materials use are dried grass, bark strips, plant stems, moss, lichen and spider web, with a lining of feathers, wool or fur.[2][33][34]

Chestnut-rumped thornbills are known to be parasited by Horsfield's bronze cuckoos (Chalcites basalis).[36]


Chestnut-rumped thornbill (Sturt Desert, NSW).

Range: The chestnut-rumped thornbill has an extremely large range, and therefore does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation).[29]

Population trend: Though the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations).[29]

Population size: This has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).[29]

For these reasons the species is evaluated as least concern.[1]

However, the chestnut-rumped thornbill is on a list of declining woodland birds,[37][38] characterized mostly by being ground or low-shrub feeders and dwellers as well as being predominantly insectivores.[38] The clearing of woodands on fertile soils and overgrazing of remaining native vegetation, has resulted in fewer ground-dwelling invertebrate prey,[37] causing chestnut-rumped thornbill's range to be possibly contracting towards the inland.[38]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Acanthiza uropygialis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Higgins, P. J., & Peter, J. M. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (Vol. 6, pp. 468-478). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b c d Pizzey, G., & Knight, F. (2012). The field guide to the birds of Australia (S. Pizzey Ed. 9 ed.). Sydney: Harper Collins.
  4. ^ a b Nicholls, J. A., Double, M. C., Rowell, D. M., & Magrath, R. D. (2000). The evolution of cooperative and pair breeding in thornbills Acanthiza (Pardalotidae). Journal of Avian Biology, 31, 165-176. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-048X.2000.310208.x
  5. ^ Gould, J. (1848). Birds of Australia. Vol 3. plate 56. National Library of Australia. retrieved 20 October 2013 from
  6. ^ Gould, J. (1865). Handbook to the birds of Australia. London: Published by the author. [1]
  7. ^ a b Campbell, A. G., & Kilsyth, J. P. (1925). Thornbills of the Genus Geobasileus. Emu, 25(2), 57-68. doi:10.1071/MU925057
  8. ^ a b Mathews, G. M. (1912). A List to the Birds of Australia. Novitates Zoologicae, 18, 171-455. [2]
  9. ^ Campbell, A. G. (1922). Acanthiza or Thornbills. Emu, 22(3), 192-199. doi :10.1071/MU922192
  10. ^ Mack, G. (1936). A systematic revision of the Australian thornbills. Memoirs of Museum Victoria, 10, 86-118. retrieved 23 Oct 2013 from
  11. ^ Mayr, E., & Serventy, D. L. (1938). A Review of the Genus Acanthiza Vigors and Horsfield. Emu, 38(3), 244-292. doi:10.1071/MU938245
  12. ^ Schodde, R., & Mason, I. J. (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.
  13. ^ a b Christidis, L., & Boles, W. E. (2008). Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.
  14. ^ a b c Johnstone, R., & Storr, G. M. (2004). Handbook of Western Australian Birds (Vol. II). Perth: Western Australian Museum.
  15. ^ a b c d e Sedgwick, E. H. (1936). Notes on the Chestnut-tailed Thornbill. Emu, 35(3), 231 - 232. doi:10.1071/MU935231
  16. ^ a b Ford, J., & Parker, S. A. (1973). First record of Acanthiza robustirostris in Queensland. Emu, 73(1), 27 - 27. doi:10.1071/MU973027b
  17. ^ a b Atlas of living Australia. (2013). Species: Acanthiza (Geobasileus) uropygialis, chestnut-rumped thornbill. Data retrieved 14 Oct 2013, from
  18. ^ Ford, J., Greensmith, A., & Reid, N. (1980). Notes on the distribution of Queensland birds. Sunbird: Journal of the Queensland Ornithological Society, 11(3/4), 58-70. [3].
  19. ^ a b Hobbs, J. N. (1961). The birds of south-west New South Wales. Emu, 61(1), 21 - 55. doi:10.1071/MU961021
  20. ^ Chisholm, A. H. (1935). Birds of the Mallee National Park. Emu, 35(2), 133 - 136. doi:10.1071/MU935133
  21. ^ Ashton, C. B. (1985). The birds of the Aldinga-Sellicks Beach scrub. South Australian Ornithology, 29(7), 169-179.
  22. ^ Badman, F. J. (1979). Birds of the southern and western Lake Eyre drainage. South Australian Ornithology, 28(3), 57-81.
  23. ^ Parker, S. (1969). New and interesting distribution records of central Australian birds. South Australian Ornithology, 25(3), 59-71.
  24. ^ Sedgwick, E. H. (1949). Mixed associations of small birds in the south-west of Western Australia. Emu, 49(1), 9 - 13. doi:10.1071/MU949009
  25. ^ Brooker, M. G., Ridpath, M. G., Estbergs, J. A., Bywater, J., .Hart, D. S., & Jones, M. S. (1979). Bird observations on the North-western Nullarbor Plain and neighbouring regions, 1967-1978. Emu, 79(4), 176 - 190. [4]
  26. ^ Baldwin, M. (1975). Birds of Inverell District, NSW. Emu, 75(3), 113 - 120. [5]
  27. ^ McEvey, A. R., & Middleton, W. G. (1968). Birds and vegetation between Perth and Adelaide (Results of the Harold Hall Australian Expedition, No.12). Emu, 68(3), 161 - 212. [6]
  28. ^ Rix, C. E. (1943). A Review of the birds between the Mt. Lofty Ranges and the River Murray - a site for a real sanctuary. The South Australian Ornithologist, 16(6-8), 57-78. [7]
  29. ^ a b c d Birdlife International. (2013). Species factsheet: Acanthiza uropygialis. Retrieved 14 Oct 2013, from
  30. ^ a b Ford, J., & Sedgwick, E. H. (1967). Bird distribution in the Nullarbor Plain and Great Victoria Desert region, Western Australia. Emu, 67(2), 99 - 124. doi:10.1071/MU967099
  31. ^ Gee, P., Gee, I., & Read, J. (1996). An annotated bird list from the Davenport Range, South Australia. South Australian Ornithology, 32(4/5), 76-81.
  32. ^ Leach, H. A. C. (1928 ). The birds of Central Northern Victoria. Emu, 28(2), 83 - 99. doi:10.1071/MU928083
  33. ^ a b White, H. L. (1915). Descriptions of nests and eggs new to science. Emu, 15(1), 35 - 36. doi:10.1071/MU915035
  34. ^ a b J.N.McGilp. (1922). Birds of the Lake Frome District, South Australia. Part II. Emu, 22(4), 274 - 287. doi:10.1071/MU922274
  35. ^ Lloyd, A. (1982). Communal feeding in Chestnut-Rumped Thornbills. Sunbird: Journal of the Queensland Ornithological Society, 12(2/3). [8]
  36. ^ Brooker, M., & Brooker, L. (2003). Brood parasitism by Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo in a fragmented agricultural landscape in Western Australia. Emu, 103(4), 357 - 361. doi:10.1071/MU02034
  37. ^ a b Watson, D. (2011). A productivity-based explanation for woodland bird declines: poorer soils yield less food. Emu, 111(1), 10 -18. doi: 10.1071/MU09109
  38. ^ a b c Reid, J. R. W. (1999). Threatened and declining birds in the New South Wales sheep-wheat belt: 1. Diagnosis, characteristics and management. Consultancy report to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology, Canberra. [9]

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