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Dasyornithidae - Bristlebirds

Western Bristlebird
Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris ©Ian Montgomery Website

The bristlebirds Dasyornithidaeare a family of passerine birds. There are three species in one genus, Dasyornis. The family is endemic to Australia. The genus Dasyornis was sometimes placed in the Acanthizidae or, as a subfamily, Dasyornithinae, along with the Acanthizinae and Pardalotinae, within an expanded Pardalotidae, before being elevated to full family level by Christidis & Boles (2008). DNA sequencing revealed that the three species were not as closely related to other Australian endemics as first thought.

Bristlebirds are long-tailed, sedentary, ground-frequenting birds. They vary in length from about 17 cm to 27 cm, with the eastern bristlebird being the smallest, and the rufous bristlebird the largest. Their colouring is mainly grey with various shades of brown, ranging from olive-brown through chestnut and rufous, on the plumage of the upperparts. The grey plumage of the underparts or the mantle is marked by pale dappling or scalloping. The common name of the family is derived from the presence of prominent rictal bristles.

Bristlebirds have restricted, and often reduced and disjunct, ranges along the coasts of south-western and south-eastern Australia where there is a Mediterranean climate and suitable habitat of coastal scrubs, heathlands and dense under-storey vegetation in woodlands and forests. The Eastern Bristlebird occurs in threatened, localised and disjunct populations down the eastern Australian coast from south-east Queensland through New South Wales to eastern Victoria; the Rufous Bristlebird in western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia, and formerly in south-western Western Australia; with the Western Bristlebird occurring in a small area of south-west Western Australia.

Bristlebirds are generally shy diurnal birds that skulk in dense vegetation. They preferentially run to avoid danger, but are capable of flying short distances. They generally occur in pairs, but their social structure has not been studied closely. They are more usually heard than seen, although it is usually the male that sings. The song is loud, melodic and can carry for some distances. The song is thought to be territorial in nature and is often made from on top of a log or shrub to better carry in the air.

Most of the food is found by foraging on the ground. Birds forage in pairs, making small contact calls to keep in touch, and constantly flicking their tails whilst moving. The major part of the diet is composed of insects and seeds. Spiders and worms are also taken, and birds have been observed drinking nectar as well.

Their breeding behaviour is poorly known. They are thought to mostly be monogamous and defend a territory against others of the same species. The nest is constructed by the female in low vegetation and is a large ovoid dome with a side entrance. Two dull eggs are laid. As far as is known only the female incubates the clutch, for a period of between sixteen and twenty-one days. The nestling stage is known to be long, eighteen to twenty-one days

The three species are:

Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus
Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris
Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

Family Links

Bristlebirds Dasyornithidae

Family Account

The bristlebirds are a family, Dasyornithidae, of passerine bird. There are three species in one genus, Dasyornis. The family is endemic to Australia…

Bristlebirds Dasyornithidae

Family Account

Annotated list with links

Bristlebirds Dasyornithidae

Family Account

The Dasyornithidae is a small family of three bristlebirds in the genus Dasyornis. They are endemic to Australia. All three bristlebirds are skulkers in thick coastal or montane heath and scrub, and all are generally similar in appearance.

Species Links

Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus

BirdLife Species Account

Although numbers are presently stable, the threat of destructive fires in the majority of this species's habitat means that an overall future decline is very likely.

Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus

IUCN Species Status

8-22 cm. Medium-sized, sturdy, grey-brown passerine. Sexes similar, female slightly smaller. Dark cinnamon-brown upperparts. Rufous-brown upperwing and uppertail. Grey-brown underparts, faintly scalloped. Grey-brown sides of belly and flanks. Brown undertail-coverts. Dull rufous-brown undertail. Red iris. Juvenile, pale brown iris.

Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Turdus brachypterus Latham, 1801, near Port Jackson, New South Wales, Australia. In past, sometimes treated as conspecific with D. longirostris, but differs significantly in plumage and voice. Two subspecies recognized.

Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

BirdLife Species Account

The population size 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). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

Species Account

The rufous bristlebird (Dasyornis broadbenti) is one of three extant species of bristlebirds. It is endemic to Australia where three subspecies have been described from coastal southwestern Western Australia, southeastern South Australia and southwestern Victoria. Its natural habitat is coastal shrublands and heathlands. It is threatened by habitat destruction.

Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

IUCN Species Status

This taxon is endemic to Australia. Nominate broadbenti occurs in near-coastal environments from Port Fairy, Victoria, to the mouth of the Murray River, South Australia. Subspecies caryochrous was thought to be largely confined to the coast between Peterborough and Point Addis east of Anglesea, Western Victoria, but is now known to occur extensively within the Otway Range. Subspecies litoralis, endemic to Western Australia, is extinct, probably as a result of fire, and was last seen in 1940 (Glauert 1944).

Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Sphenura Broadbenti McCoy, 1867, 24 miles [38·4 km] from Portland Bay, Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia. Possible intermediates between nominate race and caryochrous in Victoria; further study required. Proposed race whitei, from SE South Australia (E from Coorong area and Younghusband Peninsula) and adjacent extreme SW Victoria (R Glenelg), considered inseparable from nominate. Extinct race litoralis, geographically isolated in coastal SW Western Australia (Cape Naturaliste S to Cape Mentelle and R Margaret), smaller and brighter than others and apparently vocally different; was possibly a separate species. Two extant subspecies recognized.

Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris

BirdLife Species Account

This species has been uplisted to Endangered because it has a very small range, and a small population which is undergoing a decline, owing mainly to the effects of wildfires. Large lightning-induced fires in 2005 and 2006 severely reduced the population, and ongoing habitat degradation from fires is likely.

Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris

IUCN Species Status

17-20 cm. Medium-sized, sturdy, grey-brown passerine. Sexes similar. Dark brown upper back dappled pale grey. Dark brown lower back. Rich rufous-brown rump. Rufous-brown upperwing-coverts. Mostly rufous-brown uppertail. Off-white centre of breast and belly with fine black-brown scalloping, sparser on belly. Olive-brown sides of belly and flanks with fine black-brown scalloping. Mostly olive-brown undertail. Juvenile similar to adult, but upperparts without dappling.

Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Dasyornis longirostris Gould, 1841, Swan River = King George Sound, Western Australia. In past, sometimes treated as conspecific with D. brachypterus, but differs significantly in plumage and voice. Monotypic.

Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 3