Thornbills of South Australia (Acanthiza)'s Journal

October 14, 2021

Identifying the Thornbills of South Australia



Australian Thornbills (Genus Acanthiza) are notoriously difficult to identify. Difficult in the field and more difficult from photos alone. The tips below are a good starting point toward learning to ID the Thornbill species present in SA.


The Family Acanthizidae has 41 species across Australia with around 24 present in SA. The Genus Acanthiza includes 12 species across Australia with 9 of those occurring in SA.


Below are a few tips to help separate and identify these 9 species, with links through to the observations from SA so you can see what the distinguishing features look like in a variety of image qualities. The list is ordered based on the number of iNat observations. Those higher on the list are more frequently seen, likely due to their presence in more populated areas. Additionally those with the most distinct characteristics are more likely to be IDed to species level, so are higher on the list.


Acanthiza chrysorrhoa (Yellow-rumped Thornbill)
Birdlife Australia species page
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: The bright yellow rump is sufficient alone to distinguish this species from others in SA. But this may not be visible if the Bird is facing the camera. In that case look for the black forehead with white spots, and dark eye stripe. In the right light, the grey/brown of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza reguloides (Buff-rumped Thornbill) which has a buff forehead and clear white eye.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza lineata (Striated Thornbill)
Birdlife Australia species page
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Look for the chestnut crown with white streaks. Heavy streaking on the chin, throat and chest. In the right light, the grey/brown of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza pusilla (Brown Thornbill), which has a reddish-brown forehead scalloped with paler markings and red eye.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza pusilla (Brown Thornbill)
Birdlife Australia species page
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Reddish-brown forehead scalloped with paler markings. Rufous brown rump. Narrow black band on tail feathers. In the right light, the red brown of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza apicalis (Inland Thornbill), which has black and white scalloping on the forehead a wider black tail feather band, and Acanthiza lineata (Striated Thornbill), which has a chestnut crown with white streaks.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza uropygialis (Chestnut-rumped Thornbill)
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Strong chestnut rump. Grey cream underparts without streaking. Buff forehead. In the right light, the clear white of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza apicalis (Inland Thornbill), which has streaking on the throat and chest.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza nana (Yellow Thornbill)
Birdlife Australia species page
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: The most yellow of the local Thornbills, with pale yellow underparts and white streaking restricted to the cheeks and ears. In the right light, the dark brown of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza lineata (Striated Thornbill), which has a chestnut crown with white streak, and heavily streaked chin, throat and chest.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza reguloides (Buff-rumped Thornbill)
Birdlife Australia species page
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Buff-coloured rump and black tail. Buff-coloured forehead with cream-coloured scalloping. Off-white chin and chest without streaking. In the right light, the clear white of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza chrysorrhoa (Yellow-rumped Thornbill), which has a bright yellow rump and black forehead with white spots.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza apicalis (Inland Thornbill)
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Black and white scalloping on the forehead, streaking on the throat and chest. Wide black band on the tail feathers. In the right light, the red of the eye is visible.
Most easily confused with Acanthiza pusilla (Brown Thornbill), which has a reddish-brown forehead scalloped with paler markings and a narrow black band on the tail feathers.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza iredalei (Slender-billed Thornbill)
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Pale buff rump with contrasting darker tail. Faint speckling on the chest. Pale speckled forehead and face. In the right light, the clear white of the eye is visible.

ID practice: Review the observations from SA and look for these features in the photos.


Acanthiza robustirostris (Slaty-backed Thornbill)
eBird species page

Distinguishing Features: Dark streaking on the forehead. Only present in far North-West SA. In the right light, the red of the eye is visible. Most easily confused with Acanthiza apicalis (Inland Thornbill), which has streaking on the chest and black and white scalloping on the forehead.

ID practice: No iNat observations from SA. Review the observations from around Australia and look for these features in the photos.


Can you use these tips to ID the four species in the image at the beginning of this post?


Images used in this post © Geoffrey Cox, some rights reserved (CC-BY)



Posted on October 14, 2021 08:33 by cobaltducks cobaltducks | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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