Eastern Spinebills are back! – Article by Ron Smith, Gardens for Wildlife (G4W)


Return of the eastern spinebill

eastern-spinebill-150x150We noticed eastern spinebills in our garden about a month ago. Haven’t seen them since September last year when the butcherbirds arrived. The eastern spinebill is a small colourful honeyeater. Birdos are not sure where the spinebills go over Spring and Summer, perhaps up into the Dandenongs. The spinebills dart around after insects and feed on the nectar in grevillas, correas, banksias and native heath. They particularly seem to like the red-coloured flowers and often feed at them on the wing, a bit like a hummingbird. You are likely to hear them before you see them. They have a long ‘chip-chip-chip-chip’ at a constant pitch.

The spinebill needs the protection of understorey plants. So a garden with thick, and possibly prickly bushes is ideal habitat. And availability of water in the form of a bird bath is also essential.

Two local people, both nature enthusiasts, spotted them years ago in their gardens but had not sighted them in recent years. They were keen to encourage them to come back, so Kerry & Irene organized a neighborhood get-together (as part of the City of Knox Streetscaping Project). Out of 100 invited, 31 neighbours attended.

Irene explained what she was trying to achieve and that there was a need for a bushy prickly corridor of plants to exist for Eastern Spinebill habitat. She had organized for some free plants to be given to her neighbours and everyone seemed keen to assist in Irene’s project. The project would help the spinebills by increasing the range for their foraging for food and water. Irene was able to report a couple of years later that the spinebills had been sighted back in her garden!

The spinebills in our garden visit several times a day. But in the late afternoon they come to bathe in the birdbaths. The male bird, the more colourful of the pair, always comes to a ground level bath near the house. Whereas the female may be more shy and chooses a bath on a pedestal near the back fence where the understorey is a little thicker and more continuous along several properties. They take a bath by quickly dipping in and returning to a branch just above the baths. They do this many times for each visit. Some years we have spotted them with their young at the bird baths.


You may be far more familiar with the grey butcherbird. It is a much larger bird and stays mainly in the taller tree canopy. It’s interesting though – even though the butcherbirds still seem to be around the spinebills have come back. Perhaps last September was just co-incidence. Kerry thinks that their return is more to do with the flowering of the correas in our gardens.


Morcombe, M. (2000). Field guide to Australian Birds. Qld: Steve Parish Publishing.
The spinebill is very difficult to photograph so that photo has been taken from a website: flickr.com.
Text/Butcherbird Photo: Ron Smith