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Widespread Resident, Partial Migrant… Australian Reed-Warbler

By Keith Hutton on March 18, 2014 in Other

Picture: Narelle Rutland

Picture: Narelle Rutland

Two species of reed-warblers can be seen in Australia. One is the common widespread resident and partial migrant Australian Reed-Warbler and the other is the rare local Oriental Reed-Warbler, a wet season migrant from eastern Asia that probably visits coastal wetlands in northern Australia regularly in summer, but is not often reported.

Individual species are difficult to identify as all species occur in relatively dense vegetation and are hard to see, and even when seen they are very active and seldom still. Only Australian Reed-Warblers occur in the Sydney region. They sing almost continuously day and night in the summer, and their loud, clear, melodious songs are so rich and varied that they attract attention, even though it can be difficult to locate the performers. Consequently, confirming their presence is quite easy, despite the problems associated with getting a good look at them.

Australian Reed-Warblers are active, relatively plain, cryptic little reedbirds, about the same size as sparrows but much slimmer and less heavily built. They are generally plain olive-brown in colour, with pale buff eyebrows and underparts, and a dull white chin and throat. Males, females and young birds are similar throughout the year. Their outstanding, persistent, rich summer song is the best indicator of their presence. They are sociable birds in the breeding season and sing competitively, usually from dense cover, and less frequently from the top of reed stems or taller waterside trees.

Australian Reed-Warblers occur anywhere in Australia in suitable wetland habitats. They are generally common in these places but scarcer and local in the tropical north, and in Tasmania. In eastern Australia and south-western WA they are common summer breeding migrants with most arriving from August to October, and leaving in March and April; only a small minority remain over winter. In northern Australia they are mainly winter migrants from the south. Any areas over water with reeds, cumbungi, rushes, river red gum regrowth, weeping willow, bamboo, or crops near irrigated channels and bays, are suitable habitats for Australian Reed-Warblers. Randwick Environmental Park and Centennial Parklands in the Eastern Suburbs would be good places to look and listen for them locally in spring and summer.

Australian Reed-Warblers fly low over water between feeding sites where they cling acrobatically to reed stems and forage upside down, picking food items off the water surface or from floating vegetation. Insects, spiders and other small aquatic animals are their preferred food and these may also be chased and captured in the air, or gleaned from the leaves and stems of plants.

The continuing development of agriculture has enabled Australian Reed-Warblers to colonise new reed beds following establishment of bores and irrigation. They appear to be thriving and of least conservation concern, and overall population growth continues despite significant regional variations that probably relate to variable drought conditions.