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  1. 69 Male by Julian Robinson
  2. 055_eastern_spinebill_acanthorhynchus_tenuirostris_2_-_credit_to_david_cook_wildlife_photography-crop Male by David Cook Wildlife Photography
  3. Fame_eastern_spinebill_by_nadia_trevan600x210 Female Eastern Spinebill by Nadia Trevan

Eastern Spinebill

Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris


  • Colour: the top of the adult male's head is grey-black, extending in a line down either side of its white breast. Its throat is also white, with a rufous patch in the centre. Its wings and lower back are dark metallic grey and its upper back and underneath are buff. In flight, its white outer tail feathers are visible. The female has similar but duller colouring. A young bird has less distinct markings with dark olive on top of its head, a white chin and throat and a cinnamon chest and belly.
  • Distinctive feature: it has a very long, fine beak that curves downward.
  • Size: 13 - 16 cm long (from its head to the tip of its tail).


  • Call: a short, repetitive, high-pitched piping. During flight it twitters.
  • Diet: insects and nectar from a wide variety of flowers including grevilleas, epacrids (heaths) and other flowering shrubs. It extracts the nectar while perched or hovering.
  • Flight: energetic - fast and erratic.
  • Movement: it remains in some areas throughout the year, sometimes with local movements. In other areas it occurs seasonally, often descending from higher altitudes to spend autumn and winter in lowland areas to escape the winter chill, and then returning to the hills in spring.
  • Breeding: both sexes collect nesting material, but only the female builds the nest, which is small and cup-shaped, made from twigs, grass and bark, and lined with hair and spider's web. She then lays two eggs which she incubates for about 14 days. Both parents feed the young for a further 14 days.  

What to Observe

  • Presence (to establish the arrival date and last sighting for individuals that migrate from higher altitudes)
  • Courting / mating
  • Calling
  • Feeding
  • Bird on chicks
  • Bird on eggs
  • Bird on nest
  • Bird feeding young

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

We expect birds to start breeding and singing earlier in the year as a result of climate change warming the Earth. They may also start appearing in new areas as warmer temperatures enable them to live in environments that were previously too cold for them.

When To Look

  • From August to January for breeding behaviour.
  • From March/April to September/October for migratory birds that have moved to lowland areas. They are found in higher areas during the rest of the year.
  • Young birds are in the nest for about 14 days.

Where To Look

  • Within Australia it is generally found on the Great Dividing Range and in adjacent coastal areas, from Cooktown in northern Queensland, south to Tasmania and west to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.
  • In forests, heath and woodlands, it is also commonly seen in urban parks and gardens.
  • In urban gardens around flowers, particularly fuchsias and correas. It can also be seen feeding on flowering shrubs in forests.
  • Its nest is usually in dense foliage in a shrub or tree, up to five metres from the ground.

Eastern Spinebill compiled distribution map - BirdLife International

Eastern Spinebill compiled distribution map - BirdLife International

Where To Look

Maps of Habitat Suitability


Current probability
of occurrence
2070 probability
of occurrence (RCP 8.5)
Species range change from
current to 2070 probability

Above, the left and middle maps show the modelled habitat suitability for the the species under current and potential future climate conditions. The colours indicate the predicted habitat suitability from low (white) to high (dark red).

The future habitat suitability is modelled for the year 2070 under a climate change scenario that represents 'business as usual' (RCP 8.5). The map on the right shows how the range of the species might change between now and 2070, with orange areas indicating where the species might disappear, green areas where the species range might expand, and blue areas where the habitat is predicted to be suitable for the species now and in the future.

The models for this species were run in the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory. Please note that while models can be very informative, they are only a representation of the real world and thus should always be viewed with caution. You can read more about the science behind these models here.



Higgins PJ, Peter, JM & Steele, WK (eds) 2001. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 5 (Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Morcombe M 2000. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing Pty Ltd, Archerfield, Qld.


  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus): not found in the same area.

  1. Did You Know?

    It has a brush-tipped tongue for feeding on nectar.

    Its average weight is only 11 grams.

    The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound

  1. Listen to the Call