Eastern Whipbird - Psophodes olivaceus
  • Last updated:
  • 26 Aug 2019

What a joy it is to wake up to the sound of Whipbirds calling beneath my window as they forage in my garden. How different this is from previous years when Whipbirds were regarded as elusive and shy and rarely seen outside of their forest homes.

The Eastern Whipbird usually inhabits wet areas of rainforest, eucalypt forest and dense scrub near watercourses east of the Great Dividing Range from northern Queensland to Victoria. The ongoing clearing of forests and understorey has meant the loss of habitat and displacement for the Whipbird. However it appears that they are quite resilient and are adapting to the changes. The Whipbird is learning to survive in remnant type forests venturing out to supplement their food supply by foraging in adjacent gardens and parks where they can be easily noticed. This is quite unusual considering the secretive nature of the Whipbird.

In autumn they seem to be particularly active, vigorously foraging usually with one or two young in tow (the young are obvious with a distinct lack of any white cheek markings). The parents dutifully show their young how to survive on their own before giving them their marching orders towards the end of autumn to find their own territory. Adult Whipbirds are sedentary and live as a pair so they protect their food sources not only for themselves but for their next brood. If the young are reluctant to leave they cop a beating – this I have witnessed several times.

The Whipbirds’ name is derived from the crack of the coachman’s whip and their old name was Coachwhip Bird. The call is fascinating and is actually made by two birds. The male utters the first part which is usually made up of two soft drawng-out whistles followed by the whip crack which is instantly followed by the female, chew chew (the antiphonal responsse).

Until recently the call has thought to be uttered by one bird having ventriloquist abilities. Sometimes their call can be incomplete and you may also hear little chuckles as they forage together and at times harsh alarm calls.

Good leaf litter is essential for their food source and in their search for insects they toss the leaves and debris aside with quick movements of their beaks. They also search under the bark on trees. Whipbirds can move like lightening through the understorey on their powerful legs but their flight is fairly weak. Which is why they love lantana thickets and these are a favourite place to build their bowl-shaped nests which usually consist of a loosely built bowl of twigs and sticks lined with a softer material such as grass. Two eggs, pale blue with blackish splotches measuring around 28 x 20 mm are laid which are incubated by the female who gets fed by the male. He later helps in feeding the nestlings and they live as a family only until the end of the breeding season.

Despite so much clearing and burning of forest understorey Whipbird numbers seem to be stable. This is likely due to their adaptability. Let’s hope we will always have our delightful Whipbirds.

Article by Janet Whish-Wilson
Photos courtesy of Rob Kernot