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Excuse Me Sir, Would You Prefer Your Thornbill Brown or Striated?

By January 27, 2017June 18th, 2020Stories
Side by side comparison of a Striated and Brown Thornbill

That would be Striated on the right, Brown on the left…or maybe….


It can be a challenge to identify some of the similar looking smaller birds that we find in the Australian bush. Tina and I have a catch all term that we use – “NBB” or nondescript brown bird. As in “Ah yes, that appears to be a NBB, it’s different to that one we saw earlier but no doubt about it. It’s an NBB alright”.

One family of birds that presents such a challenge are the Thornbills. Is it a Striated Thornbill or a Brown Thornbill or maybe even a Weebill?

One day recently I was determined to find out once and for all what type of Thornbill it is that is common around home. So armed with my trusty Birds of Australia app on my phone I set out to unravel the mystery. It was easy to find the birds but difficult to get close enough to clearly identify them and I was getting a little frustrated. Perhaps they were just NBB’s after all. Then I remembered that the app allows you to play the call of the bird which can obviously aid in identification. So, I played the call for the Brown Thornbill but it did not really match what I was hearing from the birds I was watching. Next I played the call of the Striated Thornbill. I was engrossed in what I was doing and was just thinking that the call matched very nicely with what I was hearing when I became aware of something. I was now surrounded by angry, or perhaps even amorous, Striated Thornbills. I don’t speak Thornbill but it was pretty clear now that they were Thornbills of the Striated variety. Now that they were close, literally only about 30cm away, I could clearly see the lined markings that had not been as visible when they were high in the trees. Not wanting to disturb them further, I stopped the sound and they went back to being normal Thornbills and ignored me again.

By the way that IS Striated on the right and Brown on the left. But, of course, you knew that anyway didn’t you?


UPDATE: June 2020

You know what is funny? A helpful reader, Cassie, suggested that I had got these around the wrong way. You know what is absolutely hilarious? She is 100% right! That is BROWN on the right and STRIATED on the left. It took 3 1/2 years for someone to notice the mistake. Thank you Cassie. Mind you it proves my point that NBB’s are hard to identify.


  • Rowena says:

    It amazes me how much time people must have spent patiently waiting to get close enough to animals to be able to find these distinctions.

    Once we saw a whole flock of a different kind of lorikeet I’ve never seen before. And this was just in a different part of Melbourne! I thought I would have to go interstate, or at least out in the country, to see a bird I’ve never seen before! I looked them up and found which variety it was. It was a Musk Lorikeet.

    • bbwildart says:

      Hi Rowena. I love Musk Lorikeets! It’s interesting that sometimes we don’t need to go far in order to “discover” something that we have never seen before. I am a member of the Facebook group for the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria and there are some truly fascinating things that get posted. For example, have you ever heard of a Wrap-around spider (Dolophones sp)? I certainly hadn’t but someone posted a picture of one that they had seen in their back yard.

  • Cassie says:

    I think you have the birds around the wrong way, which confused me for a while. It looks like striated on the left and brown on the right. This is confirmed on the birdlife website (where those images came from)

    • bbwildart says:

      Hello Cassie

      You are so right – seems that I still can’t tell the difference!! Great job on picking that little error up. It took 3 1/2 years for someone to notice.



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