I have obtained permission from my two ‘boss’  brown thornbills to write a  little  story about them and their relatives. We have a  resident group in our Blue Mountains garden. They are really small; about 10cm long. They weigh in at around 7 grammes apiece. My darling husband told me this couldn’t be true…but it is!

Thornbill pair

I love to watch them them through the kitchen window when they are bathing. Look at this dear little fellow drying off in the morning sunshine;

Thornbill after a dip.
Morning dip. Towel for my feet please Pauline.

They like perching nearby in my pot of succulents, which is often watered from their enthusiastic splashing.

Freshly bathed and ready to meet  the day.

Thornbills  are respectful little characters. Here they are politely turning their backs as  a silvereye takes its turn in the bath.

Thornbills bathing with a silvereye.
OK, all eyes averted!

Right, our turn now chaps;

Thornbills bathing.
The more the merrier!


I think the pair above  may be discussing where to build their nest.  It is usually located only a couple of metres from the ground, but in very thick shrubbery.  It’s made from grasses and bark and bound together neatly with spiders’ webs.  The top of the structure projects like a little awning. Very sensible if you live here in Blackheath, aka ‘Bleakheath’.

Thornbills build well designed nests.
Thornbill at nest (Australian Museum)

Naturally thornbills lay  the tiniest of eggs.  There are  usually three, which are white  with rusty red speckles.

Thornbill egg.
Goodness me, as small and precious as a pearl.

Thornbills are incredible mimics. When their nestlings are under threat they can reproduce the alarm calls of at least  ten different birds.  Listen to this amazing YouTube recording.

Thornbill in full voice.
Beware, beware!

Sometimes they even try to look like  a fierce predator. Goodness me, had to look twice to realize this wasn’t a miniature hawk.

Thornbills can  look very fierce!
Yes sweetheart, you do look rather terrifying. It’s those eyes.

When in a lighter mood, thornbills like to do a little rap dancing. The edge of a bird bath is a good spot to perfect a new move.



Unfortunately there is one threat that a thornbill cannot defend itself against, because the enemy is so sneaky! It’s the problem of a cuckoo replacing one of those sweet little eggs with one of its own.  The result is like something from a horror movie. The poor thornbill parents wear themselves out trying to satisfy the hunger of  their giant,  ‘intruder chick’.  Yes, I know it’s just part of nature, but  it almost breaks my heart to watch them.

Brown thornbill feeding cuckoo chick.
Brown thornbill feeding cuckoo chick. (photo by Derek Midgley)

I adore these feisty little birds.  Not surprisingly, they have always been regarded with affection;

Probably the combination of cheerfulness and lack of size brings out a protective feeling towards these small birds. The thornbills have always been popular with adults and even with boys.  (Western Mail, June 1950)

Master of all he surveys


Accidents happen in the most well ordered families. Recently a little thornbill flew into the window behind my bed with a sickening thud. My husband rushed to the rescue and admitted the tiny fellow to ‘hospital’.

Thornbills sometimes crash into windows, poor little things.

After a long sleep it woke up and greeted me with those big, bright eyes. Seconds after I took the photo below it flew off for a bit more rest in a maple tree.

Thornbills face the hazard of windows in suburbia.


  1. Remarkable birds! Delightful blog!

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