For the Kids

Thick-billed Grasswren (Amytornis textilis)

What does it look like?

Thick-billed grasswren
Thick-billed grasswren distribution map
With its earthy brown plumage marked with fine white streaks, the thick-billed grasswren is well camouflaged in its shrubby habitat. As its name suggests, the grasswren’s beak is heavier than that of other wren species, and is used to pick and crush the seeds that form much of its diet. Just 15-20 cm long, it has a squeaky, reeling musical song and resembles a musical note itself, bouncing about rather jauntily with its long tail held high!

Where does it live?

Once widespread from coastal Western Australia to western New South Wales, the thick-billed grasswren has declined dramatically in the last one hundred years. Today just three subspecies remain, well-separated and confined to very small areas. The Shark Bay World Heritage area is an important habitat for the subspecies A. textilis. The two other subspecies are both found in South Australia.

In Shark Bay, the bird can be seen on the Peron Peninsula, particularly at Monkey Mia and the Peron Homestead, and south and east of Hamelin Pool. Its usual habitat is open saltbush and bluebush shrublands, but in Shark Bay it prefers dense wattle shrubland, typical of the country along the Monkey Mia road. Around Monkey Mia it is quite easily seen amongst the dense plantings in the carpark.

The thick-billed grasswren is extremely shy of humans. Your best chance of seeing one is in the very early morning when it hops about the ground feeding, often with its mate or family group. Although it may perch briefly on exposed branches, at the first sign of danger it will dart under a shrub or make a blurring run for cover, where it will remain silent and elusive until danger has passed.

How does it breed?

The thick-billed grasswren breeds from July to September, although in years of heavy summer rain, when there are plenty of seeds and insects, it will also nest from January to April. The female selects a secret spot in thick scrub near the ground, and builds a hooded, cup-shaped nest with dry grass, twigs and narrow strips of bark. She lays 2–3 brown-speckled eggs. The male then helps her incubate the eggs – the only grasswren species to share this responsibility!

Any threats to its survival?

Rabbits and grazing stock have damaged the grasswren’s habitat, and predators such as cats have taken their toll. For example, feral cats and over-grazing by sheep are believed to have caused the bird’s extinction on Dirk Hartog Island. The removal of sheep and most of the goats and cats from Francois Peron National Park is probably the reason this lovely bird is making a comeback on the Peron Peninsula.

For more information about Western Australian wildlife check out the WA Museum Fauna Base website.

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