Overlooking The Little Brown Birds.

A Mallee emuwren: it has the advantage of being objectively adorable. Photograph: Dean Ingwersen/BirdLife Australia.

A Mallee emuwren: it has the advantage of being objectively adorable. Photograph: Dean Ingwersen/BirdLife Australia.

People who get into dinosaur watching are always happy to see all birds, even all the hosts of the little brown ones. The Guardian has an interesting article up about endangered birds, and unfortunately, the little brown birds get overlooked in the race to preserve the more colourful ones.

In January 2016, a keen birdwatcher named Dion Hobcroft walked into the Pegarah state forest on Tasmania’s King Island with a recorded birdcall and took the first blurry photographs of the King Island brown thornbill.

The brown thornbill, Acanthiza pusilla archibaldi, is a subspecies of the Tasmanian thornbill, distinguished from its cousins on the big island by a slightly longer beak.

It is about 10cm long, coloured various shades of brown, and thoroughly unexciting to the untrained eye. Hobcroft’s was only the fourth confirmed sighting since 1974.

According to a forthcoming review of Australia’s avian threatened species programs, the King Island brown thornbill is most likely to be the next bird to be declared extinct.

It shares the podium with the King Island scrubtit, Acanthornis magnus greenianus, which, with a population of fewer than 50 adults spread across three isolated areas of ever-shrinking melaleuca swamp, is No 3 on the list.

The orange-bellied parrot, which stops off on King Island on its precarious annual flight from south-western Tasmania to the Victorian coast, and has a wild adult population of fewer than 20 individuals, is the second.

The difference is, you have probably heard of the orange-bellied parrot. As of Wednesday, it had garnered more than 1,700 votes in the Guardian’s bird of the year poll, and last year a crowdfunding campaign raised $140,000 to fund fieldwork during its breeding season. The thornbill didn’t make the list.

You can see and read more here.


  1. kestrel says

    My father was always upset about this issue. He would point out that people would gladly save a magnificent animal like the snow leopard, but deign to give a crap about a rare snail. Or frog, or small insect. He said they could not understand how important some of these small, perhaps even ugly, creatures are.

    And, funny, we have these in mushrooms too. They actually are called “LBMs” (for Little Brown Mushrooms) and they are so difficult to identify most people don’t even notice them. I don’t know that any LBMs are going extinct… because a lot of them have not even been identified by science… still I found it interesting. I would not be surprised to hear that they are going extinct.

  2. says

    Kestrel, it’s upsetting to me too. The general lack of knowledge when it comes to any science does not help, because people don’t understand how key some species are, to them, they are simply unattractive.

  3. Saad says

    What a pretty little bird!

    (I’m such a nerd that I read the title as Overclocking The Little Brown Birds and clicked instantly)

  4. kestrel says

    I’ve had people tell me that, “All we have around here is sparrows.” !!?!??!!! WTF, people?! First of all, NO, there are LOTS of other birds here than sparrows, but have you ever LOOKED at a sparrow? There are all kinds of different ones!

    I guess I was lucky. I was taught to carefully observe the wild world from the time I was a small child. I feel sad for people who can look at 10 different kinds of birds, and think they are all “sparrows” and the same kind to boot.

  5. says

    Kestrel, yeah, I’ve heard that too. What’s wrong with sparrows? Not long ago, when I spotted and photographed a Baird’s Sparrow, I was so excited! There’s a tremendous amount of difference between sparrows, and they are all beautiful too.

    The only ones I have trouble identifying correctly are Lincoln’s. I can’t ever seem to get them right.

  6. says

    I’m only aware of seeing house sparrows around here, but I’ll keep an eye out for other species.

    I also can’t help thinking of vultures. The vultures of India have been dying in large numbers from consuming cattle treated with a particular anti-inflammatory drug. Despite the efforts of conservationists, people are still using this drug. Is it because they genuinely think it’s more effective than the vulture-safe alternative, or are they deliberately trying to kill the vultures off? I don’t know.

  7. says

    Cattle are more valuable than vultures. And I know from living here, it’s damn hard to change a farmer’s mind when it comes to how to do any one thing.

    I love vultures, they are gorgeous birds, ecologically important, and such shy dinosaurs.

  8. says

    Joseph, where you are, you should at least have the same variety we do. It can be a chore trying to learn the different types, but it gets easier as you identify more. Around here, it varies a lot, from year to year, the sparrows we get. The short list is: American Tree, Chipping, Harris’s, House, Lark, Song, White-crowned, White-Throated, Baird’s, and Lincoln’s. They can be tricky, though. I’ve been here for over 20 years, and only saw Baird’s this year.

  9. quotetheunquote says

    I, too, am a big fan of “little brown jobs” as we tend to call them on this side of the pond.

    In tropical America, there is an entire family, the furnariidae (a.k.a. “ovenbirds”), the members of which are almost exclusively attired in black, white, and “brown” (bay, buff, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, henna, ruddy, rusty*) plumage. They include some of my favourite birds in the world. (Caine was good enough to post a photo I took of one of them -- a Thorn-tailed Rayadito -- some time ago as the Daily Bird).

    And yes, they are largely unknown and unappreciated outside the “bird-watching” community, which is most unfortunate. Well, really, the “bird-watching” community plus the local farmers, who recognize the worth of certain species as pest-control agents. (members of this family are almost exclusively insectivorous).


    *Because there are so many different species of ovenbird (236 and counting), the common (English) naming process can get very creative; all these descriptors appear in one or more species names in this group. My personal fave -- the “Buffy Tuftedcheek,” a bird that, I swear to Zarquon, I am NOT making up (saw one in Costa Rica).

  10. Ice Swimmer says

    The picture on the Wikipedia article on ovenbirds is eye-catching, but of course a bird should not have to spend time upside-down to be important.

  11. quotetheunquote says

    Ah! But you see, Ice Swimmer, all the really juicy arthropods hang out on the underside of the branch! So it has to perch like that to get ’em. :-)

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