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Rufous scrub-bird

The vulnerable rufous scrub-bird is a small, ground-foraging bird that lives only in isolated rainforest areas of south-eastern Australia.

The rufous scrub-bird is a stocky bird that grows to around 17cm long. Adults are a scaly-patterned dark rufous-brown, with a light throat, long rounded tail, and dark brown eyes.

What's in a name? The word “rufous” comes from the latin word for red: rufus. You’ll see it used to describe animals that have reddish-brown feathers, fur or skin, like the rufous bettong, rufous net casting spider, and rufous scrub-bird.

Scrub-birds spend most of their time on the ground, foraging in deep, moist litter beneath a dense layer of vegetation. They scuttle through litter using their head and beak to toss leaves aside to search for small invertebrates, including snails and insects.

They breed from early spring to summer, building a dome-shaped nest on or close to the ground. However, very little is known about their breeding behaviour because they’re so shy and hard to see, and their habitat is so dense.

Heard but not seen

These birds might be hard to see, but the loud, regular calls of the males are often heard if they’re nearby. These include territorial calls (repeated sharp high-pitched chip, chip) as well as mimicry. Male calling peaks in the breeding season but continues throughout the year.

Listen to one of the rufous scrub-bird's common calls

Audio © David Stewart Naturesound

Distribution and threats

Rufous scrub-birds are only found in the Gondwana Rainforests of eastern Australia. The northern subspecies (Atrichornis rufescens rufescens) exists between the Gibraltar Range in northern NSW and the Mistake Range in Queensland. The southern subspecies (Atrichornis rufescens ferrieri) is restricted to NSW, with patchy distribution from the Dorrigo Plateau to Barrington Tops.

They once foraged lower altitude forests in far north-eastern NSW. Today, the shy scrub-birds are restricted to high-rainfall forests above 600m elevation. These small, isolated populations are at risk of local extinction from the effects of climate change and habitat disturbance.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has a targeted strategy for minimising threats and managing this species under the Saving our Species program.

Animal facts

Common name
Rufous scrub-bird
Scientific name
Atrichornis rufescens
Conservation status in NSW

Extra special protections

Several areas within NSW national parks have been declared Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) to provide the strongest protections for rufous scrub-birds and their habitat. These include:

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Parks in which this animal is found