Eastern Spinebills are tiny honeyeaters that have slender necks or no necks, that are rotund or thin depending on their pose and the lighting conditions. Such differences can make bird identification tricky, especially for new birders. At least Eastern Spinebills have a unique bill but even that can appear fore-shortened at times.
The image above shows a small round spinebill just after a dip. If I’m ever photographing birds near water I hold off pressing the shutter button until they’ve had a drink or a bath as I don’t want to frighten them away for the sake of a photograph. Quite often this means that I miss the shot but I’ve been a birder for many years and I get more pleasure from watching the birds than ever I would from startling them. It also means that I learn more about their behaviour. This spinebill took several dips and was quite relaxed by the time it heard the shutter button, even then it only glanced towards me before it continued bathing.
Eastern Spinebills usually look slender, as in the image above. They weigh approximately 11g and measure about 16cm, with a significant amount of that length being their down-curved bill.
The colouring of Eastern Spinebills is stunning. Males are more vibrantly marked than females with their dark grey crowns which curve around either side of the white breast and throat which has a rufous patch at its centre. Their underparts and upper backs are a soft rufous colour while their wings and tail are dark grey. The tail has distinct white outer tail feathers which are conspicuous in flight.
The long bill of Eastern Spinebills is perfect for extracting nectar from flowers, including those with tubular blossoms that can’t be reached by other species. They also eat insects including bees that are attracted to the same range of flowers.
The bright red eye of the Eastern Spinebill is a distinctive feature. I think they are delightful birds and am hoping to see some softly coloured juveniles later in spring.
When I brush my Golden Retrievers I put fluffy tufts of their hair around the garden for birds to use when nest making. Magpies take copious amounts of the golden fluff but other birds use it too, including thornbills and Eastern Spinebills that use it to bind and line their nests. Spinebills’ nests can be as low as one metre from the ground making their nestlings vulnerable to cat and fox attack. Hopefully local nests will be successful this spring and I’ll be able to share images of fledglings with you later in the year.
Happy birding, Kim
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