Eastern Spinebill – Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

With their striking markings, long curved beak and habit of feeding on the wing, Eastern spinebills are one of the most memorable and sought after birds in the garden.

They are found throughout eastern and south-eastern Australia, and favour woodlands, gardens, rainforests and heathland. They feed mainly on nectar, but will also take insects. Birds in southern Australia will migrate north in winter. Northern populations are reasonably sedentary, but will move out of the higher altitude and thickly forested areas in winter as well.

Eastern spinebills are very swift flyers and can make a short but loud rustling sound with their wings, much a like a miniature version of a Paradise rifle bird. They don’t always make this sound so I presume it is to help throw other birds off their trail.

I’ve watched with some amusement as Lewin’s honeyeaters chase Eastern spinebills around our garden. The Lewin’s may be able to dislodge them but the Eastern spinebills quickly find another tree to feed on until the Lewin’s catch up to them again. All of this chasing happens with the sound of their wings stridently rustling.

Few Australian honeyeaters will feed on nectar on the wing, and with their small graceful size this has lead some people to think that Eastern spinebills are closely related to South American Hummingbirds, which is not the case at all. They are Australian honeyeaters, but genetic studies have shown that Eastern and Western spinebills stand quite apart from all the other Australian honeyeaters, as their forebears were the first to separate away from the other Australian honeyeaters.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald on the 14th of May 2024

Eastern spinebills also appear in the following videos: