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Species profile—Atrichornis rufescens (rufous scrub-bird)


Animalia (animals) → Aves (birds) → Atrichornithidae (scrub-birds) → Atrichornis rufescens (rufous scrub-bird)

Species details

Animalia (animals)
Aves (birds)
Atrichornithidae (scrub-birds)
Scientific name
Atrichornis rufescens (Ramsay, 1867)
Common name
rufous scrub-bird
WildNet taxon ID
Alternate name(s)
rufous scrubbird
Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA) status
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) status
Conservation significant
Pest status
The rufous scrub-bird is a small to medium sized terrestrial bird with rufous brown upperparts which are finely barred black. The throat is grey-white becoming buff coloured on the breast and abdomen, and rufous on the flanks and under-tail coverts (where the tail feathers attach). The males also have black mottling on the breast which extends down the sides of the lower breast. This species grows to 17-19cm. (Smith 1988; Morcombe 2000; Higgins et al. 2001).
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Species environment
The species inhabits dense undergrowth associated with canopy gaps (fern/vine tangles and fallen logs) where undergrowth is extremely dense 2-50cm above the ground and moderately dense 50-100cm above ground. Usually found higher than 600m above sea level in areas with deep moist leaf litter in rainforest, including Nothofagus (beech), and adjacent wet eucalypt forest. Habitat in eucalypt forest is only suitable if well buffered from fire by nearby patches of rainforest. (Jackson 1920, 1921; Ferrier 1984, 1985; Garnett 1992; Higgins et al. 2001; Beruldsen 2003).
Home range
1-2 ha.
Burrows and nests
Dome-shaped nests of 15cm diameter, with side entrances are built close to the ground in thick scrub, often in a clump of blady grass or occasionally among ferns. The outside is woven of blady grass, rushes and ferns. The inside is lined with wet wood pulp and grass, which dries and sets to a cardboard-like consistency. (Beruldsen 1980, 2003).
The species is diurnal (active by day), sedentary (remaining in one area) and lives as singles or pairs. Their territories are widely spaced (maximum of 4-6 pairs per square kilometre) and they have an estimated home range of 1-2 ha per bird. They are a feeble flyer and live almost entirely on the ground, fossicking for food in deep layers of litter and debris. (Blakers et al. 1984; Ferrier 1984, 1985).
Breeding occurs between August and January. Two eggs per clutch are laid in a nest and incubated for 38 days. Usually only one egg hatches. Fledging is in 28 days and one brood per season are raised. Females incubate and rear the young alone. (Jackson 1921; Beruldsen 1980; Shields et al. 1994; Higgins et al. 2001; Barrett et al. 2003).
Rufous scrub-birds feed on invertebrates including insects, worms and seeds (Shields et al. 1994; Higgins et al. 2001)..
Threatening processes
Known : 1. Destruction of habitat due to clearing for agriculture and, more recently, logging practices and inappropriate fire regime (Ferrier 1985; Garnett 1992b).
Suspected : 1. Disturbance of birds by recreational bird watchers (Rounsevell et al. 1998)..
Selective logging may increase habitat suitability (undergrowth features) in rainforest but reduce suitability in open forest. However, such changes on a large scale could alter the micro-climate (reduced moisture levels) leading to increased chances of fire that would make the habitat unsuitable (Smith 1977; Ferrier 1984; 1985; Shields et al. 1994).
Status notes
Vulnerable - Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Management recommendations
Appropriate forest and burning practices that maintain suitable habitat need to be implemented
Current programs projects
NSW QPWS currently has a volunteer based survey of CERRA areas in NSW for rufous scrub-birds.
Contributors: David Stewart 17/11/1999; David McFarland 26/10/2007; Mellisa Mayhew 17/07/2008; Wayne Martin 19/08/2008.
Barrett, G., Silcocks, A., Barry, S., Cunningham, R. & Poulter, R. (2003). The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union : Hawthorn East, Victoria.
Beruldsen, G. (1980). A Field Guide to Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. Rigby : Adelaide.
Beruldsen, G. (2003). Australian Birds their Nests and Eggs. G.Beruldsen : Kenmore Hills, Qld.
Blakers, M., Davies, S.J.J.F. & Reilly, P.N. (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. RAOU & Melbourne University Press : Melbourne.
Boles, W.E. & Tynan, B. (1995). Low altitude record of Rufous Scrub-bird Atrichornis rufescens. Corella 19, 91.
Ferrier, S. (1984). The Status of the Rufous Scrub-bird Atrichornis rufescens : Habitat, Geographical Variation and Abundance. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of New England : Armidale.
Ferrier, S. (1985). Habitat requirements of a rare species, the Rufous Scrub-bird. In : Birds of Eucalypt Forests and Woodlands : Ecology, Conservation, Management. (Eds Keast, A., Recher, H.F., Ford, H & Saunders, D.), pp. 241-248. RAOU & Surrey Beatty : Chipping Norton, NSW.
Garnett, S. (1992). Threatened and Extinct Birds of Australia. RAOU Report No. 82; RAOU & ANPWS : Melbourne.
Garnett, S.T. & Crowley, G. M. (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Environment Australia : Canberra.
Higgins, P.J.; Peter, J.M. & Steele, W.K. (Eds) (2001). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds. Vol. 5: Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats. Oxford University Press : Melbourne.
Jackson, S.W. (1920). Haunts of the Rufous Scrub-bird (Atrichornis rufescens, Ramsay) - discovery of the female on the Macpherson Range, S.E. Queensland. Emu 19, 258-272.
Jackson, S.W. (1921). Second trip to Macpherson Range, south-east Queensland. Emu 20, 195-209.
McFarland, D.C. (2007). Taxon Profiles Version 2.0: Threatened And Priority Fauna Taxa In Queensland: Biology And Distribution. Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane.
Morcombe, M. (2000). Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing Pty Ltd, Archerfield.
Rounsevell, D., Drury, W. & Smyth, A.K. (1998). Towards Reserve Options for Forest Taxa in South-east Queensland: Taxa at Risk, Threats, Conservation Requirements and Recovery Planning. Draft report to Queensland CRA/RFA Steering Committee by Queensland Department of Environment, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Commonwealth Environment Taskforce.
Schodde, R. & Mason, I.J. (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. CSIRO Publishing : Collingwood, Victoria.
Shields, J., Ambrose, S.J. & Rowland, P.R. (1994). Rufous Scrub-bird Atrichornis rufescens. In : Cuckoos, Nightbirds & Kingfishers of Australia. (Ed. Strahan, R.), pp. 194-196. Angus & Robertson : Sydney.
Shields, J., Brooker, M.E. & Brooker, L.L. (1994). Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus. In : Cuckoos, Nightbirds & Kingfishers of Australia. (Ed. Strahan, R.), pp. 10-13. Angus & Robertson : Sydney.
Smith, G.T. (1977). The effect of environmental change on six rare birds. Emu 77, 173-179.
Smith, G.T. (1988). Rufous Scrub-bird Atrichornis rufescens (Ramsay, 1867). In : Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. (Eds Schodde, R. & Tidemann, S.C.), pp. 362. Reader's Digest : Sydney.
Templeton, M.T. (1992). Birds of Nanango, south-east Queensland. Sunbird 22, 87-110.
Profile author
David Stewart (19/08/2008)
Current programs & projects
NSW QPWS currently has a volunteer based survey of CERRA areas in NSW for rufous scrub-birds.

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Data source

This profile data is sourced from the QLD Wildlife Data API using the Get species by ID function used under CC-By 4.0.

This information is sourced from the WildNet database managed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.

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Last updated
20 May 2024