Marianne CannonApostle birds, stilts, thornbills & choughs

I talk with ecologist Sue Stevens about the curiously-named apostle bird, the elegant black-winged stilt (if ever there was a bird that would make a great porcelain figure, it has to be this one!), as well as the super-active yellow-rumped thornbill and that great team player, the white-winged chough.

The Apostle bird

Apostle bird Photo ibsut

Apostle bird Photo ibsut

The Apostlebird, also known as the Grey Jumper, is quick-moving and native to Australia where it roams woodlands, eating insects and seeds at, or near, ground level. It was first described by ornithologist John Gould in 1837 and named after the twelve apostles.
In fact, Apostle birds travel in family groups of between 6 and 20, even joining other family groups creating large feeding flocks of over 40.

Apostle birds Photo Julie_g

Apostle birds Photo Julie_g

It also seems that they have plenty of nicknames not all of which are complimentary. Sometimes called Lousy Jacks (due to heavy louse infestations), Happy Jacks, Happy Families and CWA Birds. CWA birds is a bit of a dig at a Country Women’s Association meeting by comparing it to the Apostle bird’s constant chatter.
You may just well come across it in your travels, is so, we would love to see your photo of this bird. Send it in to or 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


The Black-Winged Stilt

Black-winged stilt Photo Frankzed

Black-winged stilt Photo Frankzed

The Black Winged Stilt is super elegant, handsome and beautifully coloured. This bird is a wader, meaning it’s standing not swimming when it feeds, as distinct from ducks. They use their sharp bills to peck. If you’ve seen aquatic birds and wondered what they’re eating, it’s only very small food such as molluscs, minuscule crustaceans, algae, flies and aquatic insects.

Black Winged Stilt feeding Photo by Frankzed

Black Winged Stilt feeding Photo by Frankzed


In order to keep predators away from their unhatched eggs, a black-winged stilt pretends to be injured so they can lure the predator away. The stilt can also make a sharp yapping sound and fly around frantically to distract any predators.
Unless you have a nearby wetland you probably won’t see this bird, but in the holiday season, you may just well come across it in your travels.
We would love to see your photo of this bird. Send it in to or write in to 2RRR po Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Yellow-rumped thornbill

Yellow-rumped thornbill Photo by Lip Kee

Yellow-rumped thornbill Photo by Lip Kee

Diminutive, active, fast and confident. These words are used to describe the Yellow Rumped Thornbill. They eat mainly insects and spiders, and occasionally small seeds. Sometimes yellow-rumped thornbills forage in trees and shrubs, but they are mainly considered to be terrestrial as long as there’s some tree cover nearby, and they often hang around parties of other small birds when feeding. I talk with ecologist Sue Stevens about this wonderful bird.


White-winged Chough

'Team Chough' Photo by ibsut

‘Team Chough’ Photo by ibsut

De Alas Blancas, in Italian Gracchio Australiano Alibianche, in German Drosselkrähe.
What am I talking about? The White Winged Chough….

As Sue mentions, white-winged choughs usually have four adults that are deployed to feed one young, because the beetle grubs they eat are so difficult to find. But they will also kidnap young from another family, enticing them away by spreading their wings like a toreador’s cloak. The youngster is fed for the first season, then recruited into the feeding team in the next year. The result is a bigger “family”, that can raise more young.
If you’ve seen this bird, perhaps in Callum Brae woodland around Canberra, or just around your neck of the woods, send in a photo, or mention where you’ve seen it, all info to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675

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Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

2 thoughts on “Apostle birds, stilts, thornbills & choughs

  1. How astonishing bird families are. In my next life, I am going to be an ornithologist and study them. Those apostle birds look like three pompous church bishops sitting on that limb. Lovely picture and post.

  2. Thanks for your comments Julie.
    I hope the “Wildlife in Focus” segment that I have on my radio program encourages people to “like” birds and think about preserving their habitat more. Better still, if natural habitat was restored, we would have more chance of seeing these “astonishing” birds.
    If you have any birds visiting your neighbourhood that you would like me to investigate, let me know, or send in a photo and I’ll arrange a segment to suit.


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