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Species Guide

Grey Grasswren

Amytornis barbatus

The Grey Grasswren, known scientifically as Amytornis barbatus, is a small, elusive passerine bird that graces the arid inland floodplains of Australia with its presence. This bird, which was first sighted in 1921 and described in 1968, is distinguished by its greyish plumage with ginger-brown tones and very long tail, setting it apart from its grasswren relatives.

Identification Tips

Adult Grey Grasswrens measure between 18 and 20 cm in length, with a wingspan of approximately 21 cm and a weight ranging from 15 to 23 grams. Their plumage is a blend of ginger-brown, grey, and off-white striations. A striking facial pattern features a broad white superciliary stripe and a black stripe extending from the lores through the eyes, connecting to a thin black malar line around the sides of the throat. The central tail feathers are notably elongated, extending beyond the adjacent pair. Juveniles are duller in coloration and lack the distinct facial pattern of adults.


Grey Grasswrens are found in specific habitats within the arid inland floodplains, favoring areas dominated by lignum and cane grass on major drainage lines between resident sand dunes. They also inhabit swampy areas with a dense understory of spike-rush, channel millet, and sedges, and can occasionally be found in open vegetative areas less prone to flooding.


This species is endemic to Australia, with sightings recorded at the Bulloo Overflow on the New South Wales/Queensland border, lower Cooper Creek, along the Kallakoopah anabranch of the Diamantina River, and the overflow areas of lakes Machattie, Koolivoo, and Mipea on Eyre Creek in South Australia.


The Grey Grasswren is a cryptic bird that may exhibit nomadic tendencies, particularly in response to environmental conditions such as drought and flooding. It has been observed to seek refuge in tall dense lignum during drought years, while preferring other habitats in normal years.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the Grey Grasswren includes a soft double-syllable note, described as a persistent tweet. Other calls consist of a series of three or four high-pitched metallic notes, reminiscent of a 'pit-choo' sound, and a high-pitched 'sit-sit-sit'.


Breeding behavior is not well-documented, but it is believed that the Grey Grasswren breeds in July or August, typically after flooding or heavy rain. The semi-domed nest is constructed within lignum or cane grass, and clutch size is thought to be two eggs, which exhibit considerable color variation. Incubation is carried out solely by the female, lasting approximately 13 to 15 days, with both parents involved in feeding the hatchlings.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Grey Grasswren primarily consists of small seeds, as indicated by the shape of its beak and gut content analysis. This diet is supplemented by insect larvae, mature insects, and occasionally water snails.

Conservation status

The Grey Grasswren is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. However, it is considered threatened under various Australian conservation acts due to habitat degradation, predation, and the potential impacts of climate change.

Future management

Conservation efforts for the Grey Grasswren are focused on protecting its specific habitat from degradation and managing threats such as overgrazing, predation, and invasive weeds. The effects of climate change on its habitat also warrant further research and consideration.

New conservation area

In a significant move to protect the Grey Grasswren, the Government of New South Wales acquired Narriearra station, which encompasses nearly 90 percent of the species' habitat. This acquisition forms part of a nearly contiguous conservation area, providing a substantial refuge for this and other species.

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