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A photo of a Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps)
Chestnut-crowned Babbler

Chestnut-crowned Babbler

Pomatostomus ruficeps

The Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Pomatostomus ruficeps, presents a striking figure with its rich chestnut crown and long white eyebrows that stand out against its dark, brown-grey plumage. A white throat and breast, white-tipped tail, and a distinctive long, black, down-curved bill complete its ensemble. With short, rounded wings and a long tail with a rounded tip, this bird is further adorned with two white wing bars. The eyes are dark brown, and the legs are a soft grey, while the wings, back, and flanks are a brown-grey to mottled dusky hue on the mantle.

Identification Tips

This medium-sized bird, measuring 21–23 cm and weighing approximately 50 g, is smaller and appears slimmer than its relatives. Adults are sexually monomorphic, meaning males and females look alike. Immature birds resemble adults but are duller, with a pale rufous eyebrow and chest, a brown crown, and a whitish patch behind the eye.


The Chestnut-crowned Babbler is found in the drier and more open woodlands of mallee, mulga, and belar. It also frequents acacia and cypress pine scrubs and woodlands, stony ground and sandhills, and areas with lignum, saltbush, and samphire.


Endemic to south-eastern Australia, this species is located in inland areas including parts of western New South Wales, south-western Queensland, eastern South Australia, and north-western Victoria. Its range encompasses the south-eastern Lake Eyre Basin and the western Murray-Darling Basin.


These birds are known for their vivacious and social nature, forming cohesive groups of up to 23 individuals. They maintain territories, roost, and forage together, often engaging in dust-bathing and preening as a collective. At night, they huddle in communal roosting nests. When disturbed, they may hop away or glide to safety, chattering noisily. They exhibit playful behavior, yet are more reserved than other babbler species.

Song & Calls

The Chestnut-crowned Babbler's song is a strident, irregular, yet melodious territorial call, reminiscent of the little eagle's piping. Group members communicate with constant chattering, whistling calls, and a tchak-tchak-tchak sound that intensifies when excited or alarmed. Their contact call is a whistling tsee-tsee.


Breeding typically occurs from July to November. The nest is a large, conspicuous dome constructed of long sticks in tree branches. Eggs are pale grey-brown, oval, and adorned with sepia and dusky hairlines. Clutch sizes range from 2-6 eggs, with nestlings fledging after 21–25 days.

Cooperative Breeding

This species engages in cooperative breeding, with monogamous pairs and subordinate 'helpers' caring for offspring. The entire group participates in nest building, feeding the incubating female, and territory defense. Reproduction without helpers is rare and often unsuccessful.

Diet and Feeding

The Chestnut-crowned Babbler forages on the ground, in shrubs, and up tree branches, searching for insects, larvae, spiders, small amphibians, crustaceans, reptiles, and occasionally fruits and seeds. They spend most of the day foraging, preferring drainage zones for the cover and prey abundance they offer.

Conservation Status

The Chestnut-crowned Babbler is internationally listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. It is not considered threatened under Australian national or state legislation. The species is thought to be sedentary and ranges from scarce to locally common.

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Chestnut-crowned Babblers on Birda

A map showing the sighting location
Matthew Egan
08 Apr 2023 - 12:54pm

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