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A photo of a Gilbert's Whistler (Pachycephala inornata), male
Gilbert's Whistler, Male

Gilbert's Whistler

Pachycephala inornata

The Gilbert's whistler (Pachycephala inornata) is a monotypic species, a unique representative of its kind, endemic to the arid landscapes of Australia. It is a member of the Pachycephalidae family, known colloquially as 'thickheads' due to their robust cranial features. The species exhibits a rather unadorned plumage, which is reflected in its scientific name, with 'inornata' translating to 'plain' from Latin.

Identification Tips

Adult males of the species are distinguished by their rufous chin and throat, which they acquire in their third year. Their lores are a striking black, contrasting with the red-lored whistler's red lores. Females are more demure in appearance, with a pale grey throat and a distinctive white eye-ring. Both sexes share a uniform brownish-grey coloration, a red iris, and a black, stubby bill. Juveniles and immatures resemble the adult females but can be identified by their brown bill and dark brown iris. Observers should be cautious not to confuse the female and immature Gilbert's whistlers with the female golden or western whistlers in overlapping territories.

Habitat

The Gilbert's whistler favors semi-arid tall mallee with sparse shrubby understorey, prickly Acacia thickets, Casuarina woodlands, and occasionally ventures into taller eucalypt woodlands or forests.

Distribution

This species is scattered across the semi-arid regions of southern Western Australia, South Australia, northwest Victoria, and central west New South Wales. It is a resident bird, showing high site fidelity and little large-scale movement.

Behaviour

The Gilbert's whistler is a ground feeder, foraging primarily on invertebrates, with occasional fruit and seeds supplementing its diet. It is known for its sedentary nature and sensitivity to habitat disturbance.

Song & Calls

The Gilbert's whistler is a vocal bird, more often heard than seen. Its song is a melodious series of swelling 'cheop' notes, repeated multiple times. It also produces an ascending call similar to the rufous whistler and a scratchy 'eechowk' call.

Breeding

Both sexes participate in building a deep cup nest within dense shrubs, sometimes atop old babbler nests. They incubate a clutch of two to four eggs for about 15 days and care for the altricial, nidicolous young.

Similar Species

The Gilbert's whistler can be confused with the red-lored whistler, but the latter has red lores. Female and immature Gilbert's whistlers may be mistaken for female golden or western whistlers.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Gilbert's whistler consists mainly of invertebrates, with occasional fruit and seeds. They forage on the ground and in understorey layers.

Conservation status

The Gilbert's whistler is listed as 'Least Concern' by the IUCN. However, it is considered 'Vulnerable' in New South Wales due to a decline in population size and distribution. Conservation efforts include habitat restoration, weed removal, and public awareness campaigns.

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