The Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)


This one was another toughie for the #BeakoftheWeek players. The eastern spinebill.

Eastern Spinebill

Eastern Spinebill

Eastern spinebills are native to Australia along the east coast and Tasmania. They inhabit all sorts of habitat but mainly dry, open, sclerophyll (vegetation with hard leaves and short distances between leaves on stems) forests primarily made up of eucalypts.  This species is adaptable and is often seen in gardens with sufficient vegetation cover.  Their distinctive black, white and chestnut plumage makes them stand out.  They are small honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) at around 15cm in length and weighing 4-24g.

Their diet consists of nectar and arthropods in more or less equal proportions and they spend a lot of time foraging at flowers, particularly at proteaceous shrubs like Banksia and Lambertia.  In order to feed they use their long slender bill to probe flowers and can be seen hovering almost hummingbird like whilst extracting nectar.

One thing I love about honeyeaters is their brush-tipped tongues.  It feels pretty weird when you are extracting them from mist nets!  This is a cool adaptation for nectar feeding.  The brush-tipped tongues enable the honeyeater to cover large surface areas when feeding, allowing them to pick up nectar that is spread thinly over large areas.  Check out this interesting paper on differences between the bills and tongues of different nectar feeders.

Spinebill hover feeding

Spinebill hover feeding

Breeding has been recorded throughout much of the year (Aug-May) although it mainly occurs from October to December.  Whilst both sexes collect nesting material it is only the female that builds the nest over 4-7 days.  On average they lay 2 eggs (range 1-4) with the female carrying out incubation duties for an average of 14.4 days.  Both parents will then feed nestlings until they fledge after around 14 days, and will continue to feed them until they can feed themselves after 8 days.  The parents will then re-nest up to another 3 times when their young leave the territory.  Gluttons for punishment.

IUCN has these guys listed as of least concern on their redlist.  Their populations are decreasing however, and this is suspected to be down to habitat destruction.

Looking for a new ringtone? Perhaps some eastern spinebill songs?



BirdLife International 2012. Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 02 July 2015.

BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. Downloaded from on 02/07/2015.

Higgins, P., Christidis, L. & Ford, H. (2008). Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 2 July 2015).


Eastern Spinebill” by Tom Tarrant is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Spinebill hover feeding” by Leo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.