Scrub-birds are shy, secretive, ground-dwelling birds of the family Atrichornithidae. There are just two species, one of them rare and very restricted in its range, the other so rare that until 1961 it was thought to be extinct. Both are native to Australia.
The scrub-bird family is ancient and is understood to be most closely related to the lyrebirds, and probably also the bowerbirds and treecreepers. All four families originated with the great corvid radiation of the Australia-New Guinea region.
Both living species are about the same size as a Common Starling (roughly 20 cm long) and cryptically coloured in drab browns and blacks. They occupy dense undergrowth—the Rufous Scrub-bird in temperate rain forests near the Queensland-New South Wales border, the Noisy Scrub-bird in heaths and scrubby gullies in semi-arid Western Australia—and are adept at scuttling mouse-like under cover to avoid notice. They run fast but their flight is feeble.
The males' calls, however, are powerful: ringing and metallic, with a ventriloquial quality, so loud as to be heard from a long distance in heavy scrub and almost painful at close range. Females build a domed nest close to the ground and take sole responsibility for raising the young.
The entire world population of the Noisy Scrub-bird was estimated at 40 to 45 birds in 1962. Conservation efforts succeeded in increasing the population to around 400 birds by the mid-1980s, and they have subsequently been reintroduced to several sites, but remain endangered.
Species of Atrichornithidae
- Rufous Scrub-bird, Atrichornis rufescens
Noisy Scrub-bird, Atrichornis clamosus