Australian Bush Birds
White-browed Scrubwren  -  Sericornis frontalis
White-browed Scrubwren. The white eyebrow and cheek stripe are common for all versions. Note the small white patches on black background on the "shoulder" as well as the mainly brown tail.
White-browed Scrubwren. Both photographs taken on the NSW Western Slopes between Glen Innes and Inverell; this area is nominally occupied by variant tweedi.
White-browed Scrubwren - page 2
map map The White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) is a widespread and abundant ground-feeding bird. They have a white brow and white cheek stripe with a pale creamy-yellow eye with a black centre. There are small white marks on a black shoulder patch. Lores are black or blackish, sometimes extending behind the eye; bill is dusky, sometimes paler underneath. Plumage varies depending on distribution; upper parts are dark olive-brown to mid cinnamon-brown with darker crown and lighter rump. Throat and breast white to pale yellowish cream or buff-grey; plain, lightly streaked or heavily spotted black. Rest of underparts are dull white or buff; flanks cinnamon to olive-grey. Legs and feet are pink to brown.

Females are similar in colouring but duller and with brown lores. Immatures have smoky brown heads with chocolate-brown upper and lower parts; face marking are much duller.

Distribution extends from north Queensland (Cairns and the Atherton Tableland) south to Victoria and Tasmania, then west and north to about Shark Bay on the west coast. Distribution extends inland, especially along the east coast; all of Victoria (except the far north-west) is covered, so is all of Tasmania. There are considerable minor differences in plumage over the extensive distribution. Depending on the source there are nine or twelve recognised races.

The Tasmanian form was separated as a separate species (Sericornis humilis for a while until more DNA work confirmed its similarity with the scrubwren; this sub-species (humilis) has a less prominent eyebrow, plainer almost chocolate brown body and a dull face and wing marks, tail is plain. This is a larger and darker form than the other races.

White-browed Scrubwren. This photograph shows the black/blackish lores characteristic of this little bird
All versions of this scrubwren live in shrubbery along creeks, or on the sides of ridges, or around the fringes of mangroves and coastal heath or mallee scrub. Has been known to persist in pockets of blackberries after surrounding vegetation has been cleared. Scrubwrens are sedentary; established pairs hold permanent territory of one to five hectares; several other adults and immatures form a group with the resident pair, probably including some young from previous seasons.

The White-browed Scrubwren is widespread and abundant although its small size and habit of feeding on the ground under shelter make it less prominent than some other species.

The group forages as a loose party, hopping briskly over the ground under shrubs and occasionally into low branches searching for insects (beetles, weevils, bugs and moths) as well as spiders and seeds. Most feeding is done under cover. Birds fly between shrub patches with short flight less than a metre above the ground. Group members maintain a constant soft chattering to stay in touch. If alarmed the call changes to a harsh churring and one or two members go higher in the shrubbery to investigate the cause of the alarm.

White-browed Scrubwren - page 3
Most groups often include only one adult female (the mate of the dominant male). Breeding takes place from July to January. The nest is a coarse dome of bark strips, rootlets and grasses, with a rounded side-entrance. Usually lined with feathers, hidden on or near the ground amid tangled vegetation, in a clump of grass, under a bank, wedged between two tree trunks or behind hanging or fallen bark. Two or three eggs are laid; varying from grey-white to pale buff, finely speckled with darker spots and a well-defined zone at the larger end. About 19 by 14 millimetres. Probably incubated by the female but the male and other group members help feed the young. If they survive their first year, White-browed Scrubwrens may live for 15 years.