Bird Identification – Whistlers and Shrike-thrushes

The introduction to the book has some information on how to identify birds. Space constraints limited the amount of text. This and subsequent posts will extend the identification guide beyond the example species already covered.


Often noticed by their calls, especially in spring and early summer.

In the Castlemaine area you can find Rufous Whistler, Golden Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Crested Shrike-tit, Crested Bellbird and rarely the Olive Whistler.

Mostly the males of these species are easy to tell apart, although at first glance theĀ  Golden Whistler and Crested Shrike-tit have similarities with golden colours and black and white patterns on the head and breast. However, the Shrike-tit has quite a different bill, and at times the crest is visible. You can see this easily in the two images below.

Crested Shriketit

Best walks to see: Mia Mia, Rise and Shine, Shicer Gully, Vaughan Springs

Crested Shriketit

Golden Whistler

Best walks to see: Folly Track, Mt Alexander, Mt Lofty, Pilchers Bridge, Campbells Creek Track

Golden Whistler – male

The female Golden Whistler is a rather more plain bird with an overall impression of grey.

Golden Whistler male and female

Rufous Whistler

Best walks to see: Campbells Creek Track, Coliban water race tracks, Pichers Bridge, Tarrengower, Kalimna, Walmer NCR

The Rufous Whistler is the most common of this species around this area. In spring the calls can be heard far and wide from the towns out into the bush.

Rufous Whistler – male

The female Rufous Whistler can be distinguished from the female Golden Whistler as it has striations on her breast whereas the Golden has a plain breast.

Rufous Whistler – female. Note the striations

The Crested Bellbird has a distinctive and far-carrying call but is unlike to be confused with the two species above. Its habitat is more restricted and is found generally in the drier forests, particularly around the Mia Mia area (see Mia Mia walk map). It does overlap with the other whistlers, but its call always sets it apart, as does its colouration with a white face, unlike the Rufous Whistler. Its bill is shorter and thinner than the Rufous as well.

Crested Bellbird

Best walks to see: Mia Mia

Crested Bellbird

The Grey Shrike-thrush is widespread in the region for the towns to bushland. It has a remarkable vocal repertoire and its call carries long distances. Quite different colouration to the other species in this group.

Grey Shrike-thrush

Best walks to see: Widespread in most areas

Grey Shrike-thrush

Olive Whistler

Finally, if you are very lucky you might see an Olive Whistler. Rare in this area with the only recent sightings out Chewton way.

Best walks to see: Forest Creek – Golden Point

Olive Whistler – the only whistler more likely to be seen on the ground

4 thoughts on “Bird Identification – Whistlers and Shrike-thrushes”

  1. Hi Damian, love this website – fantastically helpful – thought I’d add that rufous whistlers have a noticeable presence in my garden on the Forest Creek track. They’re not around at the moment (where do they go?) but in spring and summer they were here in number, calling, bashing into the windows more than any other birds (I presume this is a territorial, mating behaviour?)

    1. Hi Jill – some Rufous Whistlers stay around the area, but there is a distinct north in winter / south in spring movement. So yours have likely moved north for the warmth and the availability of food. Bashing windows and car mirrors is typical for several species. It is a territorial behaviour as they think there is another bird in their territory. In our garden the Superb Fairy Wren and the White-browed Scrubwren often attack our car mirrors.

  2. Hello Damien,
    I have observed both Rufous and Golden Whistlers in my habitat garden, but not together over the same periods of time. Rufous Whistlers were present for a year and a half and then after a month or so from there absence, Golden Whistlers moved in. I found this interesting and wondered if the two species stay out of each others territory?

    1. Hi Duncan,

      Both species tend to be partially migratory. Golden Whistlers are more altitudinal, moving to higher areas in summer and the Rufous Whistler are known to move north in winter. But not all birds move, with some remaining locally. According to the Handbook of Australian and New Zealand Birds, territorial conflict between the two species has been observed at times, but mostly in breeding season. I have seen Rufous chasing Golden occasionally. This may explain your observations, but also both species do move around a bit and that may be the explanation. Banding studies show that both species come back to the same areas over time.

      Still lots to learn about these species.

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