Aussie Bird Count

What bird is that? Wattlebirds

Saturday, 7 October 2023

  • Estimated reading time 5min

How to tell the difference between commonly confused birds: Wattlebirds

In the leadup to this year’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count, our very own National Public Affairs Manager Sean Dooley will be talking us through how to tell the difference between commonly confused backyard birds in a series of educational videos.

In this video, we’re talking all things wattlebirds – and the easiest ways to tell which one is visiting your garden!

Bird species in this video:

Put your knowledge to the test, register to take part in the 2023 Aussie Bird Count.

See below for the full video transcript. 


Sean Dooley (00:01):

I love a wattlebird. They may not get the attention that more colorful native birds like rainbow lorikeets get, but the wattlebirds are one of our most successful native birds in urban areas. They’re found in every capital city, except for Darwin. Usually there’ll be two species that you could be seeing, but which ones?

Sean Dooley (00:28)
Well, the most widespread of all the wattlebirds is the red wattlebird. It’s not so common in Brisbane, but in all the other mainland capitals and major towns, it’s a pretty common bird. The way you tell a red wattlebird is not just from the red wattle, which is a bit of flap of red skin that hangs just below the ear, because that’s not always visible, and indeed young birds don’t even have it.

Sean Dooley (00:53)
The better way to tell the wattlebird is by its size. The red wattlebird is quite a large bird, and it’s generally grayish overall, and underneath it’s more cream with dark streaks. Then a red wattlebird has a yellow patch on its belly, at least when it’s an adult.

Sean Dooley (01:12)
The other bird that you will often be seeing on the mainland is the little wattlebird, which is found in Eastern Australia, or it’s equivalent in the West, the western wattlebird. Now, those two species, the western and little wattlebird look very similar, but you can tell them from a red wattlebird because they’re smaller and more sleek and they don’t have a wattle. Also, they’re generally a browner color overall and less pale underneath. They do have, as they fly away you’ll notice this too, a bit of a coppery flash in the wing, which the red wattlebird doesn’t have.

Sean Dooley (01:49)
Now in Tasmania, you don’t get red wattlebirds, but you do get little wattlebirds and the yellow wattlebird, and the yellow wattlebird is our largest honeyeater. They’re quite a magnificent, big, crazy looking bird. They’re very pale compared to the other wattlebirds, and it does have a yellow wattle, which actually looks like a goopy bit of earwax that’s dangling down from either side of the ears.

Sean Dooley (02:15)
Now the other way that you can tell wattlebirds, even without seeing them, is by their call. You might know wattlebirds because they’re those irritating birds that sound like they’re coughing or clearing their throat often at five o’clock in the morning in springtime. The red wattlebird sounds much more like a cough. It’s just a bit of a deeper and less musical, just basically a standard cough.

Sean Dooley (02:45)
The little wattlebird is more like a high pitch clearing of the throat, but it tends to get stuff stuck in its throat, so it often repeats its phrases and can at times sound quite musical. Whereas, the yellow wattlebird, basically, it’s halfway between a sneeze and a cough. It’s almost a little bit disgusting in that it sounds like it’s just clearing the snot out of its nose.

Sean Dooley (03:18)
Armed with that rather unpleasant detail, don’t be put off. You can identify wattlebirds and they are actually brilliant birds.

Join in the fun and register to take part in the 2023 Aussie Bird Count.