The eastern bristlebird is one of a suite of threatened species being helped by a NSW program involving government, private landholders and community groups.

Story Bruce McMahon  Photos David Kelly

A shy, ground-dwelling native with links back to ancient Australia, the eastern bristlebird is today critically endangered in north-eastern NSW and rarely seen. Sometimes spotted scuttling across clearings, this small bird with a longish tail hides out in dense grassy forests and nests in tussocks. 

Near Murwillumbah, ecologist David Charley stops and listens on a ridge in the Border Ranges, plays a soft call from his mobile phone and is answered with a melody by a curious male. David turns and points out a little brown bird in the long grasses. Though he has worked on these rare and reclusive animals for 30-odd years, David is still taken by a sighting. “They’re highly territorial,” he says. “So the male will respond [to a call] and either come up and have a look at you or call back,” he says. “They will come really close, so you have to be really still. They might be 2–3m away and they’ll just be skulking there. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021