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Western Grasswren. Photo Ben Parkhurst.
Western Grasswren. Photo Ben Parkhurst.


Scientific name: Amytornis genus

Australian grasswrens have long fascinated bird enthusiasts – they're elusive, small, live in remote areas and are very well-camouflaged.

Grasswrens are only found in Australia and many species have a very limited range.

Their call is soft, high-pitched and hard to hear. What’s more, some species are becoming increasingly rare. Little wonder the 11 species of Grasswren hold such mystery.

Grasswrens are generally small birds (though larger and more robust than Fairy-wrens). The Eyrean Grasswren is the smallest of the species, measuring between 14cm and 16.5cm long. Their colours vary: their plumage can be rufous, brown, black, grey and white. Streaked patterns are common, helping them to camouflage in their habitat – both birdwatchers and predators find them difficult to spot!

A Western Grasswren on Hamelin Station Reserve. Photo Ben Parkhurst.

Their short beaks are perfectly suited for crushing seeds. Their tails are often long, slender and elevated.  

All species have short, rounded wings so they can't undertake long flights. Instead they hop, run, bound or bounce between bushes and tussocks of grass.

Most species are found in arid areas in continental Australia, but there are also three tropical species.

Western Grasswren. Photo Aline Gibson Vega.

In the north, the  Carpentarian Grasswren inhabits the hilly parts of north-western Queensland and eastern Northern Territory; the  White-throated Grasswren lives in north-western Arnhem Land;  Dusky Grasswrens are found in the arid interior (NT, WA and SA) and the  Black Grasswren lives in the Kimberley (WA). 

South Australia boasts a number of Grasswrens, including the  Short-tailed Grasswrens found in the Flinders, Gammon and Gawler Ranges, and the  Thick-billed Grasswrens  that inhabit saltbush country of the South Australian rangelands.

Other inland grasswrens include the  Grey Grasswren found near the Queensland/NSW and Queensland/South Australia borders. The  Eyrean Grasswren lives in the canegrass on dunes in the eastern and southern Simpson and Strzelecki Deserts across South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The  Kalkadoon Grasswren lives in north-western Queensland.


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The Western Grasswren is limited to the Shark Bay region of Western Australia (it once occurred across a much larger area of the state) and in South Australia it occurs on the Eyre peninsula in chenopod shrubland.

Finally, the Striated Grasswren has the most widespread – albeit fragmented – range of the grasswrens, including arid and semi-arid inland areas of all continental states and territories.

Under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the White-throated Grasswren is listed as endangered, the Carpentarian Grasswren vulnerable; the Short-tailed Grasswren is near threatened; and the remainder are of Least Concern.

However many of these classifications are difficult to make, given the cryptic nature of the birds: for instance while the Eyrean Grasswren was first described by western scientists in 1875, the next reliable sighting occurred in 1961!

Grasswren behaviour

As their name suggests, many of these grasswrens live in and eat grass. Grasswrens are omnivorous: they eat seeds, fruits, insects and other invertebrates.

They forage on the ground for their fare, never far from a clump of grass or a shrub, where they can quickly bound away to safety.

In terms of reproduction, many inland species respond to ‘boom and bust’ conditions of the arid interior. Their life-expectancy is uncertain, though some Grey Grasswrens are known to live at least three years.

Ecologist Ben Parkhurst leads a birdwatching group on Hamelin Reserve. Grasswrens are hard to spot!

Threats to grasswrens

A major threat to grasswrens is habitat loss due to changed fire regimes . The birds are also hit hard by over-grazing from stock and feral animals, which reduces the availability of food, cover and nesting sites.

In addition to habitat loss and degradation these impacts can lead to habitat fragmentation, which is devastating for these little birds as they can't fly long distances between patches of habitat. Without dense thickets and clumps of grass, they’re forced to spend more time in open areas, where they’re more vulnerable to feral cats.

A Western Grasswren on Hamelin Station Reserve. Photo Ben Parkhurst.

What’s Bush Heritage doing?

You can see grasswrens flit around many Bush Heritage reserves and partnership properties. There are Black Grasswrens on Wunambul Gamberra country, White-throated Grasswrens on Warddeken country, Eyrean Grasswrens on Ethabuka in Queensland, and in South Australia there are Thick-billed Grasswrens on Bon Bon and Western Grasswrens are on Boolcoomatta as well as Hamelin Station in WA.

University of Western Australia PhD student Aline Gibson Vega , has been learning the language of Western Grasswrens at our Hamelin Reserve and on Francois Peron National Park , about 100km further north. Her research on the differences between these two populations had fed directly into the Dirk Hartog Island National Park Ecological Restoration Project .

PhD student Aline Gibson Vega is researching Western Grasswren at Hamelin. Photo Richard Winterton.

We protect Grasswrens by: destocking properties and promoting regeneration of the shrubs and grasses that the wrens love; by controlling feral cats; and by restoring traditional burning techniques, which help prevent devastating wildfires.

Donate today to help us continue this and other vital conservation work.

Grasswren stories

BLOG 17/11/2022

Western Grasswrens translocated

After extensive genetic and behavioural research, Western Grasswrens from sub-populations at Hamelin Station and Francois Peron National Park were mixed together. The translocation was informed by Aline Gibson Vega’s PhD and is part of a collaboration between DBCA, Bush Heritage Australia and the University of Western Australia.

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Researcher with a Western Grasswren.

09/11/2022 09/11/2022

Western Grasswrens returned to Dirk Hartog Island after local extinction

mIn a major milestone, 85 Western Grasswrens have been successfully translocated to Dirk Hartog Island National Park in Western Australia to re-establish the population since it went locally extinct. Some of the birds came from Bush Heritage Australia’s Hamelin Station Reserve on Malgana and Nanda Country, bordering the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, while others made the journey from nearby Francois Peron National Park.

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Western Grasswren. Photo Ben Parkhurst.

BUSHTRACKS 15/01/2021

Fluent in Grasswren

A young researcher is learning the language of Western Grasswrens at Hamelin Station Reserve to assist with one of Australia’s most ambitious ecological restoration projects.

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BLOG 25/10/2019

Grasswrens, glorious grasswrens

Hamelin Station Reserve is brimming with birdlife. But if you're not paying close attention, there's one species that can easily be missed – the Western Grasswren. Grasswrens are very poorly understood compared to their glamorous cousins, the fairywrens. It isn’t clear why the Western Grasswren had such a dramatic population decline. Thought to be once found throughout much of WA, this ground-dwelling species is now restricted Peron Peninsula, Hamelin Station and Carbla Station.

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BUSHTRACKS 16/06/2016

Life on the edge

For the vulnerable endemic species found on Hamelin, the old saying “it’s a small world” couldn’t be more apt. With suitable habitat a precious rarity, careful land management could offer a better future for these threatened creatures.

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BLOG 09/10/2015

Initial bird surveys at Hamelin

Recently Hamelin Station had an influx of keen birdwatchers from the Geraldton and Perth Birdlife groups who came to help out with our initial surveys. Our dedicated group set out at 5:30 every morning to cover a range of habitats all over Hamelin. Braving the hot weather we recorded over 100 species in three days which is pretty impressive!

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