Ann Somerville-Charles: Ode to a warbler

This is the time of year when reeds and rushes come alive to the sound of music.

The powerful and melodious notes of the Australian reed-warbler can be heard both day and night as this intriguing little songbird flits amongst the stems. While it requires patience and concentration to see this little bird, there is definitely no mistaking its presence!

The Australian reed-warbler is a slim brown bird of 17cms with a long tail. It has a pale-buff eyebrow, a dusky brown eye-stripe and a long, slender and slightly decurved bill. Its plumage is plain and unspeckled. The upperparts are mid brown and the underparts are buff-cream.

Australian reed-warblers arrive in southern Australia during the breeding season of September to February. Throughout this season, male birds sing continuously.

Their loud, varied and complex songs are used to attract female birds as well as to establish and defend breeding territories. Whilst singing, feathers on the crown raise to form a slight crest and feathers on the throat puff outwards. During the courtship period, male birds also build flimsy nest structures. It is believed these structures are made to attract females and to establish territories. Permanent nests are constructed in reed beds by both parents. These nests are deep cup like structures woven from reeds and other waterside vegetation. Females incubate the eggs. Both parents care for offspring. Diet consists of small insects and spiders. During the non-breeding season, birds migrate to northern Australia.

Australian reed-warblers are found in reeds, rushes, willows and other thick vegetation near water. Their habitat includes the banks of rivers, streams, farm dams and inland springs. I have seen them at the Mount Compass Wetlands (near IGA), the Mayfield Wetlands in Victor Harbor and in reed beds along the Inman River.

Written by Ann Somerville-Charles.