Thornbills are often difficult to identify because of their small size and busy movements in shrubs and trees.
There are five species locally. A recent surprise was the finding of four of these at one spot. The four were the brown thornbill, yellow-rumped thornbill, striated thornbill and yellow thornbill. They were all found within a few metres of each other at the North Gardens Wetlands, alongside Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.
Thornbills measure only nine or 10cm long. Along with the pardalotes and the weebill, they are our smallest birds, with the weebill being the smallest of all.
Although small, busy and hard to see, the different sorts of thornbills can often be identified by the places they live, and their frequent short calls.
Our most common sort is the brown thornbill, which is found mostly in shrubs and small trees. It occurs in many home gardens. The striated thornbill is a bird of the gum trees, while the yellow thornbill, in contrast, likes wattles.
The yellow-rumped thornbill feeds mostly on the ground, so it likes to be near open grassy places, with trees and shrubs nearby for shelter.
Our fifth local thornbill is the buff-rumped thornbill. This one seldom ventures into Ballarat proper. It is found in local bushland, where it feeds mostly on and near the ground, or on treetrunks and lower branches.
The scarcest of our five species is the yellow thornbill. It is found fairly often at very restricted places such as the North Garden Wetlands and at a garden in Allendale. Apart from these places, it is hardly known in the Ballarat district, where its distribution is somewhat of a mystery.
All species are insect eaters and remain here year-round. It is a wonder that such small insect-eating birds do not move to milder places during winter.
There are 12 Australian species, with some confined to parts such as Tasmania, north-eastern Queensland and Western Australia.
The koel is a large cuckoo, found mostly in eastern Victoria and up into New South Wales and Queensland. So, reports last year from Creswick and Daylesford are of interest.
The recent visitors were first records for both towns.
Both were males and both were first noticed because of their loud double call, often written as ko-el, or coo-ee, but described by a Daylesford resident as tee-loo.
Koels are large, long tailed birds, larger than wattlebirds. Males are glossy blue-black, and females are brown and buff.
There are only a couple of koel records for Ballarat.