Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Listing and Conservation Advices Approved Conservation Advice for Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis (western whipbird (western heath)) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2014at) [Conservation Advice].
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006p) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010l) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
WA:South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Plan 2009-2018 (Department of Environment and Conservation, 2009v) [State Recovery Plan].
State Listing Status
WA: Listed as Endangered (Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia): September 2013 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
NGO: Listed as Endangered (The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010)
Scientific name Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis [64449]
Family Cinclosomatidae:Passeriformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author  
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis

Common name: Western Whipbird (western heath)

The Western Whipbird (western heath) is one of four accepted subspecies of the Western Whipbird, based on plumage characteristics, nest architecture and genetic analysis (Higgins & Peter 2002; Schodde & Mason 1991):

  • Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis: south-west WA, west of Cape Richie
  • Psophodes nigrogularis oberon: south-west WA
  • Psophodes nigrogularis lashmari: Kangaroo Island in South Australia
  • Psophodes nigrogularis leucogaster: central southern Australia.

Based on morphology, Schodde & Mason (1999) proposed raising the Western Whipbird (western heath) to full species status, under the name Psophodes nigrogularis, and assigned the three remaining subspecies (oberon, lashmari and leucogaster) to the newly-recognised Mallee Whipbird Psophodes leucogaster. However, more recent genetic studies (Christidis & Norman 1999) do not support this, based on the very close relationship between the Western Whipbird (western heath) and subspecies P. n. lashmari. Further studies are currently underway in an attempt to resolve the remaining taxonomic uncertainties (Burbidge 2007 pers. comm.).

The Western Whipbird (western heath) is a medium-sized ground-dwelling songbird with a short crest, powerful legs, short wings and a long tail. It is 19–25.5 cm long and weighs 45 g. On adults, the upper body is olive and the underbody is olive or greyish, except for: a distinct, narrow, black submoustachial stripe bordered below by a narrow white submoustachial stripe; a black chin and throat; an off-white stripe along the centre of the breast and the belly, with fine blackish mottling on the latter. The tail has a blackish subterminal band and broad white tips. The upperwing is greyish-olive with a brown tinge, and the underwing is mostly light brownish-grey. The bill is blackish above and pinkish-brown below; the eyes are dull red; and the legs and feet are dark grey. The sexes are alike. Juveniles are similar to adults, but lack the submoustachial stripes, chin-throat patch and pale belly-stripe of adults, and are generally paler (Higgins & Peter 2002).

The Western Whipbird (western heath) is restricted to a small area east of Albany in coastal south-west WA. Its range is from Two Peoples Bay-Mount Gardiner east to Turner Road Reserve 7041 (west of Cape Riche) with Hassell Road as an approximate inland boundary (Burbidge 2007 pers. comm.; Garnett & Crowley 2000; Gilfillan et al. 2007; Higgins & Peter 2002; McNee 1986; Smith 1991b). There is a unconfirmed report from a site between Denmark and West Cape Howe (Garnett & Crowley 2000). A survey in 1985 found the Western Whipbird (western heath) at six of 14 sites surveyed from Mt Taylor east to Waychinicup Inlet; three sites were within Two Peoples Bay, one site at Betty's Beach, one site on the eastern side of Mount Manypeaks, and one site just east of Waychinicup River (McNee 1986).

Previously this subspecies occurred west of Albany along the coast to Perth. Historical collections include:

  1. Perth in 1842 (Chisholm 1963)
  2. Bunbury in 1898 (McNee 1986)
  3. Cape Mentelle-Margaret River area in 1901 (Howe & Ross 1933; McNee 1986; Milligan 1902)
  4. Ellensbrook, south of Cape Naturaliste, in 1902–03 (Carter 1904)
  5. between Augusta and Albany in 1912 (McNee 1986; Whittell 1952)
  6. King George Sound in 1868 (McNee 1986).

The extent of occurrence of the Western Whipbird (western heath) is estimated at 500 km² with high reliability (Garnett et al. 2011). The area of occupancy of the subspecies is estimated at 350 km² with high reliability (Garnett et al. 2011).

At the species level, the distribution of the Western Whipbird is severely fragmented, with populations occurring at various disparate sites across WA, South Australia and Victoria (Barrett et al. 2003; Blakers et al. 1984; Higgins & Peter 2002). In contrast, the distribution of the Western Whipbird (western heath) is highly restricted and not considered fragmented (McNee 1986; Smith 1991b).

The total population of the Western Whipbird (western heath) is estimated at 500 breeding birds across five locations (Garnett et al. 2011). Up until 2000, the overall population size of the Western Whipbird (western heath) was increasing (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Smith 1985, 1991b), although the subspecies is now considered to have a decreasing population trend (Garnett et al. 2011). For example, in the Two Peoples Nature Reserve the population was estimated at between 17 and 56 pairs in the 1940s (probably 30–40 pairs), about 60 pairs by 1970; 87 pairs were recorded in 1976; and 100 pairs in 1982 (Smith 1991b). In 2007, the area had remained unburnt and the population had a stable population trend (Burbidge 2007 pers. comm.). Elsewhere, there has been a number of bushfires since 2001 that have caused substantial population declines (Gilfillan et al. 2007). Information on population declines is presented in the table below (Gilfillan et al. 2007):

Subpopulation Breeding pairs in 2001 Breeding pairs in 2005
Mount Gardiner 85 60
Mount Manypeaks 155 48
Angove-Normans 30 13
Waychinicup 95 49
Mermaid 48 26
Goodga 0 0
Mount Martin-Mount Taylor 2 0
TOTAL 415 196

The Western Whipbird (western heath) occurs in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve and Waychinicup National Park (McNee 1986; Smith 1991b).

The Western Whipbird (western heath) inhabits dense heath-like shrubby thickets on coastal dunes, and mallee woodland or shrubland with an open upperstorey above a dense shrubby understorey (Ford 1971; Keast 1958b; Schodde & Mason 1991; Smith 1991b). Preferred habitat is usually 2–3 metres tall and dominated by shrubs such as Agonis marginata, hakeas (e.g. Hakea elliptica and H. trifurcata), Showy Dryandra (Banksia formosa), Eutaxia obovata, Acacia mityfolia and Heart-leaf Poison-bush (Gastrolobium bilobum), usually with a dense shrubby understorey, and sometimes intermixed with stunted eucalypts such as Marri (Eucalyptus calophylla) and Jarrah (E. marginata) (Gilfillan et al. 2007; Smith 1991b). A study in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve found that Western Whipbirds (western heath) mostly occur in shrubby thickets (62.9%), less often in the ecotone between heathland and low eucalypt forest, with a similar structure to the thicket habitat (23.6%), and very occasionally in heathland (8.6%) and low eucalyptus forest (4.9%) (Smith 1991b).

The frequency of burning determines the structure of the component vegetation; in Two Peoples Bay, Western Whipbird (western heath) territories were established in some areas 4–6 years after fires had burnt the area, and 7–10 years in other areas (Smith 1985, 1991b). The subspecies is less sensitive to fires than the Noisy Scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus) (Garnett & Crowley 2000), and can survive a fire, provided that there is adequate unburnt vegetation nearby (McNee 1986). The topography of the Mount Gardner prevents the whole area being burnt at once, thus allowing the species to persist in unburnt refuge areas (Smith 1985).

In Two Peoples Bay, the Western Whipbird (western heath) coexists with other EPBC Act threatened species such as the Vulnerable Western Bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris) and Noisy Scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus) and the Endangered Western Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris).

Based on observations of the related Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus), the Western Whipbird (western heath) may be capable of breeding at less than one year of age (Dunn 1993) and of surviving to more than 12 years of age (ABBBS 2011). Garnett and Crowley (2000) estimate the generation length to be five years.

At Two Peoples Bay, the Western Whipbird (western heath) nests in dense low heath, up to 50 m from thickets of taller vegetation. Each nest is placed in a dense multi-stemmed shrub, at an average height of 26 cm above the ground. Shrubs often used for nesting include Leafless Bitter-pea (Daviesia brevifolia), Hakea ceratophylla and Melaleuca thymoides, and occasionally in Agonis parviceps, Juniper Myrtle (A. juniperina), Melaleuca striata or Jacksonia horrida. All nest sites have sedges (Anarthria scabra, A. prolifera, A. gracilis and Saviour Grass (Dasypogon bromelifolius)) growing within and between shrubs, so that nests are well concealed from all directions. The nest is bowl-shaped, with an outer layer made of sedges, an inner layer finer sedges, grass and twigs, and lining of fine grass. Two strongly-marked, pale bluish or greenish eggs are laid from July to early September (Smith 1991b).

Of the 15 clutches recorded, three were started in the second half of July, ten in August, and two in the first half of September. The incubation period is at least 21 days; the fledging period around 12 days and the period of dependence two months or more in length, with both parents probably contributing to the incubating, feeding and brooding of the young (Smith 1991b; Webster 1966c). Hatching success is estimated to be 80%; productivity is 0.85 fledgelings per nest, but without observer interference may be up to 1.45 fledgelings per nest (Smith 1991b). Nestling mortality is suspected to be influenced by goanna predation, such as the Heath Goanna (Varanus rosenbergii) (Smith 1991b).

The diet of the Western Whipbird (western heath) comprises invertebrates, mainly insects such as beetles, ants and grasshoppers and their larvae, but also occasionally gastropods (snails) and spiders, and very occasionally small reptiles (Milligan 1902; Smith 1991b; Whittell 1951).

The Western Whipbird (western heath) forages actively on the ground, usually below dense low vegetation, where it probes leaf litter or dead stumps, and gleans food items from the lower sections of plants; and it very occasionally forages higher in the vegetation, where it pulls bark from trunks and branches, probes bark and flowers, and gleans foliage (Smith 1991b). Terrestrial foraging habits would make individuals vulnerable to predation, though the dense nature of the foraging habitat would mitigate this.

The Western Whipbird (western heath) is usually seen singly or in pairs (Ford 1971; McNee 1986; Smith 1991b). At Two Peoples Bay, the subspecies is territorial and probably sedentary, and does not appear to move far from the natal territory (Smith 1985; Webster 1966c). Territories are maintained throughout the year, and also in consecutive years (Smith 1991b; Webster 1966c); one pair was found in the same home range for 6 years and another pair for 5 years (Smith 1991b). At Two Peoples Bay, home ranges overlapped, and varied in size from 10–19 hectares, with a mean of 12.6 hectares (Smith 1991b). Birds spend most (60%) of their time in core areas within the home-range, which range in size from 1.5 to 2.4 hectares.

In fleeting views, the Western Whipbird (western heath) is superficially similar to the Western Bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris), with which it shares habitat, but both species are more likely to be heard rather than seen (Higgins & Peter 2002). The subspecies is shy, elusive and seldom seen, though it is often heard, and is usually detected only by its vocalisations. The species calls most often between May and July. It has distinctive calls, which are most intense at dawn and, to a lesser extent, at dusk (McNee 1986). Both sexes are responsive to broadcast (playback) of vocalisations (Ford 1971; Higgins & Peter 2002).

The Western Whipbird can be surveyed using diurnal point surveys at various sites where the observer listens for calls of Whipbirds, including in response to recordings of calls, rather than looking for birds, or possibly transect listening-surveys; either method would be useful in establishing whether the species was present at a site (DEWHA 2010l). These methods are used to detect the presence of other species which inhabit low dense vegetation, such as Noisy Scrub-birds (Atrichornis clamosus) (Smith 1985b; Smith & Forrester 1981). Surveys of suitable habitat should be conducted in the early morning or at dusk, and are most effective in the breeding season (DEWHA 2010l). Full details are available in the Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds (DEWHA 2010l).

The range of the Western Whipbird (western heath) has contracted greatly due to land clearing for agriculture and changes to fire intensity and frequency in south-west WA. The current main threat to the subspecies is extensive or frequent fire (Ashby 1921; Garnett & Crowley 2000; Gilfillan et al. 2007; Higgins & Peter 2002; McNee 1986; Smith 1977, 1985, 1991b; Whitley 1971). The habitat of approximately half of the population of this subspecies was burnt by bushfires between 2001 and 2005 (Burbidge et al. 2005; Gilfillan et al. 2007).

The Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation is implementing a series of conservation measures aimed at decreasing the incidence and extent of wild fires in the Manypeaks-Two Peoples Bay area (Burbidge et al. 2005; Comer & Burbidge 2006). Garnett and colleagues (2011) outline conservation priorities for the subspecies.

Studies of the Western Whipbird (western heath) include Smith (1985, 1991b). McNee (1986) and Gilfillan and colleagues (2007).

Management documents relevant to the Western Whipbird (western heath) are at the start of the profile. Other relevant documents include the Research plan for the Western Ground Parrot, Western Whipbird and Western Bristlebird (Cale & Burbidge 1993), The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011) and the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Plan (Gilfillan et al. 2007).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularisin Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vj) [Internet].
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley, 2000) [Cwlth Action Plan].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularisin Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vj) [Internet].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate prescribed regimes and/or vegetation management to control fire regimes The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley, 2000) [Cwlth Action Plan].

Ashby, E. (1921). Notes on the supposed "extinct" birds of the south-west corner of Western Australia. Emu. 20:123-124.

Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) (2011). ABBBS Database search. [Online]. Available from:

Barrett, G., A. Silcocks, S. Barry, R. Cunningham & R. Poulter (2003). The New Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia.

Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Burbidge, A.H. (2007). Personal Communication. Principal Research Scientist, Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation. April 2007.

Burbidge, A.H., S. Comer & A. Danks (2005). 'Threatened birds and wildfire in south-west Western Australia' In: Fire and Birds. Fire Management for Biodiversity. Wingspan (Supplement). 15 (3):18-20.

Cale, P.G. & A.H. Burbidge (1993). Research plan for the Western Ground Parrot, Western Whipbird and Western Bristlebird. Australian National Parks & Wildlife Service.

Carter, T. (1904). Some south-western notes (Oct. 1902-Jan. 1903). Emu. 3:39.

Chisholm, A.H. (1963). Some early letters in Australian ornithology. Emu. 63:373-382.

Christidis, L. & J. Norman (1999). Status of the Western Whipbird (Heath subspecies): Development of Molecular Markers. Unpublished report to Department of Conservation and Land Management, Perth.

Comer, S. & A. Burbidge (2006). Manypeaks rising from the ashes. Landscope. 22(1):51-55.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2010l). Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: DEWHA. Available from:

Dunn, R. (1993). Breeding the Eastern Whipbird at Melbourne Zoo. Australian Aviculture. 47:172-174.

Ford, J. (1971). Distribution, ecology and taxonomy of some Western Australian passerine birds. Emu. 71:103-120.

Garnett, S., J. Szabo & G. Dutson (2011). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from:

Gilfillan, S., S. Comer, A.H. Burbidge, J. Blyth & A. Danks (2007). South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Plan Western Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris, Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris, Noisy Scrub-bird or Tjimiluk Atrichornis clamosus, Western Whipbird (Western Heath Subspecies) Psophodes nigrogul. Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, Perth.

Higgins, P.J. & J.M. Peter (Eds) (2002). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 6. Pardalotes to Spangled Drongo. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Howe, F.E. & J.A. Ross (1933). On the occurrence of Psophodes nigrogularis in Victoria. Emu. 32:133-148.

Keast, A. (1958b). The genus Psophodes Vigors and Horsfield, and its significance in demonstrating a possible pathway for the origin of Eyrean species from Bassian ones. Emu. 58:247-255.

Magrath, M.J.L., M.A. Weston, P. Olsen & M. Antos (2004). Draft Survey Standards for Birds: Species Accounts. Melbourne, Victoria: Report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage by Birds Australia.

McNee, S. (1986). Surveys of the Western Whipbird and Western Bristlebird in Western Australia, 1985. RAOU Report Series. 18.

Milligan, A.W. (1902). Field observations on Western Australian birds. Emu. 2:68-77.

Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1991). Subspeciation in the Western Whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis and its zoogeographical significance, with descriptions of two new subspecies. Emu. 91:133-144.

Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO.

Smith, G.T. (1977). The effect of environmental change on six rare birds. Emu. 77:173-179.

Smith, G.T. (1985). Fire effects on populations of the Noisy Scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus), Western Bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris) and Western Whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis). In: Ford, J.R., ed. Symposium on Fire Ecology and Management in Western Australian Ecosystems. Page(s) 95-102. WA Institute of Technology, Perth.

Smith, G.T. (1985b). Population and habitat selection of the Noisy Scrub-bird, Atrichornis clamosus. Australian Wildlife Research. 12:479-485.

Smith, G.T. (1991b). Ecology of the Western Whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis in Western Australia. Emu. 91:145-157.

Smith, G.T. & R.I. Forrester (1981). The status of the Noisy Scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus. Biological Conservation. 19:239-254.

Webster, H.O. (1966c). The Western Whipbird at Two Peoples Bay. Western Australian Naturalist. 10:25-28.

Whitley, G.P. (1971). Field notes on birds by Thomas Carter. Western Australian Naturalist. 12:41-44.

Whittell, H.M. (1951). A review of the work of John Gilbert in Western Australia. Emu. 51:17-29.

Whittell, H.M. (1952). The visit of Sydney William Jackson to Western Australia in 1912 in search of the Noisy Scrub-bird. Western Australian Naturalist. 3:73-80.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Psophodes nigrogularis nigrogularis in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Sun, 21 Sep 2014 13:03:28 +1000.