Nature conservation

Threatened species

Rufous Scrub-bird - profile

Indicative distribution

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The areas shown in pink and/purple are the sub-regions where the species or community is known or predicted to occur. They may not occur thoughout the sub-region but may be restricted to certain areas. ( click here to see geographic restrictions). The information presented in this map is only indicative and may contain errors and omissions.
Scientific name: Atrichornis rufescens
Conservation status in NSW: Vulnerable
Commonwealth status: Not listed
Profile last updated: 13 Jan 2023


The Rufous Scrub-bird Atrichornis rufescens is a stocky, ground-dwelling bird of moderate size (body length about 17cm). Adults are a scaly-patterned dark rufous-brown, with a light throat. The tail is long and rounded and eyes dark brown. Scrub-birds generally remain on or near the ground in very dense vegetation (or other cover such as woody debris or litter) and as a consequence extremely difficult to see. However, their presence is readily detected by the frequent and loud calls of the males. These include territorial calls (repeated sharp high-pitched chip, chip...) as well as mimicry. There are two subspecies with substantially differing calls.


Rufous Scrub-birds are endemic to south-eastern Australia. The northern subspecies (A. r. rufescens) occurs between the Mistake Range in Queensland and the Gibraltar Range in northern NSW. The southern subspecies (A. r. ferrieri) is confined to NSW, with a patchy distribution from the Dorrigo Plateau to Barrington Tops. The species is now generally only found in high-rainfall areas above 600m in elevation, but formerly occurred in the lowlands of the Richmond and Tweed Rivers.

Habitat and ecology

  • Rufous Scrub-birds are now confined to high-altitude (above 600m elevation) subtropical, warm temperate and cool temperate rainforests, and wet sclerophyll forests.
  • The species formerly occurred in some lower altitude forests in far north-eastern NSW, but was presumably lost as a result of clearing following European settlement.
  • Rufous Scrub-birds spend most of their time foraging in deep, moist litter beneath a very dense layer of vegetation and/or woody debris.They are active foragers, scuttling through litter using their head and bill to toss leaves aside while searching for food such as small invertebrates (including snails and insects).
  • They breed from early spring to summer but very little is known of their breeding behaviour because they are so shy and cryptic, and their habitat is so dense. Male calling peaks in the breeding season, but continues throughout the year.
  • The nest is a domed structure built in dense vegetation on or close to the ground.

Regional distribution and habitat

Click on a region below to view detailed distribution, habitat and vegetation information.


Recovery strategies

Activities to assist this species

Information sources

IBRA Bioregion IBRA Subregion Known or predicted Geographic restrictions region
New England TablelandsEbor Basalts Known Above 600 m altitude
New England TablelandsNortheast Forest Lands Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastBarrington Known None
NSW North CoastCarrai Plateau Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastChaelundi Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastCoffs Coast and Escarpment Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastComboyne Plateau Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastDalmorton Known None
NSW North CoastMacleay Hastings Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastUpper Manning Known Above 600 m altitude
NSW North CoastWashpool Known Above 600 m altitude
Other StateQLD Known None
South Eastern QueenslandScenic Rim Known None