Nature conservation

Threatened species

Shy Heathwren - 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: Hylacola cautus
Conservation status in NSW: Vulnerable
Commonwealth status: Not listed
Profile last updated: 01 Dec 2017


The Shy Heathwren (also known as the Shy Hylacola Calamanthus cautus) is a small (11.5 - 14 cm) bird superficially similar in appearance to a fairy-wrens, though larger in size. The plumage is warm brown above, with the head and neck greyer, contrasting with the pale, but heavily streaked, underparts. The flanks and thighs have a light grey-brown wash. The crown is in bold contrast to the clean, white eyebrow. The rump and tail coverts (both above and below) are a striking, fiery rufous-chestnut. The tail, which is held cocked, darkens from chestnut to dark brown, and culminates in a prominent white tip. The flight feathers are white at the base, forming a prominent white wing patch when the wing is folded. The eye is red-brown or yellowish-brown, the legs slate-brown and the bill blackish. The female’s underparts have a cream (rather than white) base colour while juveniles can be distinguished by lack of streaking on the underparts and generally duller plumage overall. It can be distinguished from the related Chestnut-rumped Heathwren by the presence of the white wing spot, a generally brighter overall plumage and by habitat.


Occurs across southern Australia extending from the wheatbelt in southern Western Australia east to central NSW, including Kangaroo Island. Two subspecies occur in NSW. The first (macrorhyncha) is confined to central NSW between Griffith, Roto, Nymagee and West Wyalong, with most records within OEH managed reserves (including Yathong, Nombinnie, Round Hill and The Charcoal Tank Nature Reserves and Cocoparra National Park). The nominate subspecies (cautus) occurs in the far south west between Balranald and Trentham Cliffs (including Mallee Cliffs National Park), north into the Scotia Mallee (including Tarawi Nature Reserve and Scotia Sanctuary). This subspecies also occurs in north west Victoria and eastern South Australia (as far west as the Flinders Ranges).

Habitat and ecology

  • Inhabits mallee woodlands with a relatively dense understorey of shrubs and heath plants. The central NSW population (for example in Cocoparra NP) also occurs at low densities in rocky hilltop vegetation with a thick shrub layer such as Broombush or Tea-tree.
  • Appears to occur in all age classes of vegetation, though believed to prefer either one to five years following fire when the resprouting eucalypts provide dense vegetation cover or in long unburnt (greater than 40 years) areas which have a well developed shrub layer.
  • Feeds on the ground, almost entirely on insects (cockroaches, grasshoppers, bugs, lerps, beetles, caterpillars, moths, ants, spiders and insect eggs) and rarely on seeds, including those of saltbush.
  • Breeds late winter to early summer and builds a dome-shaped nest in a concealed location on the ground, using a variety of plant materials.
  • Generally occurs singly or in pairs, where it can be secretive, keeping within dense vegetation. In spring, males may sing from the top of low shrubs.

Regional distribution and habitat

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Recovery strategies

Activities to assist this species

Information sources

IBRA Bioregion IBRA Subregion Known or predicted Geographic restrictions region
Cobar PeneplainBarnato Downs Known None
Cobar PeneplainLachlan Plains Known None
Cobar PeneplainNymagee Known None
Murray Darling DepressionDarling Depression Known None
Murray Darling DepressionSouth Olary Plain Known None
NSW South Western SlopesLower Slopes Known West of Wyalong.
Other StateSA Known None
Other StateVIC Known None