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I took these on Norfolk Island this week. There were 3 birds, 2 with similar plumage. I think they are all grey-tailed tattlers with 2 in breeding colours. Can anyone confirm please.

SteveM's picture

I find the 2 Tattlers very difficult to separate in photos, easier when seen in the flesh.

I'm leaning towards both being Wandering Tattlers, but far from sure.

Woko's picture

To tell the truth, imogenw, I'm not totally or even a tiny bit familiar with Tattlers but I'm wondering if these are Wandering Tattlers, breeding & non-breeding respectively. I'm going on the illustrations in Michael Morcombe's Field Guide to Australian Birds in which the Grey-tailed Tattler is depicted as having barring to the low chest area then white underneath to the tail. Your first photo has barring to the belly. I note, too, that the white eyebrow in your first photo is more significant than that depicted for the Grey-tailed Tattler.

Your second photo has less white underneath than the non-breeding Grey-tailed Tattler in Morcombe so I reckon it's a non-breeding Wandering Tattler.

Tattlerphiles may have different views.

lorne.johnson@dow.catholic.edu.au's picture

Mmm... this is a challenge... it'll come down to flanks, nasal grooves and brows... I'll check all my field guides and get back to you... LJ

pacman's picture

Distinguishing Wandering Tattler from Grey Tattler is, as previously said, difficult.

I note the extended white eyebrow in #1 and this suggests Grey-Tailed Tattler.

Were the 3 birds together?

What was the immediate area ehre you saw the birds?

There are excellent pics and ID pointers on

Bob Inglis http://ptiloris.smugmug.com/Birds-of--Oz-Sets/Wandering-Tattler/16860753_x5Gmrc#!i=1273043177&k=wVQdS2z or

Graeme Chapman http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/viewphotos.php?c=502



Thanks Peter

The birds were together at times on a rocky shore at low tide but the paler grey bird was slightly apart from the others and seen alone at other times. The 2 other birds had the plumage as in photo 1. Will check the guides you recommend.

lorne.johnson@dow.catholic.edu.au's picture

Right, after consulting various Australian and overseas field guides, I'd say they're both Grey-tailed Tattlers due to wing/tail length, eyebrow, belly, flanks and beak colouring.

On a Wandering Tattler, the beak is uniformly dark (upper and lower mandibles) and the brow doesn't extend much beyond the rear of the eye. These birds don't show these things. Also, the undertails and bellies are white on these birds, whilst they are scaled grey on Wandering. The top bird is a Grey-tailed in breeding plumage, the second, a Grey-tailed in non-breeding plumage. Lastly, the wings on these birds are longer than their tails - another Grey-tailed feature. 

As a general rule, Wandering Tattlers stick to rocky platforms, whilst Grey-tailed Tattlers can be here and there around the shoreline. Their calls are also different. 

Thanks for the challenge, Imogen!


SteveM's picture

Lorna, I don't think it's that simple.

Your first point about Wandering Tattler having uniformly dark bill, is simply not true, see my attached photo of a Wandering Tattler.

I agree the eyebrow extending beyond the eye on the bird 1st bird suggest Grey-tailed, but I don't think this a 100% reliable feature, especially on birds in breeding or partial breeding plumage as this bird is.

With regard to your comment about the undertail being white on these birds, & they "are scaled on Wandering":- again not true as non-breeding Wandering can/do show clean white undertail, & breeding Grey-tailed can have a little barring on the sides of the undertail. Also I reckon I can see some evidence of barring in the undetail area in both the photos above.

Also re your statement "the wings on these birds are longer than their tails - another Grey-tailed feature". You got this reversed, Wandering Tattler have longer wing projection (past tail tip) than Grey-tailed. But again this not a reliable ID feature as a lot depends on wing moult & angle of view. I think too hard to judge this in these photos anyway.

It's true Wandering Tattlers usually stick to rocks & reefs, but I've seen Wandering Tattlers walk off the rocks & feed on sand surf beach.

As I said earlier, I'm not sure about either bird. On the first bird, I leaned towards Wandering because the breeding plumage barring looks too heavy for Grey-tailed & I would think that by this time of year a Grey-tailed would not be showing this much breeding plumage. I leaned towards Wandering on the 2nd bird because it looks like might have dark flanks & the eyebrow(supercilium) looks more like a Wandering too me.

Finally, in addition to the weblink to ID pointers & photos provided in post#5 above, there is also this page with further excellent info by the same person:- http://users.tpg.com.au/inglisrc/html/id_wandering_tattler.html

lorne.johnson@dow.catholic.edu.au's picture


First of all, it's Lorne, not Lorna. I'm male, not female. 

Secondly, I was just going on the info in three national and two international field guides. 

Thirdly, are you absolutely sure that's a Wandering in your photo? 



SteveM's picture

Very sorry Lorne, one of a number of spelling & grammer mistakes that I made. I fixed a few just after I did the original post & there is probably more.

Yes, my Tattler photo is without doubt a Wandering Tattler.

BTW, whenever I said 'undertail' in my above post, I was actually refering to the undertail coverts (ventral area), not the underside of the tail feathers(retrices).

lorne.johnson@dow.catholic.edu.au's picture

No drama, Steve. My rare name gets people! 

Some shore birds are tricky buggers - I wish I was a real expert. I'm impressed by your knowledge, Steve. Taking on board what you say, I think some of the field guides illustrators out there need to be a bit more careful when painting the Wandering Tattler's bill. They depict it as uniformly dark. Some don't really show the extension of white behind the eye on breeding birds either. These points can throw those battling with tattlers! 

Have a good one, 


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