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Birdata is your gateway to BirdLife Australia data including the Atlas of Australian Birds and Nest record scheme. You can use Birdata to draw bird distribution maps and generate bird lists for any part of the country. You can also join in the Atlas and submit survey information to this important environmental database.

 

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Welcome to Birdata 30 June 2015

Weebill: Well I be! What's in a name?

K.H.E. Franklin

The Weebill is a diminutive bird which is widespread in most regions of mainland Australia. Its plaintive song, often given from deep within the foliage of a shrub, is a familiar sound to many birdwatchers.

How did the Weebill get its name? It's easy to figure out the origins of the names of many Australian birds. Many are descriptive in some way, shape or form: describing what the bird looks like, where it lives, what it eats, or its characteristic actions. This gives us such diverse names as Scarlet Robin and Rufous Bristlebird; spoonbills, spinebills and thornbills; greenshanks, redshanks and yellowlegs; Northern Fantail, Tasmanian Thornbill, Western Rosella and Inland Dotterel; Forest Raven, Malleefowl and Fernwren; oystercatchers, flycatchers and honeyeaters; wagtails, logrunners, treecreepers and shearwaters.

Back to the Weebill. It is a small bird, with a correspondingly sized beak. The specific part of its scientific name is brevirostris (meaning short beak) -- a wee bill -- so you would think that that clinches it. However, its song is popularly rendered as a musical 'weebill', so could the name have onomatopoeic overtones? Perhaps, but this suggestion has at least a hint of folk etymology -- it may be apocryphal, but who knows? When the Weebill was first described by Gould it was labelled the 'Short-billed Smicornis', and later authors called it the 'Short-billed Tree-tit'. The name 'Weebill' was not used in print until 1923, but its origin is unexplained. It possibly describes both its beak and its song.

If you want to discover more information about this species or any other birds that occur in Australia, just take a little time to explore the Birdata website, or visit the BirdLife Australia website at www.birdlife.org.au . You never know what you might find.


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