Petronia not just another LBJ

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

HIDDEN COLOURS: The yellow-throated petronia is sometimes mistaken for a sparrow Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

WELCOME to the first edition of “Let’s Chirp!” for the year.

We are going to kick things off with… a… chirp, which belongs to the yellow-throated petronia.

This bird is fairly common in our area, and I have seen it most often near farm homesteads and stands of exotic trees, such as black wattle and eucalyptus. I have seldom (if ever) seen this bird in urban areas – at least in our immediate district.

At first it might not look like anything separable from other “little brown jobs”, but if you know what to look for, you will recognise it… and discover quite a pretty looking bird in the process!

It is the size of a sparrow, brownish and grey like a sparrow and even chirps like a sparrow. In fact, once upon a time it was called… wait for it… yellow-throated sparrow!

So, what are the diagnostic features to look for? The thing that stands out the most has to be the broad, distinctly-shaped supercillium (“eyebrow stripe”). The bill is somewhat thinner and more pointed than other sparrows and the wings have two pale bars. What about the yellow throat? Well, despite the bird’s name, this feature is not always seen in the field.

I remember my very first encounter with this bird. In November 1997, I had been invited to a bird ringing weekend at Double Drift. One of the mist net captures was a yellow-throated petronia. I mentioned to one of the bird ringers present that I wanted to see the yellow throat. He held the bird out to me and told me to part the feathers on the throat and I’d see it… which I did. Just then the bird clamped onto my finger – not painfully, but hard! I couldn’t believe such a little bird could have such a powerful grip. It almost felt as if I was going to pull the poor bird’s head off its body!

The call is a distinctive series of chirps, ranging from one to five notes. You will hear my recording of this call by visiting

Well, on that chirping note, so ends the first “Let’s Chirp” of 2017. Please remember I am available for birding tours in my area. You can contact me on 072-314-0069 for more information. Until next time… happy birding!


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