The Grey-headed Robin of Australia is not a robin as Americans would know one (thinking, inexplicably, that a thrush is a robin), nor is it a robin as an European would understand it either. It is, instead, a member of the Petroicidae, the Australasian robins, a family mostly found in New Guinea and Australia but also reaching here in New Zealand and as far across the Pacific as Fiji.


Grey-headed Robin trunkThe Grey-headed Robin showing off the grey head.

Until I started researching this post I didn’t know an interesting fact about the range of this species. According to my Pizzey and Knight  Australian guide, it s restricted to the tropical area around Cairns, mostly in the montane area of the Atherton Tablelands, as well as the island of New Guinea. But  my HBW actually splits this species off from the New Guinea species, which it names the Ashy Robin. So the species name for this species is either Hetermyias albispecularis if unsplit or Heteromyias cinereifrons if split. Looking at the pictures in the HBW I can see why it might be split, as the New Guinean subspecies are actually for the most part black-headed, with a supercillium that varies from almost black to shocking white. Studies of other sister species shared between New Guinea and Australia have found that the appearance of similarity between them can be misleading, and more research is needed to work out if they are the same species or not.

Grey-headed Robin looking awayWhether the Grey-headed Robin of Australia represents a toehold of a mostly New Guinean species or an endemic, it is still a nice bird. As Australasian robins go it is pretty big and chunky, and with the Ashy Robin it is the only member of the genus Hetermyias. It is restricted to rainforest, where it lives on the ground.

IMG_8814The forest home of the Grey-headed Robin

For people lucky enough to be in the Atherton Tableland the Grey-headed Robin is one of the easiest endemics to find. There are a some very tame ones in the car park of Mt Hypipmee that even allowed a terrible photographer like me to snap off a few shots. There are many great reasons to visit the area, and these guys are one of them!


Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.