Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Black-tailed Native Hen

Posted on 19 May, 2023 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Black-tailed Native Hen (Tribonyx ventralis)

There are few species of dark brownish-grey water birds with very long toes, who lurk quietly in the swampy edges of waterbodies, and the Black tailed Native Hen is one of them. At about 38cm long it’s about the size of a chicken. It’s long reddish legs, bright yellow eye and grass green face shield above its green and red bill are distinctive, as is it’s erect tail. Listen out for their ‘kak’ alarm call at Bells Swamp where I saw 20 in one mob today and they did the classic run for cover rather than fly, when disturbed.

Defining characteristics of the Black-tailed Native Hen: Green face shield, red legs and cocked tail. Photo by Damian Kelly

Typical of irruptive species, the Black-tailed Native Hen can turn up quite suddenly in large  numbers, at the site of a new water body such as a lake, dam or swamp filling with water. They are driven by changes in climate and food sources, as well as predators. If food has become scarce, they will move to a new place with plentiful food. Factors such as food availability, the weather and water levels in swamps, level of threat posed by predators all influence the timing of irruptions.

A population of Black-tailed Native Hens irrupting is a good sign of its of robust health. Their ability to move in response to food, means populations don’t become to large in any one area and that birds survive even when conditions change. In addition to their irruptive behaviour, Black-tailed Native Hens are omnivorous, meaning they have a huge variety of foods available to them, such as seeds, berries, insects, snails, frogs and small reptiles.

They can breed at any time with favourable conditions, but their usual breeding season is August to December. They build a cup-shaped nest from stalks, twigs and leaves hidden in dense ground level vegetation, which they line with grass and feathers. They lay 5-7 pale green eggs. The incubation time is around 20 days, within a few hours of hatching the chicks can walk and feed themselves but it takes them a few weeks to learn to fly.

In short, the Black-tailed Native Hen is quite an adaptable species with it’s ability to move to water, it’s omnivorous diet and irruptive behaviour.

Mob of Black-tailed Native Hens by a dam. Photo by Damian Kelly.


To listen to the call of the Black-tailed Native Hen – click here

Jane Rusden
Damian Kelly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

« | »