Weebill. Smicrornis brevirostris

This great shot is of a Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris), bird of the week here at TNM, at one of their little woven dome-shaped nests with a neat side entry.

In many ways they are the archetypal “LBB” (little brown bird) that causes no end of frustration for no end of the birders that seek them in their natural habitat of the open woodland and forests that once dominated the Australian landscape.

Like many small birds, just about the best way to locate Weebills in the bush is to listen for their distinctive call then follow your ears. To hear the sweet call of the Weebill have a listen here to a great recording by Fred van Gessel.

You spend a lot of time fchasing the many similarly-sized and plumaged birds to Weebills around the scrub but you will also spend a lot of that time looking at Thornbills, Pardalotes, Silver-Eyes and small Honeyeaters with which they commonly form mixed-species feeding flocks.

And just maybe the occasional Weebill…

Weebills, at an average weight of a mere 6 grams in weight and a diminuitive average of 8 centimtres in length are reckoned by many to be the smallest of Australia’s birds.

Both their common and scientific names come from the primary morphological point of distinction from the other LBBs around the place – the stubby little beaks that are ideally suited to gleaning their favoured prey of small insects from and among the leaves and branches of forest trees.

Earlier today I was on what hopefully will become a semi-regular gig on the local ABC Radio Morning Show broadcast out of Alice Springs with my good pal Alice Brennan.

We’ve shared a few tips in her previous role as a news journalist and occasional radio producer and now she has stepped up a grade or two and is presenting on-air for a couple of hours a day, five days a week.

From what I’ve heard so far she’ll do a great job!

Anyway, we had a great yarn about Weebills for a few minutes – she played the call that I’ve linked in above and we did a quick “What Bird am I” Q & A.

One item we couldn’t squeeze into the allotted time today was the following story of the Weebill, the Emu, the Porcupine (Echidna) and some Meat Ants.

It tells of how the Echidna got it’s spines and was told by Arthur Dodd, one of the last speakers of the Yuwaalaraay language from the area in north-western New South Wales around Walgett.

For more information about the Yuwaalaraay (which is referred to as a dialect of Gamilaraay or Kamilaroi) language have a look here. There are also a number of school programs that use these languages in primary and secondary schools in Gamilaraay country.

There are a bunch of great stories at the Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language home page, Guwaabal  here, which is where the following story comes from.

I’ve removed the interlinear translation for ease of reading.

Bigibila wiyayl – The Porcupine’s Quills

Bigibila yanaa-waa-nhi, biyaduul.

A porcupine was walking along by himself.

Bulaarr badjin mindjarru yanaa-waa-nhi.

Two little weebills were walking along. [Weebills are small birds about the size of a wren.]

(Giirr yilaalu nhama mindjarru, bigibila dhayn gi-gi-la-nhi.)

(A long time ago the weebills and porcupines were people.)

Milan-du mindjarru-gu gayawi-y barran-du nhama, dhinawan nhama.

One weebill threw a boomerang at an emu.

Giirr bundaa-nhi nhama dhinawan.

The emu fell down.

Bamba ngaama bundaa-nhi

It fell with a crash.

Bigibila-gu-bala winanga-y, guwaa-y,

The porcupine heard it, and he said:

“Aa, minya ngaama bundaa-nhi?

“Aa, what fell there?”

Bamba nhama bundaa-nhi?

It fell with a crash.

Bulaa-yu-bala mindjarru-gu nhama guwaa-y, “Waal, waal baayamba. Waal, baayamba.”

But those two weebills said, “No, no mate. Nothing mate.”

(Giirr bulaa-yu nhama gayrrba-lda-nhi “baayamba”

(The two of them used call him “baayamba, friend”.)

Giirr-bala nguu gaga-y “Waa, waa, waa, waa maaynndjul dhingaa.”

But he called out, “Waa, waa, waa, waa, lovely meat.”

Guwaa-lda-nhi nguu dhinawan-di bigibila nhalay

He was saying this about the emu meat, the porcupine.

Giirr gaa-nhi nguu nhama dhinawan

Then he took the emu.

Yilaa nguu nhama yilama-y nguu nhama dhawuma-y

Then he cooked it, cooked it in the ground.

Giirr nguu guwaa-y mindjarru girran.girraa dhiyama-li-gu

He told the weebills to get some leaves

Giirr guwaa-lda-nhi nguu:

He kept on telling them:

“Ngarraagulay-nga yanaa-ya, girran.girraa-gu, dhawuma-li-gu ngiyani dhinawan.”

“Go over there for leaves, so that we can cook the emu.”

“Ngaayaybaay ngaan.gii.”

Okay! all right! mate? “Okay, mate!”

Bulaa-yu guwaa-lda-nhi.

The two of them were saying.

Giirr banaga-y-la-nhi yurrul-gu, nhalay badjin-duul.

Those little fellows were running around the bush.

“Nhalay-gaa baayamba? ngaan.gii?”

“What about these, friend, mate?”

“Ngaangaarran-gu yanaa-ya.”

“Go further on.”

Nguu guwaa-lda-nhi, “Yanaa-ya!”

He kept on saying, “Go!”

Nhama bulaarr dhurra-y ngayagay-a maalaabidi-dja.

Those two came to another tree.

“Nhalay-gaa ngaan.gii?”

“What about these, mate?”

“Waal, ngaangaarran, ngaangaarran-gu!”

“No, further, further on.”

Yilaa-bala giirr nguu barraay dhinawan dhawuma-lda-nhi

But then he was quickly cooking that emu in a hole.

Yilaa dhinawan dhawuma-nhi.

Then the emu was cooked.

Dhinawan-bala nhama-nga dhuwima-y nguu, dhinawan ngaarrma, nyiyarrma nguu-nga dha-lda-nhi

Then he took that emu out, and he was eating that emu there.

Mindjarru-bala nhama dhaay-nga yanaa-w-uwi-nyi.

Then the weebills came back there.

“Yaama-nga ngaan.gii!”

“Hey, mate,

Giirr ngali-nga maayrr dha-lda-nha.

We’ve got nothing to eat.

Ngaa, gana-badhaay ngay wuu-na.”

Yeah, give me the liver.”

Bigibila-gu-bala guwaa-y:

But the porcupine said:

“Waa, waa, waa, waa; maayndjul dhinggaa!”

“Waa, waa, waa, waa; lovely meat!”

Dhugay nguu ngaama guwaa-lda-nhi.

He kept on saying that.

Waal-bala nguu dhinggaa wuu-dha-nhi nhama bulaarr-gu nhama badjin-gaali-gu

He wouldn’t give any meat to those two, the two little fellows.

Giirr nhama ngiilay yanaa-nhi, nhama bulaarr, badjin-duul.

The two went away from there, the little fellows.

Dhurra-y bulaarr gadhuu-ga

The two of them came to an ant nest.

(Giirr ganunga-bula dhayn gi-gi-la-nhi, nhama buurrngan.)

(At that time the meat ants were people too.)

Bulaa-yu guwaa-y nhama buurrngan-da:

The two said to the meat ants:

“Waal ngaan.gii-dju minyagaa ngalingu wuu-rri.

“Old mate won’t give us anything.

Waal nguu minyagaa ngay wuu-dha-nhi.

He hasn’t given me anything at all to eat.

Waal ngay gana wuu-nhi, waal ngay gii wuu-nhi.”

He didn’t give me the heart, he didn’t give me the liver.

“Ngaayaybaay,” guwaa-y nhama buurrngan-du.

“Okay! All right!” said the meat ants.

Giirr nhama buurrngan yanaa-w-aaba-y, bilaarr-iyaay.

The meat ants all went, with their spears.

Ngaa, ngaama-dhaay-nga ganunga, buurrngan yanaa-nhi.

Yep, they went there, the meat ants.

Nyiyarrma-nga ganugu bilaa-yu dhu-nhi nhama.

There they speared that fellow.

Bilaa-yu dhu-nhi, bilaa-yu dhu-nhi, aawu, burrulaa-gu.

Speared him and speared him, with a lot spears.

Giirr-nga nguu guwaa-y:

And then he said:

“Nginaalingu dhinggaa, nginu dhinggaa, nginu dhinggaa.”

“This meat is for you two, meat for you, your meat.”

Giirr nguu dhugay gaga-lda-nhi, “Waal, waal.”

He kept on calling out, “No, no.”

Yilaa-bala burrulaa bilaarr nguungunda wa-y-la-nha.

[Too late] But now lots of spears were sticking into him.

Nhama wiyayl nguungu, giirr nhama bilaarr gi-gi-la-nhi.

Those quills of his, they were those spears.

Yalagiyu bigibila yanaay-la-nha wiyayl-bil, bilaarr-bil.

And now the porcupine is covered with quills, covered with spears.