In search of the Scarlet Robin

I’ve noted previously that two Australian birds include an Aborginal word in their scientific names, the Brown Falcon Falco berigora and the Scarlet Robin Petroica boodang.

While both berigora and boodang are Aboriginal words, neither is associated with the Dja Dja Wurrung language of central Victoria.

This sent me off on a voyage of exploration to see what I might find out about the Dja Dja Wurrung name for this enchanting bird. The Scarlet Robin occurs over much of the southern part of the continent, from the south-west of WA, across into SA, throughout Victoria and Tasmania and all the way through the eastern half of NSW to south-east Queensland. It follows therefore that it would have been known by many unique names according to the particular aboriginal language for that part of country in which the bird is found.

My research took me on a circuitous route with a snapshot of my findings below.

  • karlimoot – Noongar (south western WA)
  • tat-karna – Buanditj (south-eastern SA)
  • tjimp-kirk – Djab Wurrung (central Victoria from Gariwerd to the Pyrenees) from Blake (2011) referring to the White-spotted Robin … the Scarlet Robin has a distinctive white forehead spot.

Djab Warrung country is bordered by Dja Dja Wurrung country to the east and this last name, tjimp-kirk, may have been shared between the two groups.

Tully (1997) lists the name tee-ung for the Scarlet Robin, noting that it is not a Dja Dja Wurrung word but from an analogous language. Blake (2011) lists the name pilp nguniat for the robin in Djapwurrung (Djab Wurrung) language but this may refer to other red-breasted robins such as the Flame Robin.

The Scarlet Robin is such a distinctive and confiding bird and was clearly well known to the first Australians wherever it occurred.

I have just scratched a fascinating surface and will be very happy to learn more.

Scarlet1

Male Scarlet Robin, Spring Hill Track, 8th July 2021

SR2

II

SR3

III

SR4

Scarlet Robin pair

SR5

II

SR6

Female Scarlet Robin

References:

  • Blake, Barry J. , 2011, Dialects of Western Kulin, Western Victoria Yartwatjali, Tjapwurrung, Djadjawurrung, LaTrobe University Bundoora
  • John Tully, 1997, Dja Dja Wurrung language of central Victoria
  • Glenelg-Hopkins CMA, (undated), Woodland birds – Identification booklet for the Glenelg Hopkins area.
  • Condon, HT 1955, ‘Aboriginal bird names – South Australia, pt 1 & 2.’, South Australian Ornithologist, vol. 21, no. 6/7, pp. 74–88; 91–98.

This post recognises and celebrates NAIDOC Week 2021.

6 responses to “In search of the Scarlet Robin

  1. This is fascinating. Thank you, your posts are always instructive.

  2. Chris Johnston

    Hi Geoff – so intesrting! Great post. A good strategy would be to contact the Victorian Aboriginal Corproartion for Langauages – or link through Dja Dja Wurrung. And please use a capital A for Aboriginal.

  3. Chris Johnston

    Excuse my typos too!

  4. Marguerita Stephens

    Beautiful little bird, beautiful research Geoff.

  5. Just out of interest, Scarlet Robins were the most populous Winter robin here in the Yea district, but the last couple of years they have been very hard to find with Flame Robins now the most often seen. Are they declining over all?

    • Hi Geoff, I can’t say that I’ve observed a decline in the Newstead district although numbers bounce about from year to year (as they do with Flame Robins). That said I think woodland bird numbers generally are declining. Scarlet Robins appear to disperse after breeding and I find them hard to locate over summer – suspect they move south and then return during autumn.

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