A member of the cuckoo-shrike family (Campephagidae) (3) (4), the white-winged triller (Lalage tricolor) is a relatively small bird with long wings and a long tail, which has a rounded tip (5). Like other cuckoo-shrikes, this species is actually unrelated to either cuckoos or shrikes, instead being more closely related to Old World orioles (Oriolidae) (3).
During the breeding season, the male white-winged triller is glossy black on the back, wings and tail, as well as on the top of the head to below the eye (2) (5) (6). The male’s lower back and rump are light grey (2), and its underparts, lower face, throat and underwings are white (2) (5). As the species’ common name suggests, the male white-winged triller has white patches on the upper wings (2) (5), and its outer pair of tail feathers are also tipped with white (2).
In contrast to the male, the female white-winged triller is brown above rather than black (2) (5) (6), with pale buff edges to the feathers on the rump and wings (2) (6). The female also has a dark line through the eye and a narrow pale line above it (2) (5) (6), as well as whitish tips to the otherwise brown tail feathers, and pale buff underparts with indistinct dusky bars on the sides of the breast (2).
Outside of the breeding season, the male white-winged triller resembles the female (2) (5) (6), but has a greyer rump (5). Both sexes have dark brown eyes, black legs and a black beak (2), which is relatively short and slender (5). Juvenile white-winged trillers are distinguished from the adults by the brown and white freckles on their head and neck, the buff edges to their wing feathers, and the brown streaks on their whitish underparts (2).
The white-winged triller has sometimes been considered to be the same species as the white-shouldered triller (Lalage sueurii), but the male white-shouldered triller differs in having a white line above its eye (2).
The song of the white-winged triller is given by the male and is used to defend its territory (7). Usually given during a display flight in the breeding season, or sometimes from an exposed perch (7) (8), the song is a clear, variable series of notes described as ‘chiff-chiff-chiff-joey-joey-joey’ or ‘ditch-ditch-ditch’, and ends in a canary-like trill (2) (5) (7). Male white-winged trillers also give an aggressive ‘tret-tret’ call when chasing intruding males from their territory (7).
- Also known as
- Australian triller, Australian white-winged triller, Jardine triller, white-shouldered caterpillar-eater.
- Ceblepyris tricolor, Lalage sueurii tricolor.
- Length: 15.5 - 18.5 cm (2)
- 26 - 31.5 g (2)
White-winged triller biology
The diet of the white-winged triller consists of a variety of insects, as well as some spiders, fruits and seeds (2) (5) (6) (7). This species has also been recorded feeding on nectar (2) (5). The scientific name of the cuckoo-shrike family, Campephagidae, means ‘caterpillar-eaters’, and like many other members of the family the white-winged triller is known to feed on crop-damaging caterpillars (3).
The white-winged triller usually forages alone or in pairs, but sometimes also forms small flocks, occasionally with other species (2) (8). Food may be taken from the ground, among fallen timber, or from foliage, trunks or branches. The white-winged triller may also catch insects in the air (2) (5) (6) (7) (8).
The breeding season of the white-winged triller varies with location, but usually occurs between June and March in Australia and from September to December in New Guinea. In arid parts of Australia, this species may breed opportunistically after rains (2). In some areas, pairs of white-winged trillers aggressively defend a territory (7), but in other areas they may breed in loose colonies with other pairs (2) (5) (7).
The white-winged triller is a monogamous species (2) and both the male and female help to construct the nest (2) (3) (7). Usually built on a horizontal fork in a branch, or sometimes within a clump of leaves or mistletoe, the nest consists of a small, frail cup of dry grass, bark, stems, roots, moss, wool and other materials (2) (5) (6) (7). These materials are bound together with cobwebs (2) (5) (7), and the nest is lined with fine grass and rootlets (2). The white-winged triller’s nest is built with a small rim, but this gradually becomes flattened by the birds during use until only a flat platform may remain (3) (7).
The female white-winged triller lays a clutch of one to three eggs, with two being most common (2) (7). The eggs are incubated by both the adults and hatch after about 14 days (2) (5) (7). The young white-winged trillers are cared for by both adults until they are 8 days old, after which the male suddenly stops feeding them, leaving the female alone to continue their care. The chicks of this species leave the nest at about 12 days old (2) (7).
White-winged triller range
The white-winged triller occurs across Australia, in south-eastern New Guinea and occasionally in northern Tasmania (2) (4) (5) (6). It is also sometimes recorded in New Zealand, which is outside of its normal range (2) (4).
A partial migrant, the white-winged triller is largely resident across the northern half of Australia, but more southerly populations migrate northwards in winter (2) (4) (5) (6).
White-winged triller habitat
The white-winged triller is found in a variety of woodland and forest habitats, typically with a sparse, open ground layer and grassy ground cover (2) (5) (8). For example, it may be found in open eucalypt woodland, mallee woodland, acacia scrub, farmland with scattered trees, and sometimes suburban areas. It is rarely found in dense forest, but can be found in forest margins, clearings, in forest along rivers and in forest remnants (2) (8).
As well as trees for perching, roosting and nesting, the white-winged triller requires habitats with bare ground, short grass and fallen timber for foraging (2) (6).
White-winged triller status
The white-winged triller is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
White-winged triller threats
The white-winged triller is a common and widespread species, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (2) (4). However, this songbird may be under threat in some areas due to changes to its habitat, such as the removal of fallen timber, inappropriate fire regimes, overgrazing by livestock, and the clearance of both living and dead trees. It may also be affected by the use of chemicals and by predation by feral or domestic animals (6).
White-winged triller conservation
There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be targeted directly at the white-winged triller. However, recommended conservation actions for this species include protecting and managing its habitat, monitoring its long-term population trends, undertaking further research into its ecology and raising awareness of its needs (6).
Find out more
Find out more about the white-winged triller and its conservation:
More information on conservation in Australia:
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- Previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- A growth habit of many eucalypt species, in which multiple stems grow from an underground woody root or tuber; also refers to a habitat dominated by eucalypts of this growth type, typical of many semi-arid areas of Australia, and to a number of eucalypt species themselves.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (April, 2013)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
BirdLife International - White-winged triller (April, 2013)
Birds in Backyards - White-winged triller (April, 2013)
Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, ACT Government (2005) Threatened Species and Communities of the ACT. Information Sheet: White-winged Triller. Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, ACT Government, Canberra. Available at:
Immelmann, K. (1966) Notes on the breeding biology of the white-winged triller, Lalage sueurii tricolor Swainson, in north-western Australia. Emu, 66(1): 1-15.
Tzaros, C. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.