The dusky woodswallow is a medium-sized bird (16-19.5 cm, 35 g), with a longish tail. Mostly dark grey-brown, merging to blackish on the tail, with a small black-brown mask. Bluish bill with a black tip. Upper-wings are a dark blue-grey with a white leading edge. Conspicuous white corners on the tail. In flight the dark grey-brown under-body contrasts with the whitish under-wing. Juveniles may be distinguished by white streaking on the body and whitish tips on wing feathers. Immature individuals are similar to adults but retain pale-tipped wing feathers. No seasonal variation in appearance is evident, and sexes are alike. Calls consist of brassy chirps, chirups, a soft low ‘vut vut’ and a brisk ‘peet peet’. Also known to mimic other birds, including the rufous whistler and grey shrike-thrush.


Dusky woodswallows are widespread in eastern, southern and south western Australia. The species occurs throughout most of New South Wales, but is sparsely scattered in, or largely absent from, much of the upper western region. Most breeding activity occurs on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

Habitat and ecology

  • Primarily inhabit dry, open eucalypt forests and woodlands, including mallee associations, with an open or sparse understorey of eucalypt saplings, acacias and other shrubs, and ground-cover of grasses or sedges and fallen woody debris. It has also been recorded in shrublands, heathlands and very occasionally in moist forest or rainforest. Also found in farmland, usually at the edges of forest or woodland.
  • Primarily eats invertebrates, mainly insects, which are captured whilst hovering or sallying above the canopy or over water. Also frequently hovers, sallies and pounces under the canopy, primarily over leaf litter and dead timber. Also occasionally take nectar, fruit and seed.
  • Depending on location and local climatic conditions (primarily temperature and rainfall), the dusky woodswallow can be resident year round or migratory. In NSW, after breeding, birds migrate to the north of the state and to southeastern Queensland, while Tasmanian birds migrate to southeastern NSW after breeding. Migrants generally depart between March and May, heading south to breed again in spring. There is some evidence of site fidelity for breeding. Although dusky woodswallows generally breed as solitary pairs or occasionally in small flocks, large flocks may form around abundant food sources in winter. Large flocks may also form before migration, which is often undertaken with other species.
  • Nest is an open, cup-shape, made of twigs, grass, fibrous rootlets and occasionally casuarina needles, and may be lined with grass, rootlets or infrequently horsehair, occasionally unlined. Nest sites vary greatly, but generally occur in shrubs or low trees, living or dead, horizontal or upright forks in branches, spouts, hollow stumps or logs, behind loose bark or in a hollow in the top of a wooden fence post. Nest sites may be exposed or well concealed by foliage.
We acknowledge and thank the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage for the provision of threatened species information in this website.
Image by JJ Harrison ( – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
For more information:
NSW Office of Environment & Heritage