Friday, 11 January 2013

Australian Birds That You Meet When Travelling Down Under

Are you are bird lover?  If so you should go down under and check out the great Australian birds. Australia is a vast country that has many different landscapes, climates and environments.  It is home to a host of different wildlife species, many of which are totally unique and are not known anywhere else in the world.  But it is not the fascinating and famous marsupial species such as the koala, kangaroo and wombat, or the enigmatic monotremes such as the echidna and the duckbilled platypus that we are going to be looking at, it is some of the Australia’s iconic bird species.  Australia’s bird species range in size from the large, flightless emus and cassowaries to the tiny 9cm long yellowy-green songbird called the Weebill.  Australia is home to magnificent birds of prey such as kites and falcons, many parrot species, water fowl, song birds, owls and flightless bird.  The range of species is dazzling, and wherever you are in Australia the birdsong can be heard and there are many beautiful birds to be seen.


Emus are large flightless birds that are found across Australia in a very diverse range of habitats, ranging from tropical woodland, to inland grasslands, and coastal areas, but they do avoid very arid, desert areas and heavily-populated areas.  The emu population is relatively stable and emus are not currently endangered. They are one of the largest birds in the world, and emus are only slightly smaller than ostriches.   Emus have soft, brown feathers and can stand as high as two metres tall.  Emus are a nomadic species and can travel long distances in search of food.  Their diet consists of grains, plants and insects.

Emus in Exmouth, Western Australia - own image
Emus in Exmouth, Western Australia

It is the male emus who incubates the eggs in the nest and then raise the chicks. They can run at very high speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.  If you want to see emus in the wild in Australia, one of the best places is Exmouth in Western Australia.  In Exmouth, emus wander freely through the streets and even wander into the grounds of hotels and into gardens.  So make sure that you keep hold of your lunch!


Cassowaries are the other species of large flightless bird that is found in Australia.  Cassowaries are an endangered species and can be found in the tropical rainforests of Northern Queensland.  There are only thought to be only to be around 1500-3000 cassowaries left in Australia, with around 40 individuals in captivity.  The decline in cassowary numbers is largely due to loss of habitat, but many cassowaries are also killed in road accidents and in dog attacks.  Feral pigs are also a big problem as the dig out the cassowary nests and destroy their eggs as well as competing for food.

Cassowaries in Cairns Tropical Zoo - own image
Cassowaries in Cairns Tropical Zoo

Cassowaries are long-lived birds and can live for up to fifty years. Cassowaries are mainly fruit eaters but will also eat snails, fungi, frogs, flowers, birds, mice and carrion.  They have even been observed immersed in water fishing!  Cassowaries play a very important part in the life cycle of the rainforests and are a keystone species as they swallow seeds and then later excrete them in other parts of the rainforest where they can start growing. The cassowary is a very large and heavy bird, standing around 1.6 metres tall and weighing with blue and red skin on their head and necks and a body covered with coarse black feathers.  They have strong legs with three-toed feet with sharp claws.  Cassowaries have a spongy, horn-like crest called casques on their heads. Cassowaries can be dangerous and have attacked humans with those sharp claws.  The females are larger than the male cassowaries and lay three to six large pale green eggs in the litter on the forest floor.  The male looks after the eggs and then guards the chicks as they grow until they are about nine months old.


Kookaburras are one of the most iconic of the Australian birds.  They are a large member of the kingfisher family and are known as ‘laughing jackasses’ because of their unmistakable call.  In the outback the call of the kookaburra is known as the ‘bushman’s clock’ as they start calling as dawn breaks.  Kookaburras have a sturdy body, short neck and legs and a long, pointed beak.  They stand about seventeen inches tall and have dark brown, white and gray plumage.  Kookaburras live in woodland, more open grassland and have adapted very well to living in residential areas. Kookaburras are carnivorous and eat insects, mice small birds, lizards, and snakes. As kookaburras are so comfortable around humans and are social birds they will hang around barbecues and picnics accepting food or snatching it if they get the opportunity! Kookaburras live in pairs and lay two to four whit eggs in tree hollows or excavated termite hills.  The young are ready to leave the nest after thirty days and are fed by their parents for another forty days.

Kookaburra - Own Image

Whistling Kites

Whistling kites patrol the roads of Australia looking for road kill and circle the skies searching for prey.  They can be found throughout Australia but tend to prefer the warmer temperatures of the northern parts of the country.  Whistling kites are carnivorous medium sized raptors that capture its prey with its claws.  They have very good eyesight and can easily spot small mammals, lizards, large insects, and birds from a great height.  It is said that during the frequent fires that occur in the bush that the whistling kite will pick up a burning twig and drop it in another location to start a new fire to flush out all the small creatures and insects that they can eat.

Kites on the Adelaide River - Own Image
Kites on the Adelaide River

Whistling kites get their name from the whistling noise that they make.  They are either solitary birds or live in pair, although occasionally a larger group will congregate.  They build large, messy nests in large eucalyptus and pine trees where the female will incubate two to three eggs.  The chick will remain with their parents for about six weeks, and a pair of whistling kites can breed up to three times a year.


Australian pelicans are large water birds that have mainly white plumage with black feathers on the edges of the wings.  They have webbed feet, a wide wing-span and a large beak that they use for fishing.  They have a saggy throat patch under their bills that they use to for collecting food and when they are hot a pelican will flutter their throat pouches to try and stay cool. `Pelicans prefer open stretches of water with little aquatic vegetation, which has a large supply of fish for them to eat.    Pelicans drive their prey into shallower water and then thrust their beaks under the water in order to scoop up their food.  Pelicans build their nests in shallow depressions in the sand or ground and they nest in colonies on islands or isolated areas near to the coast or a lake.  Pelican usually lay two eggs and after the chicks are hatched the larger one will usually get the lion’s share of the regurgitated fish that the parents bring back and the smaller chick will usually eventually die of starvation or be killed by its sibling.  The remaining chick will move on to eating whole fish and will be independent of their parents in a couple of months.

Pelicans in Kalbarri, Western Australia - own image
Pelicans in Kalbarri, Western Australia

As you can see, there are some amazing birds that you can see when you are travelling in Australia.  These birds are only as small example of the many species that fly, sing and hunt throughout the continent, so make sure you take your binoculars, camera and bird watching book when you are on your travels.