Australia is for the Birds: Top 10 Feathers of Oz
By Melanie Votaw
Australia is positively teeming with birds. If you go there only to see the opera house, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Bondi Beach, and a didgeridoo, you’re missing out. If you read my prior article about finding birds in the cities of the world, you know that I’m on a mission to get people to notice more of the natural world when they travel. You can easily do that without becoming an eco-adventurer.
Whatever part of the country you visit, check out the parks, botanic gardens, and nature reserves. Then, just pay attention. Take binoculars if you can. You’ll be amazed at the unseen dramas you miss without the aid of those lenses.
I think of Australia as “parrot-central.” While there are a few free-flying parrot species in the United States and Europe (most of which are feral), Australia is the natural habitat for the birds we usually only see in cages.
It’s next to impossible to specify a top 10, but I have managed to choose my favorite Ozzie feathered creatures.
Kookaburra. No discussion of Australian birds would be complete without a mention of the famous kookaburra. There are actually four different types, and they aren’t difficult to find. They’re fairly large birds, and that laugh is hard to mistake. Without any effort, I saw several while in the country.
Rainbow Lorikeet. The most common parrot in eastern Australia is also the most colorful (pictured above). You will see these everywhere. They were all over the trees that line the sidewalk above Bondi Beach in Sydney, for example. They have blue heads, yellow necks, red breasts, and green backs. At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, you can watch wild ones fly in for nectar feedings.
Lyrebird. I didn’t manage to see a lyrebird, but I heard one while in a forest. This bird is fascinating because it’s a mimic, imitating the songs of 20 other bird species, as well as a car alarm and chainsaws.
Crested Pigeon. Many people in the United States believe our common pigeon is the only kind in the world, but there are actually more than 300 different species of pigeons and doves across the globe, many of which are gorgeous. One of these “fancy” pigeons (pictured right) is quite common in Australia. I saw them in more than one place, but the most beautiful view was against the dark red clay of the outback near Uluru (Ayers Rock).
King Parrot. This fairly large parrot has a bright red breast and dark green back. I saw a group of them in a tree in a small town, and it looked just like Christmas.
Satin Bowerbird. There are several different types of bowerbirds. The males of this particular species collect items that are blue, anything from a fountain pen to a piece of paper, and place them together in a “bower” to attract females. While in a forest, I saw one of these bowers filled with blue things. Astonishing.
Pied Butcherbird. What the Pied Butcherbird lacks in color (it’s a common, beautiful, medium-sized black and white bird), it makes up for in song. I saw several, but my best experience was near Ayers Rock. The Pied Butcherbird varies its song, and I imitated it, causing it to imitate me in turn. An interesting conversation, to say the least.
Black Cockatoo. Back to parrots, did you know there are black cockatoos? Unless you get lucky, you may have to hire a birding guide to find these, but they’re huge and magnificent.
Galah. Now that you know there are black cockatoos, did you know there are pink ones, too? The Galah is a common bird in eastern Australia. When you take a drive, watch for small flocks feeding on the ground in front of homes. They have a sweet song (not screechy like some parrots), and they’re stunning and playful.
New Holland Honeyeater. I saw this beautiful bird (pictured left) near the Great Ocean Road, a road in Victoria alongside a set of enormous rock formations in the ocean. While the rocks are wonderful to see, you never know what other wonders you’ll find if you pay attention!
Photos: All photos by Melanie Votaw. From top to bottom, Rainbow Lorikeet; Crested Pigeon; New Holland Honeyeater.
About Melanie Votaw
Melanie Votaw is the author of 13 non-fiction books and has written for such publications as Woman’s Day, Executive Travel, and the South China Morning Post. She has visited 40+ countries on six continents and has more than 1,000 bird species on her life list. Some of her favorite experiences include flying in a microlight over Victoria Falls, bathing an elephant in the River Kwai, and hunting for a rare hummingbird at 12,000 feet in Ecuador. Melanie lives in the wilds of New York City.