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Australia Birds 2

This section showcases some of the birds of Australia found near water, both fresh and salt.

On our Australian Birds 1 page we show some of the more common land birds we found on our travels.

Photos large and small are copyright HackingFamily.com, credits Sue Hacking, unless otherwise noted.

The huge white Australian Pelican Soon after our arrival in Australia we tied up at the pilings on the Brisbane River we were graced by a very large, surprisingly graceful Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) which perched on the pilings or drifted sedately among the boats.  Colonies of breeding pelicans are found throughout Australia in both fresh and salt water habitats.  They fly in V formation and often feed together in flocks.  Australian Pelicans are black and white, with a long pink bill, short legs and webbed feet.  They are 1.6‑1.8m (5.5 feet) from bill to tail, with a wingspan of about 2.4m (almost 8 feet).  (Victoria coast)
Often seen near the pelicans is another common Australian water bird: the Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorus varius). Shyer than the pelicans, they are difficult to approach for a photo, even in a dinghy.  They are found in salt, fresh and estuarine environments, usually on large bodies of water.  Cormorants feed on fish by diving from the surface and swimming underwater.  While underwater they use their feet to propel them and have their eyes protected by a thin membrane.  After diving they often spread their wings to air and dry them.  Eggs are laid on tree platforms or the ground.  Cormorants have long necks and hooked bills.  The Pied Cormorants have all-white necks and fly in V formation.  They make a grunting sound.  The black leg stripe is a characteristic shared by both the Black-faced and Pied Cormorants.  (Sandy Straits, Queensland) Pied Cormorants perched on a light buoy, Sandy Straits.
Where to find water birds in Australia.  For a dry continent, Australia has plenty of water -- thousands of kilometers of shore line, for a start.  By the ocean look for pelicans, cormorants, oystercatchers, rapidly running sandpipers and the pelagic visitors like boobies and albatrosses.  On rivers and lakes you'll likely see the hovering kingfishers and the still herons.  Geese, moorhens and ducks abound on lakes and quiet waterways.  And lovely (but noisy and assertive) gulls can be found around seashore campsites.  Listed in the guide books you'll find bird parks that feature some of the more unusual birds.  The Australian birding will astound you!
Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles, race novaehollandiae) The Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) has two races in Australia.  Shown to the left is race novaehollandiae, also known as the Spur-Winged Plover, which is distributed throughout greater southeast Australia.  It is distinguished from race miles by location, the extent of the prominent yellow wattle - on miles it extends behind the eye and hangs twice as long - and the black on the hind-neck and sides of the breast.  Hybrids are known to occur.  The name Spur-Winged Plover comes from the spur at the bend of wing (not visible).  Masked Lapwings grow to 14 inches (35 cm) and live in grasslands, mud flats and urban parks.  They're usually seen on the ground.  This one was at the man-made swimming pool "beach" in Southbank.  (Brisbane, Queensland)
On mooring lines of the yachts in the Brisbane River, Australia we often had a visitor from the nearby mangroves: the compact little Striated (Mangrove) Heron Butorides (Ardeola) striatus.  Shown here in its non-threatened posture, the Striated Heron normally sits low, with neck retracted when disturbed.  Residing in intertidal flats and mangroves, this small (49 cm or 19in) heron can be found along most of the eastern and northern coasts of Australia.  It has a glossy black crown with a nuchal crest (barely visible here), and, in the Eastern Australian race, very little striation on the neck plumage.  The juveniles display more white than the adults.  (Brisbane River, January) A Striated Heron on mooring lines, Brisbane River
White Faced Heron on the shores of the Tasman Sea In addition to being found on intertidal flats, the White Faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) can also be seen on Australia's inland pastures, dams and farmland.  It is seen throughout all but the driest interior of Australia.  Standing 60‑70 cm (24‑27in) tall, it has uniformly gray plumage except for white on the face and upper neck, to just behind the eye.  Hackles on the lower neck are prominent in this photo.  (Great Ocean Road, Victoria, January)
The Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is an all white and black bird with a white breast, black wings and a black nape.  Its long slender legs are bright pink.  Found in both fresh and saltwater marshes, this bird has a strange call, a sort of yelp!  The front toes of stilts are partially webbed, but stilts do not swim.  The Black Winged Stilt is found world-wide, including Australia.  (Photo taken of captive birds, Brisbane Forest Park) Black Winged Stilts
A Beach Stone Curlew on Low Isles, Australia On the Low Isles, off Australia's North Queensland coast we put ashore in the dinghy and had some good bird-watching.  Two distinctively marked Beach Stone Curlews (Esacus neglectus) with their very long, stout beaks and white stripes on the head and shoulder were searching the tide pools for food.  Formerly known as Beach Thick Knees (E. maginirostris), they are found on many of the coastal fringes of tropical eastern and northern Australia, but never in large numbers.  Their call is a wailing, mournful "wee loo".  (Low Isles, Queensland, in June)
Classified as a bird of prey, not a "water bird", the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), however, fits appropriately on this page of birds that reside on or near water.  Ospreys are found near water, both fresh and salt, around the world, and there is only one species.  They are specialized fish-catchers with nostrils that can close when plunging feet first for fish from great heights; they have  a reversible toe used for clutching and carrying.  Ospreys build nests of sticks in trees, shrubs or on the ground, and use the same nest for years and years until they become huge structures.  This bird may be a young adult, because of the very clear breast band which fades with maturity.  It lived in a relatively small nest on an offshore island along the Queensland coast.  We saw ospreys frequently along the New South Wales and Queensland coasts.  They stand 55‑66 cm (22‑26 in) tall.  (Morris Island) An osprey in flight over its island.

Unlike other continents with many seagull species, Australia has only 3 species that are not vagrant: the Pacific Gull (63 cm or 25 in) and the Kelp Gull (57 cm or 22 in) and the much smaller Silver Gull (4 cm or 16 in).

Adult and juvenile Silver Gulls
Raucous, aggressive, and omni-present on beaches and parklands of coastal and inland waterways are the actually very lovely Silver Gulls, (Larus novaehollandiae). Bright red bills and legs mark the Silver Gull adults, while the juveniles have duller legs and bill and mottled brown feathers.  At Wilson's Promontory in New South Wales the gulls were constant companions at the park "barbie" (BBQ) stands, ready to snatch food from the grill to feed their mewing young.  They would also sit all over cars, and hop inside if they got the chance!  The photo shows a juvenile (left) with its parent.
A large Pacifi Gull, Victoria
The less common Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) is found only on the shoreline of the south coast of Australia and parts of Tasmania.  Large and aggressive, it roosts on boats and pilings and scavenges in garbage dumps (sorry, "tips" in Aus-speak).  It matures in 4 years, progressing through various pattern/color changes.  The adults have yellow bills with dark red tips, black back and wings and white head and chest.
Crested Terns and Silver Gulls Silver gulls and Crested Terns (Sterna bergii) were often seen together on the coasts.  Right, the adult Crested Tern is center, with a mottled juvenile behind.  Distinguished by their dark black cap and shaggy crest, they are a large tern with powerful flight.  They range from the central Pacific west to Africa.  (Left: NSW, Right: Queensland) Crested terns and a silver gull

Sooty Oystercatchers, endemic to Australia Oystercatchers can be found on any part of the Australian coast.  The Sooty Osytercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus, left) is endemic to Australia and relatively unusual to see.  The Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris, right) is found world-wide.  Oystercatchers use their long, strong beaks to pry open bivalve shells or break apart crustaceans for food.  They stay with mates for long periods, and are semi-nomadic.  (Photo left: NSW coast. Right: Queensland) Pied Oystercatchers

Ducks, geese and swans are everywhere in the world, it seems, and Australia is no exception.  One familiar one we saw was the green-headed, red-breasted Mallard, which was introduced into Australia.  Many of the ducks we saw in Australia were, unfortunately, in captivity at wetlands and habitat centers, but they were also on rivers and streams as we toured the SE interior and sailed up the coast.

Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) are generally dark, with a purple-green speculum and dark lines on an otherwise pale head.  They live in heavily vegetated swamps with deep, permanent pools as well as more open lakes, paddocks and dams.  We frequently saw them along the Brisbane River, but this pair we photographed in Toowoomba, Queensland. Pacific Black Ducks in Toowomba, Queensland
Female Wood Duck The Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) is also known as the Maned Duck, for the small mane on the male (not shown).  The females (left and right) have a light brown head with white stripes above and below the eye, a speckled breast and underbody and brown- to black-and-white wings.  The male has a darker head with a slight mane, plain grey sides and black-and-white wings.  They are dabbling ducks (right) as opposed to divers, but are often seen in flocks on the ground near water, or singly in trees.  (Photo left: Kosciusko NP. Photo right: Canberra) Dabbling wood duck
A pair of Black Swans in NSW Black Swans (Cygnus atratus) can be found near any of Australia's large bodies of water ― fresh, estuarine or salt ― and even on pastures and on mudflats as long as there is enough aquatic life to support them.  They are endemic to Australia and range throughout all of the continent except the very dry interior.  Black swans mate for life, laying eggs in thick nests in aquatic vegetation.  Their trumpeting call is quite musical and can often be heard flying at night.  They fly in long lines, not the V formation of many geese.  They stand almost 1.5 m (58 in)tall, and have a wingspan of up to 2 m (6.5 ft).  Females are slightly smaller than males.  (Lake Myall)
Dusky Moorhen on lawn by Canberra lake. On natural and urban lakes throughout most of eastern and SW Australia the Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) can be found either ashore or afloat, feeding on small vertebrates and invertebrates in the reeds and grasses.  They are primarily diurnal and less secretive than than cousins the rails.  The thick red and yellow-tipped frontal shield is their distinguishing characteristic, along with a white under-tail coverts and yellow, orange and greenish legs.  Newly hatched moorhens can swim the day they hatch.  (Left: Canberra. Right: Myall Lakes) Dusky Moorhen foraging in reeds of freshwater lake
Closely related to the Dusky Moorhen, and also in the Rallidae family, the Purple Swamphen  (Porphyrio porphyrio) can be found near and in freshwater lakes, and marshes.  With its deep blue chest and all red frontal shield it makes a bright blotch of color in the grasses and reeds where it resides.  Flicking its tail to show the white undertail coverts is typical, though it is not understood what purpose it serves.  This same bird lives in New Zealand where it it commonly known as the Pukeko.  In Australia is is found in most of the eastern part of the country and in areas in the far north and SW.  (Canberra) Purple Swamphen with its all-red frontal shield

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