Many people dream about visiting the incredible country of Australia. Those lucky enough to make the trip experience seemingly endless natural beauty, an extensive coastline, one-of-a-kind wildlife, and memorable cultural immersions.
As part of the unique wildlife that makes up the island continent, you’ll find nearly 800 species of birds, with almost half of them not found anywhere else. For a birdwatcher, it means an experience like no other and a chance to see some of the most unique birds on the planet.
If you’re thinking about visiting Australia in the future or simply want to dream about taking a birdwatching trip there someday, keep reading. Here I’ll introduce you to some fabulous avian creatures that call Australia their home.
A Little Bit About Australia
Australia is one of the most intriguing countries on earth because it is the only place that is both a continent and a country. It is the smallest continent (but the flattest and driest) and the sixth largest country in the world, just slightly smaller than the contiguous United States.
It also has a remarkable history. The country’s indigenous people have continuously inhabited it for over 65,000 years, long before Europeans explored the continent. In fact, the Aboriginal culture in Australia is one of the oldest cultures on the earth. Visitors can still find many remnants of the original inhabitants there.
Even though most of the country is arid and dry, areas of it include tropical rainforests and mountain climates, making it a biodiverse place.
Visitors to the country will have an endless array of options for experiences that range from exploring natural wonders, relaxing on tropical islands, and wandering around bustling cities. Bird lovers can find unique species regardless of what part of the country they visit.
A Place Overflowing with Unique Wildlife
Australia is one of the most fascinating places to observe wildlife, and it’s not just the birds there but much more. It’s considered one of 17 “megadiverse” countries. This distinction means that it harbors a good amount of the earth’s species and many endemic ones. For example, 87% of its mammals, 93 % of the reptiles, 94% of the frogs, and 45% of the birds in the country are only found there.
The reptile population is impressive—755 species of reptiles live there, which is more than any other country. As far as birds go, more than 80% of parrots in the world are found only in Australia, and it also has the most honeyeaters.
Finally, almost everyone is familiar with the popular mammals in the region, including the kangaroo, koala, wombat, and dingo, and it’s also got some of the most venomous snakes found anywhere.
Even if your trip focuses on birdwatching, you’ll also get a chance to experience the other amazing creatures that live there.
10 Of the Most Unique Endemic Birds In Australia
As mentioned, almost half of the 800 species of birds in Australia are endemic. At a recent count, the number of endemic bird species in the country was 374. Since it would prove impossible to cover all of them in detail here, we’ll focus on ten of the most popular and unique species to look for during your trip. You can find the entire list of known endemic species here.
Australian Brush Turkey
The Australian Brush Turkey makes its home in Eastern Australia. It’s a larger bird with a black body and tail feathers. You’ll recognize it also by its bright red neck with yellow wattle at the bottom. The mounds built by the males of the species for the females to lay eggs can be up to 1.5 meters high and 4 meters wide.
You’ll find the Black Swan throughout most of Australia, wherever there are wetlands, lakes, rivers, or swamps. They are recognizable by their black body and white wingtips (which you can see best during flight). They also have an outstanding bright red bill and gray-black legs.
Rock Parrots are small and found in the rocky island and coastal dune areas. They don’t have as bright coloring as some other parrots you will see and mainly have a brownish and olive-green colored body, although the forehead and face are blue. They got their name because they often make their shelter under rocks.
You’ll most likely hear the Southern Cassowary before you see it. This bird’s recognizable rumbling calls and grunts show a response to perceived danger. However, once you set your eyes on it, you will know exactly what you’ve found, as they are very recognizable. These birds are the second heaviest on earth (second only to the Ostrich) and can reach up to 2 meters tall. The male and female birds look similar, with black feathers covering the body and a bright blue neck and head. The top of the head has a protective helmet-like structure called a casque.
Gang Gang Cockatoo
Gang Gang Cockatoos not only have a fun name but also make fun birds to watch! Mostly gray colored, you’ll recognize the males of the species by the bright red head and crest (females’ heads are all gray). They live in mountain woodlands and forests, although sometimes visitors can spot them in parks and gardens of urban areas. Look up to spot them because they make their nests in tall trees.
Grasswrens are small birds, and many of them are endemic to Australia, although some of the species are becoming rare. They come in various colors, such as gray, brown, black, or white, and have long and slender tails that are slightly elevated. You’ll find most of them in the arid areas of Australia, but three types of the species are tropical. They live and eat in the grass.
Of course, you will want to try and spot an Emu during your Australian travels. This flightless bird is one of the largest living birds and is more than 1.5 meters tall. It is related to the Cassowary and has many similar features, such as its long legs. Both males and females are brownish in color and have dark gray heads and necks. Their long legs help them to run fast, and they can run nearly 50 km per hour. Sometimes they kick to defend themselves.
A magnificent and bright bird, the Gouldian Finch, is recognizable by its black, green, yellow, and red markings. Both males and females have this coloring, although females have slightly more muted colors. You will only find them in the Northern Territory and also the Kimberley region in Western Australia. They are small, tropical birds and usually reside near the water.
The Kookaburra is a sub-group of the kingfisher, and many people call it the laughing Kookaburra. This designation is because its call sounds like laughter. Although it’s a kingfisher, it does not eat fish and sometimes kills snakes up to three feet long for its prey. It’s also a bird of legends, with a popular nursery rhyme written about it. This bird is very active during the day and often sleeps up to 12 hours a night. You’ll find them in the country’s eucalyptus forests and woodland areas.
You will most likely want to check off many varieties of honeyeaters during your Australian visit. The Yellow-tufted Honeyeater is an interesting one to spot. It has a yellow body and head and looks like it’s wearing a black mask over its eyes. Both males and females look alike, but the males are slightly larger. You’ll find this bird in the eucalyptus forests, feeding mainly on the nectar from the eucalyptus plants. You won’t confuse it with other honeyeater types, as it is brighter and stands out much more in the environment than other honeyeaters.
Other Birds to Look for During Your Trip
You most likely will not get your fill of searching for the endemic bird species in Australia. However, it’s also a great place to see some remarkable migratory species. Did you know that at least 2 million migratory birds visit Australia during their summer months each year? It’s true. These birds travel there to escape their regular arctic homes and the harsh winters there.
Those 2 million birds include 36 species that visit every year and 16 species that visit Australia occasionally. You’ll find these migratory waterbirds in Australia’s north and southwest wetlands. The country makes excellent efforts to protect these beautiful waterbirds and their habitats, including protecting the wetlands along the birds’ flyway and ensuring that the wetlands are not disturbed by mining, development, or agricultural practices.
If you’re visiting the wetlands during the Australian summertime, look for species like the Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwits, and Whimbrel.
How to Make the Most of Your Australia Bird-Watching trip
With so many birds in this incredible country, you may get overwhelmed deciding where to start. You will, of course, want to invest in a good book that details the species. Check out the popular Australian Bird Guide, with 4,000 images of every bird species in Australia. Another good option is The Field Guide to Birds of Australia, which includes a quick-find index that helps you to identify birds quickly while out in the field.
We also recommend joining one of the many birdwatching tours available. These tours help maximize the number of birds seen during your stay in the country. There are also several options for “custom” birdwatching tours, where you can pick your budget, timeframe, and wish list of birds to see.
You can also seek out ways to plan your entire trip to Australia around birdwatching. The company NT Bird Specialists provides many different itinerary options with one of the country’s best bird guides so that you can plan an entire trip around finding specific birds you’d like to see. Trips range from 7 days up to 17 days.
Of course, you can always choose to create your own safari and drive around independently, seeking out your favorite birds.
Whatever option you choose, to make the most of your birdwatching trip to Australia, you must have a wish list of bird varieties you want to see and map out the best places to encounter them during the season you are visiting. For example, if you’re looking to see some migratory species, you’ll need to plan your trip for the summer months.
Birdwatching in Australia is something that most bird enthusiasts will only dream of doing, but for those who make this trip, the experience is like no other. Although it would take a lifetime to catch a glimpse of all the amazing bird species in the country, just a small sampling of them will thrill even the most expert birdwatchers. To make the most of your experience, seek out a tour or guide to help you check off as many of these birds on your list as possible.