Backyard Buddies

Birds

The diversity of Australia's birdlife is amazing. They vary greatly in size and shape, ranging from the enormous Cassowary (nearly 2 metres tall and weighing in at 58 kg) to very small birds such as the graceful Superb Fairy-wren (some weigh just 8 grams). So what is it, that distinguishes birds from all the other animals?

The feature which sets birds apart from all other animals is that they have feathers.

Australian Hobby

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Photo credit: Richard Waring

Australian Hobby

The Australian Hobby lives across mainland Australia and is sometimes, although rarely, spotted in Tasmania. The colour of the Australian Hobby's feathers varies across Australia depending on their age, sex and the humidity. Generally a hobby has grey wings and back,and a brown stomach. When the humidity goes up, their feathers will darken and their grey wings can appear black. They are skilled hunters and one of the fastest, most agi..

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Barn Owl

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Photo credit: Michael Todd

Barn Owl

You may have seen an Australian Barn Owl as a ghostly white form flying past your headlights and heard a drawn-out rasping screech echoing through the night. The Australian Barn Owl, Tyto alba, lives all across Australia. Their calls vary from a breathy hiss to an unearthly shriek, and they will snap and clack their beaks during mating and threat displays. They sleep in well camouflaged spots during the day, so the rare call of the o..

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Brown Treecreeper

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Photo credit: Michael Todd

Brown Treecreeper

Eucalyptus forests from Cape York to southern Victoria and eastern South Australia are home to an early breeder, the Brown Treecreeper, Climacteris picumnus. Brown Treecreepers live in large groups, with eight to 12 birds sharing a territory of one to 10 hectares. They prefer open forests and woodlands and stay in the same area all year round. Each year, the male offspring of the breeding pair stay on to help raise the next generation of ..

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Brush Turkey

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Brush Turkey

In winter, a clucky visitor may be scratching around near you. In the lead-up to breeding season, male Brush Turkeys, also known as Bush Turkeys or Scrub Turkeys, are building and maintaining mounds. They scratch leaf litter, sticks and mulch from a radius of about 20 m into a massive mound that can be 4 m in diameter and 1 to 1.5 m high. In northern Queensland, Brush Turkeys move into lowland areas so that they are not so chilly ove..

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Bush stone-curlew

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Photo credit: Max Herford

Bush stone-curlew

The Bush stone-curlew lives on the ground and is mostly nocturnal. It is also called the Bush Thick-knee and is found all over Australia except in the most arid areas. It is unlikely to be mistaken for any other bird, with its long skinny legs and large yellow eyes with white eyebrows. They have a distinctive call – a long drawn-out wail heard mainly at dusk or at night. If you didn’t know what it was, it could sound quite eerie. Most cur..

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Channel-billed Cuckoo

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Photo credit: Bilby

Channel-billed Cuckoo

The Channel-billed Cuckoo has a strangled gargling call which seems to carry for kilometres. The loud 'kawk' followed by a more rapid, and softer 'awk-awk-awk is more commonly heard at night. Although not strictly nocturnal birds, they often call all night during the breeding season. Once their chicks have fledged and breeding has finished for the year, it's time for these migratory birds to leave Australia for the warmer climes of New G..

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Crested Bellbird

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Photo credit: David Cook

Crested Bellbird

Next time you go for a walk near some low shrubs and hear something chuckling 'chuck-a-chuck-chuck' in the grass, it might be the Crested Bellbird. The Crested Bellbird is found throughout most of Australia near acacia shrub lands, eucalypt woodlands, spinifex and saltbush plains. The grey-brown and buff colouring of the Crested Bellbird means they are more often heard than seen. They blend easily into their surroundings and have th..

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Crows and Ravens

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Crows and Ravens

Crows and ravens are part of the Corvidae family of Australian native birds. There are six members of the family found in Australia - three are called crows and three ravens, although there is very little difference between them and they look very similar. The bases of the feathers of the crows are white, while those of the ravens are grey and they have different calls which can be the only way to distinguish them. They are frequent backy..

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Eastern Spinebill

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Photo credit: OEH

Eastern Spinebill

Australia is home to two kinds of spinebill - the Eastern Spinebill and the Western Spinebill. The best time of day to spot Eastern Spinebills is early morning. They feed early in the morning, particularly in the first 90 minutes after they wake up. The Eastern Spinebill is a honeyeater and feeds in the shrub-layer on nectar and on insects. Their thin, down-curved bill is specially adapted for collecting nectar from native flowers. T..

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Eurasian Coot

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Eurasian Coot

You've probably spotted this black bird gliding effortlessly over the surface of a pond or river - but do you know what it is? The white beak and shield on its face give it away, as do its red eyes. It's a Eurasian Coot. If you go for a walk near some water and hear 'kow-kow-kow' or 'kwok', you're close to spotting a Coot. At the beginning of August, Coots are looking for a mate and pairing up. They breed right up until February ..

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Galahs

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Photo credit: Allan McLean/OEH

Galahs

Galahs are a common site in our backyards. Whether they are hanging upside-down on a telegraph line, bobbing their heads in a dance or playing soccer with pebbles on the ground, you will see why 'galah' is Aussie slang for a silly person. Galahs live all over Australia and mostly spend their days sheltering in trees or shrubs before congregating later in the day in huge noisy flocks. It is not uncommon to see them almost completely cover..

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Gang-gang Cockatoo

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Photo credit: FNPW Image Library

Gang-gang Cockatoo

The Gang-gang Cockatoo is a small cockatoo with the male displaying a very distinctive scarlet head and crest. Like many female birds, the female gang-gang is a rather duller grey colour. Gang-gang Cockatoos regularly visit backyards and parks in eastern Australia to feed on native and introduced tree and shrub seeds. They prefer eucalypts, wattles and introduced hawthorns and will also eat berries, fruits, nuts and insects and insect la..

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Glossy Black-Cockatoo

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Photo credit: John Spencer/OEH

Glossy Black-Cockatoo

The Glossy Black-Cockatoo is the smallest black-cockatoo in Australia. The Glossy Black feeds on the seeds of casuarina, eucalypts, angophoras, acacias and hakea trees. They can be quiet while feeding and hard to spot. They usually feed in groups of three. Although, if you look skyward and glimpse a streak of red on a jet black tail, you've probably just found one. The Glossy Blacks' favourite food is casuarina seeds. They also like ..

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Golden Whistler

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Photo credit: CSIRO

Golden Whistler

The Golden Whistler is an insect eating bird and the male is not easily confused for another species with its bright yellow colouring. The female, however, is mostly grey but still a very pretty little bird. During spring, the male Golden Whistler song can be heard frequently. The males sing so beautifully and so loudly to court and impress their potential mate and also to deter other male Golden Whistlers away from their territory. They..

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Grey Butcherbird

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Photo credit: R Nicolai

Grey Butcherbird

Grey Butcherbirds, much like Ravens, are meat-loving birds that aren't afraid to come near to our homes and gardens. In fact, our backyards are often a treasure trove for these buddies that eat insects, beetles, caterpillars, mice, lizards, skinks and other small buddies. The Grey Butcherbird, Cracticus torquatus, is found across Australia, from mid-eastern Queensland, through southern Australia, including Tasmania, to northern Western A..

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Grey Fantail

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Grey Fantail

During winter, you may see a very hyperactive visitor in your garden. This little bird is very agile and graceful as it pursues insects and catches them mid-air. The Grey Fantail looks a lot like the Willie Wagtail or Rufous Fantail, but it is usually grey-brown with two small white bars on its wings, white eyebrows and a long, fanned tail that gives it its name. Grey Fantails live all across Australia except for some areas in the interi..

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Grey Shrike-thrush

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Grey Shrike-thrush

The Grey Shrike-thrush, also known as a Grey Thrush, has a beautifully clear and melodious, rhythmic song. Their appearance is not so spectacular however, being mostly grey or brown, depending on the area it lives in. They are found all across Australia except in the most arid regions. The call of the Grey Shrike-thrush varies throughout its range and between individual birds. Their common calls include 'pip-pip-pip-pip-hoee' and 'pur-pu..

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Jacky Winter

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Jacky Winter

The Jacky Winter's rapid 'chwit-chwit-chwit-chwit-peter-peterpeter' call can be heard clearly from quite a distance and you will start hearing it often from July each year, when they start to breed. Jacky Winters, Microeca fascinans, are one of the only Australian songbirds to call so vigorously during winter. They are small insect eaters with three sub-species that live on mainland Australia and in south east New Guinea. A good place..

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Laughing Kookaburra

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Photo credit: FNPW Image Labrary

Laughing Kookaburra

The Laughing Kookaburra is one of the most well-loved birds of our suburbs, often seen on fences, trees and rooftops. Laughing Kookaburras are easily recognized by their 'Koo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-haa-haa-haa-haa' call which sounds like a cackling laugh. There are two kinds of Kookaburras in Australia, the Laughing Kookaburra and the Blue Winged Kookaburra, which has a distinctive silver-blue line on its wings. Laughing Kookaburras live i..

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Little Penguin

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Photo credit: FNPW Image Library

Little Penguin

Australia's Little Penguin is the world's smallest penguin. A lightweight of just about 1kg, it is also called the Fairy Penguin. By comparison, the Emperor Penguin, the largest of the world's 18 penguin species, weighs up to 38 kg. The Little Penguin's Latin name Eudyptula minor means 'good little diver', an accurate description of this species. With a body shaped like a torpedo, its wings transformed into flippers, and its plum..

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Magpie

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Magpie

Australian Magpies, Cracticus tibicen are very widespread and live in suburbs where there are trees and adjacent open areas such as lawns, golf courses and playing fields. For most of the year, Magpies are friendly and sociable, and may even venture into your house to beg for food. But for four to six weeks a year during August to September, the male Magpie will defend his home vigorously. Male Magpies swoop people because they are prote..

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Magpie-lark

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Magpie-lark

The Magpie-lark is a common bird with many different names. It is also called a Peewee, Peewit, Mudlark or Little Magpie. Its name Magpie-lark is also confusing because it is neither a Magpie nor a Lark. It is more closely related to Monarchs, Fantails and Drongos. Whatever you call them, they're pretty adaptable and they'll live just about anywhere. As long as there is open space for them to search for food, and the occasional bit of wa..

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Masked Lapwing (Plover)

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Masked Lapwing (Plover)

The Masked Lapwing, also known as a plover, has an eerie call most often heard at night - 'kekekekekekekek'. Masked Lapwings are large, ground-dwelling birds that near live marshes, mudflats, beaches and grasslands and are often seen in urban areas. It is very common across northern, eastern and southern Australia but does not live in western Australia. There are populations in New Zealand and New Caledonian that have been formed from bi..

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Night Heron

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Photo credit: Peter Sherratt - OEH

Night Heron

On still summer nights, you may come upon a feathered hunter standing hunched and still in your local dam or paperbark swamp, watching the dark water with a large, baleful eye. The Nankeen Night Heron is a large bird up to 60 cm in length and with a one metre wingspan. It has rich cinnamon plumage, huge eyes adapted to night vision, and a petrol-blue beak and cap. It lives throughout Australia, wherever there is a permanent water source...

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Noisy Miner

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Noisy Miner

If you live in eastern Australia, chances are you're pretty familiar with the Noisy Miner. These birds can be raucous neighbours, but also helpful in your garden if they're given the chance. You don't have to go far to find this backyard buddy. In fact, if you live in a suburban area, there's every chance that you have some outside right now. Noisy Miners live in northern Queensland and all along the eastern coast to South Australia and ..

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Pheasant Coucal

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Photo credit: Marj Kibby

Pheasant Coucal

The north and east of Australia has a bird that looks just like a pheasant. The Pheasant Coucal is black with reddish brown wings and a long black and orange tail, but it's really a cuckoo in disguise. Unlike cuckoos, it doesn't spirit its eggs into other birds' nests. It builds its own nest, the male sits on the eggs, and he and his mate for life will raise their own young. Not typical cuckoo behaviour at all. The Pheasant Coucal i..

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Pied Butcherbird

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Pied Butcherbird

Found across most of Australia, except Tasmania and southern Victoria, there'۪s a good chance of finding a Pied Butcherbird in your backyard. The Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis, may sing like an angel, but its name and the distinct hook on its beak are subtle hints to their rather gruesome feeding habits. Butcherbirds are insect eaters, but they will also go after other small meaty prey such as lizards and birds. When a but..

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Pied Currawong

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Photo credit: Marj Kibby

Pied Currawong

If you have heard a black and white bird calling 'curra-wong, curra-wong' around your place, then you have just identified the Pied Currawong. This call is how the bird gets its name. Pied Currawongs, Strepera graculina, love hanging out in the suburbs in eastern Australia. You cannot miss them. They are large, mostly black birds, with bright yellow eyes and. small patches of white under the tail and on the tips and base of the tail f..

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Pink Cockatoo

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Photo credit: Michael Todd

Pink Cockatoo

The Pink Cockatoo is hard to miss, with its distinctive red and white headdress. The Pink Cockatoo, Lophochroa leadbeateri, is admired far and wide in Australia for its unique beauty. The gentle splashes of pastel pink across the front of its body set it apart from its Sulphur Crested Cockatoo brothers and sisters. It's pale pink colour, and red, yellow and white crest, also help you tell it apart from the Galah. The Pink Cockatoo is..

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Pink Robin

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Photo credit: Michael Todd

Pink Robin

The Pink Robin is unusual amongst birds in that both the male and female have pink colouring – so often, only the males of a species display bright colouring to attract their mate. Males have a distinctive bright pink chest while the females have a subtler pinkish tint. The male has a small white patch on the forehead and the female has the same spot, but buff-coloured. The contrast of the males’ black head and wings with bright pink ch..

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Purple Swamphen

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Photo credit: R Nicolai

Purple Swamphen

If you think you have seen a purple chicken, chances are you've actually spotted a Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio. The Purple Swamphen is a large waterhen with a distinctive heavy red bill and forehead shield. They have red eyes and a deep blue head and breast, with black upper parts and wings. In bright sunlight the plumage shines with an intense blue sheen. Long reddish legs with long slender unwebbed toes help it walk and f..

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Rainbow Bee-eater

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Rainbow Bee-eater

The Rainbow Bee-eater is found all across Australia in open forests, woodlands and shrub lands, and in cleared areas, often near water. If you live in northern Australia, you can see Rainbow Bee-eaters all year round as they stay as long as the weather is warm. Southern bee-eaters head north during winter in search of the sun. Unlike most other birds, Bee-eaters build their nests underground. When a Bee-eater finds a good sandy bank..

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Rainbow Lorikeet

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Photo credit: FNPW Image Library

Rainbow Lorikeet

The playful games and bright multicoloured feathers of the Rainbow Lorikeet, make them the 'clowns of the bird world'. The Rainbow Lorikeet's tongue is like a bristle brush. Unlike many other parrots, it doesn't eat seeds -in fact, seeds are bad for lorikeets. Instead, it uses its bristle brush tongue to extract sweet sticky nectar and pollen from deep within native flowers. Like a young child with a messy ice-cream cone, lorikeets get t..

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Raptors

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Photo credit: Shane Ruming

Raptors

A surprising number of raptors live in suburbs and even the centres of Australian cities. They do an excellent job of keeping down pest species such as mice and grasshoppers, as well as introduced birds such as starlings and feral pigeons. Here are some of the most common raptors you're likely to see near your home: Australian Kestrel (also called Nankeen Kestrel): Being nomadic, it will appear wherever mice and grasshopper plagues o..

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Red Wattlebird

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Photo credit: Mick Stephenson

Red Wattlebird

Red Wattlebirds, Anthochaera carunculata, are large honeyeaters easily identified by their fleshy reddish wattle on the side of the neck. They live across southern Australia and are very frequent visitors to gardens in urban areas. They eat mostly nectar but also some insects and can be very aggressive towards other birds that have their eye on the same flowers. Red Wattlebirds can be difficult to see when they're hiding amongst shru..

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Rosellas

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Photo credit: JJ Harrison

Rosellas

Australia is home to many species of vibrantly coloured rosella, including Crimson Rosellas, Eastern Rosellas, Western Rosellas, Northern Rosellas, Pale-headed Rosellas, Yellow Rosellas, Adelaide Rosellas and Green Rosellas. So there is probably one living near you. Rosellas often perch on rooftops, in trees and on fences. You will know they are there by their distinctive calls and colourful feathers. These birds are not afraid of pe..

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Rufous Fantail

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Photo credit: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Rufous Fantail

The Rufous Fantail is a member of the fantail family and lives in northern and eastern coastal Australia. In March, adult Rufous Fantails in southern Australia have almost finished migrating north. Younger Rufous Fantails will be following them during March and April. During migration, they often visit more open habitats including our gardens and parks. You'll recognise the Rufous Fantail by its 'rufous' or reddy-brown colouring on i..

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Satin Bowerbird

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Photo credit: Francesco Veronesi

Satin Bowerbird

The Satin Bowerbird, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus, gets its name from its habit of building a bower out of sticks, and decorating it with blue items, like stolen pegs, straws, and bits of litter, as well as blue flowers and berries. Male Satin Bowerbirds have striking blue-black feathers and vibrant violet eyes. It takes a male seven years to develop his distinctive black feathers. Females and juvenile males are a dull green with dark colou..

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Scarlet Honeyeater

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Photo credit: Chris Grounds

Scarlet Honeyeater

The Scarlet Honeyeater is a small honeyeater which tends to live a solitary life but is occasionally seen in pairs or as part of a flock. Their distinctive red colouring has earned them the nickname 'bloodbird.' Although they mainly prefer foraging for blossom in the tops of mature Turpentine, Melaleuca and Pittosporum trees, the Scarlet Honeyeater will drop down to ground level to drink from your birdbath and feast on the blossoms o..

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Scarlet Robin

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Photo credit: Michael Todd

Scarlet Robin

The Scarlet Robin lives in the southern areas of Australia and also on Norfolk Island. They are frequent backyard visitors in urban areas. Male Scarlet Robins have an impressive bright red chest and a black back with a conspicuous white patch above the bill. Like many bird species, the females are much less striking with a dull grey to brown coat and a lighter reddish chest. The Scarlet Robin lives in varied habitats from open forest..

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Silvereye

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Silvereye

They might only grow to about 15 cm tall and weigh only 5-10 g, but the hardy Silvereye has amazing stamina. Silvereyes can live for up to ten years, which is a long time for such a tiny bird. They can also fly extremely long distances when they migrate at the end of summer. Some travel all the way from Tasmania right up to southern Queensland, over 1,600 km. Silvereyes are very easy to recognise. As their name suggests, they have a ring ..

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Singing Honeyeater

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Photo credit: Wayne Butterworth

Singing Honeyeater

From mid year to the end of summer, you may find a Singing Honeyeater searching for a mate in your garden, park or local bushland. They breed from July to February each year, in flimsy open nests built from grasses and often lined with hair or root fibres. Their nests are a target of the Pallid Cuckoo, who like almost all cuckoos, looks for an existing nest to lay their eggs in instead of building their own. Singing Honeyeaters, Lichenos..

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Southern Boobook

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Photo credit: Sabines-Sunbird

Southern Boobook

Southern Boobooks , Ninox novaeseelandiae, are the smallest and most common owl in Australia If you have a Southern Boobook Owl in your backyard, you will hear them calling for a mate during the long winter nights. The official breeding season does not start until spring, but many boobooks are already serenading their partner. Boobooks have a special call only for their mate. Their normal call is a simple double hoot, but to his..

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Spotted Pardalote

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Photo credit: Peter Jacobs

Spotted Pardalote

If you live in eastern or southern Australia, you may be lucky enough to be visited by the tiny Spotted Pardalote, Pardalotus punctatus. The Spotted Pardalote may visit your backyard as it heads down from higher elevations in search of warmer weather over autumn and winter. Spotted Pardalotes have distinct white spots that cover their black head and wings, a bright yellow throat, undertail and red rump. This unique plumage has earned..

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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

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Photo credit: FNPW Image Library

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is Australia's most famous cockatoo, easily recognised by their signature yellow crest and wings. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are very adaptable and have become a common sight to people living in suburbs all over Australia. They don't have any trouble finding their own food, and your backyard may just be a great source. These snow-white cockatoos are very social, especially during autumn and winter when mat..

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Superb Fairy-wren

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

Superb Fairy-wren

It seems unfair when one member of the family gets all the good looks, especially when it's the father. But that's how it is for the Superb Fairy-wren. Superb Fairy-wrens are found throughout eastern Australia and Tasmania to the south-eastern corner of South Australia. The dazzling blue plumage on a breeding male's head and neck and tail will catch your eye if you're lucky enough to have one in your area. These beautiful birds are n..

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Superb Parrot

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Photo credit: Anita Kuffner

Superb Parrot

The Superb Parrot, Polytelis swainsonii, is a small and graceful parrot with brightly coloured red, green, yellow and blue feathers. It lives in south-eastern Australia in the Riverina area of New South Wales and Victoria, and in winter it migrates to northern New South Wales. The Superb Parrot is listed as a vulnerable species in the ACT and NSW and is protected nationally and internationally. Land clearing has destroyed much of the hab..

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Tasmanian Native Hen

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Photo credit: JJ Harrison

Tasmanian Native Hen

'Turbo chook' is the affectionate name given to the Tasmanian Native hen. However, they have no relationship to domestic chickens but belong to a group of waterfowl known as rails. The Native hen is a flightless bird standing approximately 45 cm tall with strong sturdy legs. They live in northern and eastern Tasmania, near marshes, river flats, fresh water streams and rivers. It gets its nickname from being a very fast runner, reachi..

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Tawny Frogmouth

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Photo credit: David Croft/OEH

Tawny Frogmouth

The Tawny Frogmouth lives on a diet of insects and feeds through the warmer months before winter, when many insects hibernate. A frogmouth might look like an owl at first sight, but it is an entirely different kind of bird. They live all over Australia in every type of habitat. Frogmouths have wide, flat beaks, while that of an owl is narrow and more hooked. Owls have strong feet with powerful talons, while the feet of Tawny Frogmout..

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Wedge-tailed Eagle

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Photo credit: John Spencer - OEH

Wedge-tailed Eagle

The Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax, is the largest bird of prey in Australia. It can appear sinister, with its dark feathers, hooked beak and distinctive call, but Wedge-tails are excellent parents and partners. Wedge-tails mate for life and are extremely attentive parents. Wedge-tailed Eagles spiral and circle around each other in their courtship ritual before sharing nest building and child-rearing duties. They build very large n..

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White Ibis

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Photo credit: Rosie Nicolai

White Ibis

The Australian White Ibis is in many places considered a pest, as a result of their bold behaviour - they are not above sticking their beaks into your lunch if you are sitting in the park. They tend to cluster in groups and it is not unusual to find up to 50 of them gathered on your front lawn. The White Ibis usually breeds from August through to April, although it does vary from location to location. For instance, ibises in Sydney br..

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Willie Wagtail

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Photo credit: Simone Cottrell OEH

Willie Wagtail

The Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys, lives all over mainland Australia and is hard to miss with its long fanned tail that it swings from side to side or up and down while foraging on the ground. The distinctive white eyebrow of the male wagtail is not just a fashion statement - it helps him attract a mate. Rival males show aggression by expanding their eyebrows during a territorial dispute. The loser shows his submission by hiding h..

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Wood Duck

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Photo credit: Tim Riding/OEH

Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is Australia's most common duck and lives throughout Australia with the exception of particularly arid areas. Their distinctive brown and white feathers make Wood Ducks easy for you to distinguish from other waterbirds, as they look completely unique. Male and female wood ducks are easy to tell apart because the male's feathers are much darker and more distinctive than the females. As well as looking unusual, the Wood D..

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