Birds of northern Australia

Purple-crowned fairy wren
Photo: AnneMarie Van Doorn

Rainbow bee-eater
Rainbow bee-eater
Photo: Jean-Charles Perquin

Birds are an obvious and attractive feature of the landscape in northern Australia, even in urban and suburban areas. Many tourists to the region specifically quest for its endemic bird species; and for other visitors birds may offer some of the most memorable spectacles.

One of the most spectacular sights in northern Australia is the massed aggregations of waterfowl, particularly magpie geese, in floodplains and other wetlands, with particularly dense concentrations (tens of thousands) of birds in the late dry season when availability of surface water is at a minimum.

The bird fauna of northern Australia is a unique mix of old Australian elements and more recent arrivals whose affinities are with tropical areas to the immediate north.

The woodlands that dominate northern Australia share many bird species with, or have closely related species in, the woodlands of eastern and south-western Australia: such nearly ubiquitous species groups include weebills, whistlers, treecreepers, honeyeaters, fairy-wrens, shrike-thrushes and butcherbirds.

But the north has a relatively high diversity of some other groups, notably including pigeons and doves, parrots and cockatoos, and finches, with this diversity reflecting the dominance of grasses (and hence abundance of grass seeds) in these environments. And the north, particularly in the pockets of rainforests, has an added element of species with truly tropical affinities, including pittas, scrubfowl and drongos.

The bird fauna of northern Australia is notable also for its integrity. Most of the north Australian bushland lacks the foreign sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and Indian mynahs that have become some of the most common birds elsewhere in Australia. Further, many native bird species that have declined drastically in temperate Australia remain common and widespread in the north: such species include red-tailed black-cockatoos, bush stone-curlews, magpie geese, Australian bustards and the grey-crowned babbler.