It has been more than 5 years since I last went to Australia, and I was even less of a qualified bird photographer then than I am now. However, the lockdown forces me to go deeper and deeper into my photo collection, if I want to write anything at all. And that seems to be the only vaguely satisfying thing left to do at the moment.

So, the basic idea is to show 15 species of Australian birds in each post and give you the usual trivia about them. All photos were taken in Australia in December 2016 – locations included Brisbane and surroundings, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Melbourne, and the coast near Melbourne.

One of my most vivid memories of watching The Sopranos – still the best TV series ever, in my opinion – is Tony outside barbecuing, occasionally turning the different pieces of meat. In my imagination, the job of a male Australian Brush Turkey is pretty similar – removing or adding bits and pieces to his pile of rotting vegetation in order to get the right temperature to incubate the eggs buried underneath to hatch.

This species has also eliminated the need for childcare – the chicks emerge from this pile on their own and never even get to see their parents. This would make it possible even for somebody like me who really does not like kids to have some, though I think the world is better without them anyway.

On a side note, the bird is also kind of ugly, so maybe the chicks never seeing their father has a certain protective function. Though I usually do not mention this in public presentations, as kids (or fathers) might be present in the audience.

When I read the description of the Mulga Parrot on a pet website, I first thought it was an advertisement for Thai mail-order brides: “The exotic appearance of the Mulga Parrot might be what attracts you first, but it’s their personality that will win you over” (source)

The parrot is multicolored, providing a simple explanation for the Latin species name of varius.

This is a species of dry Southern inland Australia, and indeed I saw it when spending a Christmas morning near Alice Springs.

The female looks a bit duller but I was assured it has a beautiful soul.

For somebody like me who is not very good at spotting minor differences between species, the Russet-tailed Thrush of Australia looks pretty much like the Long-tailed Thrush of Yunnan or the White’s Thrush of Shanghai.

Of course, being a proud German, I prefer this thrush as its Latin species name is heinei for the German Jakob Gottlieb Ferdinand Heine (time was not precious in the olden days, and there were fewer forms to fill out, so people could afford to have much longer names). Heine (1840-1920) was a German ornithologist, agronomist, and plant-breeder and unfortunately not related to the substantially more famous German writer Heinrich Heine, which will not keep me from quoting the latter: “The more I get to know people, the more I like dogs.” (would be cats for me, but you get the general idea).

One would think that a bird named Grey Butcherbird is a shrike or at least related to shrikes (which are commonly called butcherbirds), but one would be wrong, as Duncan already explained in a 2014 post for 10,000 Birds. It is the usual kind of error – somebody comes from far away, sees something that reminds them of something else from their home, and immediately has a name ready. Sounds familiar, American Robin?

The name butcherbird makes a bit more sense for the Grey Butcherbird, as – similar to shrikes – it also has a habit of impaling prey too large to be eaten whole (or surplus food) on a thorn.

If you are wondering why this supposedly grey bird is brown, it is either because it is a female, or a juvenile, or because my identification is wrong.

Similarly, the Grey Shrikethrush is neither a shrike nor a thrush.

Admittedly, it is mostly grey.

And it has a nice Latin species name, harmonica, as it has a nice song, though it does not sing as well as Matt Berninger of The National.

The danger of writing multiple posts covering the same location is always that you end up having only very boring species left for the last posts. So, as a preemptive strike, I present to you the Golden-headed Cisticola.

Contrary to alleged preferences among humans, the golden-headed cisticola has a shorter tail during the breeding season (source).

I will not write anything about the Australian Pied Oystercatcher as Clare in her posts does this with much more expertise.

“She monitors Pied Oystercatchers breeding along a 23km stretch of beach by bicycle and on foot.”

When in Australia, the Eurasian Coot (or Common Coot) uses its Australian passport and travels as Australian Coot.

The Little Wattlebird has no wattles and also – despite the Latin species name chrysoptera, meaning golden-winged – basically has nothing even remotely like golden wings. For these reasons, I tried to return the one I bought but they refused to take it back.

According to an early description by John Gould, the call of the Little Wattlebird is like a person vomiting.

With a length of 27–35 cm, it is not even particularly little.

I guess it is a bird though.

I would not want to argue with the Australian Geographic that Fairy-wrens are among the most beautiful birds in Australia. One of the ten species is the Red-backed Fairywren, which based on its Latin species name melanocephalus could also be called the Black-headed Fairywren (it is not though).

Like many humans, the species is “socially monogamous but sexually promiscuous” (source).

As in most fairywren species, the females look much duller but I heard they are much better listeners.

If you were called a White-browed Scrubwren (which sounds a bit like something used to clean toilets), you probably would not look very happy either.

Wings seem to be wasted on these birds – “of 452 ringed individuals in Western Australia, none moved farther than 2 km” (source).

You will not find the Australian Wood Duck in the HBW, as they prefer the name Maned Duck for it. It breeds in tree holes, presumably explaining the more commonly used name for it.

If you are in a cooperative mood, you may acknowledge the small “mane” of the male on the right side of the photo below.

Apparently, “juvenile resembles female, but paler and has breast distinctly streaked, rather than spotted” (HBW) – not that you can clearly tell on the photo below though. I included it as the juvenile looks cute.

When in Broome, Crested Pigeons spend most of their time posing for Clare on streetlights. When there are no streetlights around, they grudgingly accept trees as well.

The Australasian Figbird is a member of the Oriole family despite not being yellow.

While most people would say that the female and the male look different, those with ornithological credentials talk about sexual dimorphism. Female below.

Indeed, it seems Australian members of the oriole family are not fond of yellow, as demonstrated by this Olive-backed Oriole.

Like the figbird, it mostly feeds on fruit.

It is probably a rumor that writing a post about Australia and not mentioning Koalas is illegal, but why take the risk?


Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. He only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.