Australia has around 800 recorded bird species and they are the most visible of the animals you are likely to see while walking. They are most active in the early morning and you will have a better chance of seeing a good variety early each day.
Australia’s most recognisable birds are the emu and the laughing kookaburra. The former looks like an ostrich baked dry by the sun and is found across most of the country. When startled, it can hit speeds of 50km/h. You will almost certainly hear the laughing kookaburra (the largest member of the kingfisher family) before you see it, with its loud, cackling laugh, though it is also easily spotted. Closely related is the blue-winged kookaburra, found in the tropics.
If you are visiting in spring, the Australian magpie will probably find you before you find it. This large black-and-white bird has one of the bush’s most melodious songs, but can be highly territorial when breeding, swooping anything that comes near, including humans. The good news for walkers is that swooping seems more prevalent in urban areas than on walking tracks.
Looking like a cross between a crow and a magpie, the pied currawong is one of the most regularly seen birds in the bush. This black bird has yellow eyes and a strip of white across its tail feathers. It is among the most gregarious of the birds you will encounter and has a piercing, almost parrot-like call.
The greatest sight you will see in the Australian skies is the freewheeling figure of a wedge-tailed eagle. The country’s largest bird of prey has a wingspan of up to 2m and is named for the distinctive shape of its tail. Though ‘wedgies’ are found across Australia, they are most commonly seen in the interior.
Just as fascinating is the sight of a male bowerbird at work. This stocky, stout-billed bird builds a bower that he decorates with various coloured objects: the glossy-blue male satin bowerbird will use almost anything so long as it’s blue; the golden bowerbird uses pale-green moss, pale flowers and fruits; and the great bowerbird accumulates stones, shells, seeds and metallic objects.
Among the parrots and cockatoos you can expect to see, the galah and sulphur-crested cockatoo are prominent. The former is pink and grey in colour, while the latter is white and has a crest coloured like the rim of a volcano. It also has a shriek loud enough to wake the dead. The black-cockatoo, whether yellow-, red- or white-tailed, is another welcome sight. They can look like crows from a distance, but have a heavier, lazier wing motion and a call like a creaky door. The crimson rosella is a common sight – look for a flash of red through the trees – and the brilliantly coloured rainbow lorikeet, with its blue head, orange breast and green body, gathers in great numbers around flowering plants.
The superb lyrebird, which graces the Australian 10-cent coin, is a ground-dwelling bird. The male lyrebird has tail feathers that form a lyre shape when hoisted to attract a female. Its party trick is bush mimicry, copying almost any noise it has heard, from the calls of other birds to livestock and chainsaws.
Bushwalkers in Queensland will soon become aware of the Australian brush-turkey, with its bald red head and yellow wattles – it will be the bird trying to pilfer your food and rubbish bag. You might even start wishing Christmas dinner upon it.