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View over Hobart from Mt Wellington, Tasmania. Image Credit: Charles Van den Broek/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban bird watchers' guide to Hobart

  • BY Ellen Rykers |
  • February 15, 2017

Tasmania is renowned for its incredible nature and wildlife, so it’s no surprise the island state's capital city is a birdwatchers’ paradise.

THE ARRAY OF habitats right on Hobart’s doorstep is home to all kinds of birdlife, including most of Tasmania’s 12 endemic species.

“We are fortunate to have such a diversity of intact habitats nearby,” says Dr Eric Woehler, the convenor of Birdlife Tasmania. “We have Mount Wellington immediately behind the city, fingers of bushland extending into the suburbs, and the River Derwent running through the middle”.

The proximity of suitable habitats makes for some interesting Hobart residents. “We have eagles nesting only a couple of kilometres from the city centre, and you can sometimes see them soaring over the suburbs,” says Eric. “There are even little penguins nesting within 1km of the CBD”.

In terms of birdwatching hotspots, Kunanyi/Mount Wellington Park is a great place to start. At least 67 bird species have been spotted on the mountain, and 55 of those are observed regularly.

godwits

Flock of bar-tailed godwits at Orielton Lagoon, Tasmania. (Image credit: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

“There are about 50km of trails from Fern Tree passing through dry woodland, damp shady fern gullies, and alpine areas. You can see many honeyeaters, robins and currawongs,” says Eric.

Another recommended spot for bush birds is Mount Nelson. According to Eric, “Mount Nelson is good for dry woodland species including firetails, robins and parrots”.

For aquatic-dwelling birds, you can’t go past Orielton Lagoon, which is an internationally significant Ramsar wetland just 20 minutes from the centre of Hobart. “The lagoon supports great-crested grebes, musk ducks, and migratory birds such as eastern curlews, red-necked stints and bar-tailed godwits, which migrate all the way from Siberia,” says Eric.

Sea-faring birds including albatrosses and shearwaters can be spotted from Bruny Island, 45 minutes south of Hobart.

To catch a glimpse of Tasmania’s endemic species, visit the Peter Murrell Conservation area, a 20-minute drive from Hobart. “It’s a very good area for seeing many endemic species,” says Eric. “People come here specifically to see the endangered forty-spotted pardalote”. 

We’ve put together a list of 20 native bird species to look out for in Hobart and surrounds:

1. Tasmanian native hen

Tribonyx mortierii

native hen

Credit: Davis Kwan/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

These chubby chooks don’t fly, but they sure can run. With stubby wings outstretched for balance, these unique Tassie birds can reach 50km/h – that’s faster than Usain Bolt’s top speed.

Tasmanian native hens have an olive-green upper back, slate-grey underparts, a brown tush with a black tail-tip and white patches on their sides. Their slender bill is pale yellow, and their eyes are piercing red.

A very social bird, native hens like to join together in a cacophonous chorus of husky honking. Their social structure is intriguing: around half are monogamous, and the other half are polygamous, with a single female mating with a man-harem of 3-4 males.

Size: Plump, 47cm

Call: Loud, rasping ‘hee-haw’, often calling as a cacophonous group.

Where to spot them: Riverside farmland; occasional visitors to urban gardens.

2. Forty-spotted pardalote

Pardalotus quadragintus

hobart birds

Credit: Dave Curtis/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite being one of Australia’s rarest birds, it is possible to catch a glimpse of this tiny ‘diamondbird’ close to Hobart.

The forty-spotted pardalote has an olive-green back, a light grey belly, a yellow tush and yellow cheek patches, and black wings dotted with white. They can be differentiated from other pardalotes by their lack of facial markings.

Forty-spotted pardalotes rely nearly exclusively on the manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis). They feed amongst the foliage on insects, lerps (crystallised honeydew produced by psyllid bugs) and manna (sugary sap).

Size: Tiny, 10cm

Call: Low two-note ‘whe-ere’.

Where to spot them: Woodland close to coast with plenty of manna gum, occasionally visits Hobart gardens, Coffee Creek area of Peter Murrell Reserve.

3. Green rosella

Platycercus caledonicus

hobart birds

Credit: Francesco Veronesi/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Australia’s largest rosella, these chattering cuties are unique to Tasmania and commonly encountered. They have a mottled dark green back, a yellow head and underparts, blue cheek patches and shoulders, and a bright red brow.

They can be found in any treed habitat, including well-vegetated suburban areas. They feed both in trees and on the ground, munching on seeds, fruit, flowers, insects and nectar.

Size: 32cm

Call: Chattering, harsh ‘cossick’ in flight, whistles.

Where to spot them: Any treed habitat.

4. Masked lapwing

Vanellus miles

hobart birds

Credit: James Niland/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

With its yellow face-mask, small wing-spikes (spurs) and fierce territorial behaviour when nesting, the masked lapwing is the bandit of the bird world. They have a white underside, a black crown and brown wings.

Masked lapwings are common around grassy wetland areas, but they will nest in all kinds of places: urban parks, supermarket carparks and school playing fields. They can be found nesting in every suburb of Hobart, including the city centre. They can be aggressive when breeding.

Size: Mid-szied, 36cm

Call: Loud harsh ‘kekekekekek’.

Where to spot them: Open grassy areas.

5. Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Cacatua galerita

hobart birds

Credit: Ron Knight/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

These raucous parrots can be heard screeching their lungs out – often when you’re trying to sleep in the morning. They are large and white with an impressive yellow, Mohawk-like crest. The undersides of their wings are also splashed with sulphur-yellow colouring.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos have adapted well to city life, and can sometimes be seen destroying light fixtures or timber panelling with their big, grey bill. Their curiosity, intelligence and striking appearance have made them an Australian icon.

Flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos are a common sight throughout Hobart.

Size: 48cm

Call: Extremely loud screeching.

Where to spot them: Parks, gardens, forest.

6. Dusky robin

Melanodryas vittata

hobart birds

Credit: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Another Tassie endemic, dusky robins are understated with brown upperparts and light grey underparts, a dark streak at their eye and a white bar along the edge of their wings.

Dusky robins prefer the edges of clearings, with both open area and dense shrub for protection. They can be seen in recently cleared or burned areas. It can often be spotted perched on stumps or fence posts, giving it the nickname ‘stump robin’.

Size: Small, 15cm

Call: Undulating ‘pree-preeee’.

Where to spot them: Open eucalypt forest, especially the edges of clearings.

7. Australian pied oystercatcher

Haematopus longirostris

hobart birds

Credit: Michael Dawes/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Despite what their name might suggest, oystercatchers do not ‘catch oysters’. In fact, they don’t particularly like the rocky coastline where oysters are found. Instead, oystercatchers prefer sandy beaches and mudflats. They use their long, strong beak to pry open bivalve molluscs, gulping down the exposed soft mollusc body.

Pied oystercatchers are mostly black with a white belly (whereas the related sooty oystercatcher is all black). They have bright orange-red beaks, legs and eye-rings.

If you’re looking for a new stress coping technique, take a cue from oystercatchers: go for a walk on the beach and scream. When oystercatchers pair up, they defend a 200m territory zone of beach around their nest. Both male and female will sound a loud piping alarm call when disturbed.

Size: 50cm

Call: Loud, sharp, high-pitched ‘kur-veee’ (alarm call)

Where to spot them: Common on mudflats and sandy ocean beaches.

8. Short-tailed shearwater

Ardenna tenuirostris

hobart birds

Credit: David Cook/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Every year, 18 million short-tailed shearwaters arrive in Tasmania after a 15,000km, six-week journey from the Arctic regions. They come to Australia to nest in burrows in the ground, and there are some 11 million of these across the state.

These oceanic marathoners, also known as muttonbirds, have dark brown plumage and a one metre wingspan. Their feet are webbed, making them excellent swimmers, and their wings are designed for efficient gliding.

You can often see short-tailed shearwaters floating in big ‘rafts’ in the waters around Tasmania from September to April. A number of birds are commercially or recreationally harvested every year – a tradition originally practiced by Tasmanian Aboriginal people for many generations.

You may also see some dead shearwaters washed up on the shore. Inevitably, a number of birds perish every year on their great migration due to exhaustion, sickness or bad weather.

Size: 42cm

Call: Silent in flight, throaty ‘kooka-rooka-rah’ calls rapidly repeated.

Where to spot them: Coastal waters.

9. Eastern spinebill

Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

hobart birds

Credit: Patrick Kavanagh/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Named for its long, thin downward-curved bill, the spinebill is often seen actively flitting amongst trees and bushes. They feed on nectar and will visit gardens with both native and exotic flowering species, especially epacrids, fuschias and banksias.

Eastern spinebills have a black crown, white breast with a rufous brown patch, a buff-brown underside and upper back, and dark grey wings.

Size: Small, 16cm

Call: Short, fast and high-pitched piping.

Where to spot them: Feeding on flowers in wooded or forested habitat, including well-vegetated gardens.

10. Swift parrot

Lathamus discolour

hobart birds

Credit: Heather/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It’s pretty special to see an endangered species in your backyard, and in Hobart you can do just that when swift parrots arrive in August to breed. ‘Swiftys’ are migratory parrots that spend the winter on the mainland in Victoria and NSW, then fly to eastern Tasmania to breed.

These small parrots are predominantly green, with red on their face and throat, and blue cheeks. They have red shoulders and splashes of blue on the wing. They are most easily identified by the striking red plumage under their wings, visible in flight.

The Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) is an important food source for swift parrots in Tasmania. They also rely on tree hollows for nesting. Both of these have decreased substantially in eastern Tasmania, leading to the decline of the swifty. They can be spotted in Hobart feeding on introduced flowering eucalypts in noisy flocks.

Size: 25cm

Call: Sharp, clear whistle ‘kik-kik-kik-kik’; some chattering.

Where to spot them: Forests, woodlands, agricultural areas, urban gardens.

11. Black currawong

Strepera fuliginosa

hobart birds

Dave Curtis/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Black currawongs are similar in appearance to their mainland-dwelling pied relatives, but as their name suggests, they are pretty much all black – except for white tips on their tail and flight feathers. The best way to distinguish them from other corvids is by their distinctive ‘kar wheek’ call.

Young black currawongs have been observed playing rough-and-tumble with each other.

Currawongs were eaten by early settlers in Tasmania – apparently they tasted pretty good.

Size: 48cm

Call: Quite different to other currawongs – alternating ‘kar wheeek’, loud, musical.

Where to spot them: A diverse array of habitats: forest, heath, suburban areas, farmland.

12. Yellow wattlebird

Anthochaera paradoxa

hobart birds

Dave Curtis/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The yellow wattlebird is Australia’s largest honeyeater and is the unofficial bird emblem of Tasmania. Like their mainland cousins, yellow wattlebirds have brown and white streaked plumage. They have a conspicuous yellow splotch on their belly, and yellow-orange wattles dangling from their cheeks.

The diet of yellow wattlebirds mainly consists of nectar from banksias and eucalypts, but they’ll also munch on the odd insect or overripe fruit. These large-and-in-charge honeyeaters occupy a variety of habitats and are common in parks, gardens and orchards.

Size: 43cm

Call: Coughing ‘yak’ or ‘chok’.

Where to spot them: Forests, common in urban parks and gardens.

13. Yellow-throated honeyeater

Lichenostomus flavicollis

hobart birds

Credit: David Cook/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Common in the gardens of Hobart, the yellow-throated honeyeater likes to feed on insects, nectar and fruit – especially pears. They have an olive-green back, grey underparts flecked with yellow, and a distinctive bright yellow throat that contrasts with their dark grey face.

These birds can be quite territorial, especially during breeding season, and will chase away other honeyeaters and small birds. They collect animal hair from horses, dogs and even humans to line their cup-shaped nest.

Size: 21cm

Call: Loud ‘tonk’, ‘chur-ock churock’, churring.

Where to spot them: Common in urban parks, gardens and orchards.

14. Fan-tailed cuckoo

Cacomantis flabelliformis

hobart birds

Credit: Francesco Veronesi/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The fan-tailed cuckoo has a grey back, wings and head, a boldly barred black and white tail, and a pale rufous belly. It can be distinguished from other similar cuckoo species by its bright yellow eye ring.

Fan-tailed cuckoos are a common sight in Hobart in summer. In non-breeding season, they migrate to the Australian mainland.

Like all cuckoos, these birds are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species. The unwitting hosts for the fan-tailed cuckoo include fairy-wrens, flycatchers, scrub wrens and thornbills.

Size: 26cm

Call: Lilting mournful trill.

Where to spot them: Gardens, orchards, forests of all kinds.

15. Forest raven

Corvus tasmanicus

hobart birds

Credit: Francesco Veronesi/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Like other ravens, the forest raven is dressed beak-to-tail in glossy black with a piercing white eye. Although tricky to differentiate from other ravens, it is the only raven species with a permanent population on Tasmania.

Forest ravens make their home in a range of habitats, including forests, grasslands and urban parks and gardens. A nesting pair has even been spotted in central Hobart. They have benefitted from the increase in roadkill caused by humans, but they also eat insects, fruit and seeds. Their deep gravelly call is well-known throughout Tasmania.

Size: 51cm

Call: Deep, husky ‘korr-korr-korr-korr’ with the last note drawn out.

Where to spot them: Forest, woodlands, mountains, farmland, city fringes.

16. Australian magpie

Cracticus tibicen

hobart birds

Credit: Lisa Hunt/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A fixture of playing fields and early morning soundscapes across Australia, magpies are one of the most conspicuous birds you’re likely to spot in Hobart. A medium-sized bird, they have black and white plumage with a sharp beak.

However, the exact colouring pattern varies across their range. Birds in Hobart have more white on their back than their northern counterparts. Males have pure white feathers and females’ feathers are white-grey ombré. Juveniles are have fluffy down feathers, more grey colouring, and can usually be seen begging for food.

Magpies hang out in groups of up to 24, and they will collectively defend their territory against other ‘pies. Although they are pretty tame for most of the year, spring (breeding season) is accompanied by a fierce aggressiveness. Some birds will defend their nesting territory in a swoop of feathered black and white fury, bringing terror to unsuspecting walkers and cyclists.

Size: 40cm

Call: Loud flute-like song. The ‘quardle-oodle-ardle-wardle-doodle’ call is one of the most complex vocalisations in the bird world.

Where to spot them: Suburban gardens, parks, sports fields and farms paddocks.

17. Little pied cormorant

Microcarbo melanoleucos

hobart birds

Credit: J. Millott/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of Australia’s most common waterbirds, little pied cormorants can be seen congregating along the coast where abundant fish can be found. They’re also found along freshwater waterways, diving for their favourite food: yabbies. They also eat insects and fish.

Little pied cormorants have black upperparts and white underparts. They are similar in appearance to the pied cormorant, but are smaller and lack the yellow face patch. Like other cormorants, little pied cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers, and so can often be seen perched with wings outstretched to dry.

Size: 58cm

Call: Usually silent, croaking.

Where to spot them: Both freshwater and saltwater habitats; sitting on piers, rocks and in trees drying wings.

18. Yellow-tailed black cockatoo

Calyptorhynchus funereus

hobart birds

Credit: David Cook/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Big, black, with a characteristic loping flight and wailing call, yellow-tailed black cockatoos are hard to miss. Their bright yellow tail panels give them their name, and their cheeky faces feature adorable yellow patches.

These cockies feed on wood-boring grubs, seeds and pinecones. You can find them feeding in small flocks in woodland or pine plantations. Young cockatoos can be heard begging for food with a low grumbling call.

Size: Large, 60cm

Call: Mournful high-pitched ‘kee-ow’.

Where to spot them: Woodland, pine plantation, occasionally in urban areas, flapping slowly overhead in small flocks.

19. Great-crested grebe

Podiceps cristatus

hobart birds

Credit: Steve Herring/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This grebe got its ‘great-crested’ name from dark spiky eyebrows, and brown-black ombré neck ruff. It has a long neck, white underparts and white face, and a dark brown back and wings.

Great-crested grebes dive to catch fish, propelled by their large webbed feet. They construct a nest of weeds and mud on the edge of the water amongst vegetation. These wetland habitats are threatened by a number of human activities. Grebes are monogamous, and they perform an elaborate mating ritual – a sort of water ballet – to establish their partnership.

Size: Large, 55cm

Call: Husky honking, shrill ‘er-wick’, whirring.

Where to spot them: Orielton Lagoon; other deep open bodies of water.

20. Musk duck

Biziura lobata

hobart birds

Credit: Ed Dunens/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The musk duck is the only member of its unusual genus, named for the distinctive musky odour that emanates from its rump during mating season. Australia’s largest ducks, they have drab brown plumage and sit very low in the water. The most distinctive feature of the male musk duck is his large, leathery lobe hanging beneath his bill. Females lack this odd appendage.

During mating displays, male musk ducks will inflate their lobe and fan out their tailfeathers, splashing the water with his feet and emitting a loud whistle while throwing back his head.

Musk ducks are excellent divers, thanks to the position of their feet close to the back of their body. They forage underwater for a variety of animals and vegetation.

Size: 55cm

Call: Male emits a sharp high-pitched whistle when displaying.

Where to spot them: Orielton Lagoon; lakes and wetlands with a mixture of reeds and open water.