Biggest budgie flocks in a decade

By Natsumi Penberthy 23 November 2012
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As boom time ends for outback budgies, flocks up to 60,000 strong are congregating on water bodies.

THE RESIDENTS OF Alice Springs have sighted plenty of small flocks of budgies in recent months. Now, reports of flocks between 10,000 and 60,000 strong, darkening the skies over local water sources, have been confirmed.

Budgies normally travel in flocks of around 100, but they have been breeding prolifically over the last few years due to good rain. This is a normal part of the boom-bust cycle of central Australia. 

When the rains dry up, the inflated population goes in search of water and massive numbers converge on available sources – often manmade dams and bore holes – creating an impressive spectacle. Residents report that they haven’t seen anything quite on the current scale for over a decade.

Huge budgie flocks in central Australia

“There were high numbers about 4-6 weeks ago,” says Timothy Hill, a local archaeologist and photographer. “Then we had a little bit of rain, and all the flocks spread out again… now that’s it’s starting to dry up they’re coming back.”


Thirsty budgies seek out water as the outback turns dry once more. (Credit: Timothy Hill)

For those in the know, news of the sight quickly made its way around the world, attracting film crews from Australia, the US and the UK.

Among locals, the exact locations of the big flocks are a closely guarded secret. Tim got a tip-off from a hot air balloon pilot about a flock at a dam around 40km south of Alice.

The budgies follow a distinct pattern when they flock in large numbers, Tim told Australian Geographic.

“At first light you’ll see a few on the horizon, just a few small flocks. It gets to about 20 minutes after sunrise and you start to see all the small flocks come together. Then, after about 40 minutes, the first large group of maybe a couple of thousand will come down for a drink. And then they all come in – wave, after wave, after wave – for about an hour and a half.”

Birdwatching at Alice Springs

The flocks are also drawing in hungry raptors, such as brown falcons, says Tim, who took the photos illustrating this story. However, these big birds don’t necessarily get an easy meal.

The budgie flocks display high speed and fluid motion, something like a shoal of fish. “They’ll go along, and all of a sudden switch and change direction,” he says. “It’s a real behavioural mechanism to defend the group.”

All in all it’s pretty magical, Tim adds. “It’s not just the sight, but the sound it. Not just the budgies cheeping, but of all those thousands of wings fluttering and keeping them aloft.”

Central Australian flocks are large enough to darken the skies near Alice. (Credit: Timothy Hill)