Stunning flocks of budgies in outback Australia

By AG Staff Writer 24 March 2016
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UK-based photographer Paul Williams used Google Earth to find and photograph this “tornado” of budgies around a waterhole in outback Australia.

DURING THE HOT, dry summer months, Central Australia is often beset by a beautiful plague – flocks of thousands of green budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) in search of increasingly scarce sources of water.

It’s a phenomenon British wildlife photographer Paul Williams, a producer and director with BBC Natural History, was keen to capture on a visit to Australia in late 2015. 

“I drove up and down the desert searching the horizon for signs of flocking birds – in the wild budgies are all green, and they stand out amongst the red/orange land and blue sky of the outback,” says Paul, who used Google Earth to find waterholes south of Alice Springs, where he hoped the budgies would congregate.

“A green tornado”

“I eventually came across [a waterhole] that was littered with little green feathers and fresh droppings. I returned to the waterhole just before dawn,” he says.

“It was silent but as the sun rose the tweets of thousands of birds could be heard coming from the distance, getting louder and louder. Small clouds of birds grew into bigger ones. It wasn’t long before the sky above me was filled with the flutters of thousands of budgies – as many as 80,000 – a green tornado circling around the waterhole.”

Paul says birds of prey including black and brown falcons soon arrived on the scene to try and hunt the flocking budgies. “To confuse the falcons, budgies took turns to drink, while others erupted into mesmerising murmurations of green, creating giant morphing shapes like those formed by starlings in the UK,” he says.

“In less than two hours all the budgies had disappeared, they hid amongst the long spinifex grass where they spent the rest of the baking-hot day feeding on the dry seeds. The spectacle lasted for five mornings until the birds moved on.”