1. Australian king-parrot

    Alisterus scapularis

    Clad in vibrant red and green, king-parrots are beautiful visitors to well-treed gardens. They will readily take seed from artificial feeding stations, as well as munching on backyard fruit trees.

    Males have bright red heads and tummies, with a green back and wings. Females differ only in that they have green heads. When viewed under ultraviolet light, some of their wing feathers appear vibrant yellow.

    Size: 42cm

    Call: Loud high-pitched whistle, rolling ‘craarck’ in flight

    Where to spot them: in trees, feeding on fruit or seed

    For more by Tobias: tobiashayashi.com

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    2. Crimson rosella

    Platycercus elegans

    The crimson rosella is another vibrant visitor to Canberra gardens. Throughout Australia there are multiple colour morphs of this rosella species, but here you’ll find classic crimson with blue wings and cheeks. Juveniles have splotches of green plumage.

    Look out for crimson rosellas chattering and whistling in small flocks as they forage for seeds and berries. They will readily visit backyard bird feeders and after some familiarisation, some will accept handheld tidbits.

    Size: 34cm – but most of that length is the long tail!

    Call: metallic ‘klee-klee’, melodious whistling and chattering

    Where to spot them: backyards with trees, forests


    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    3. Galah

    Eolophus roseicapillus

    Unmistakable with their gaudy pink and grey get-up, galahs are a common sight in Canberra – although early records indicate they were once rare visitors. Landscape changes wrought by European settlers have proved beneficial for these cheeky birds.

    Galahs have a dusky pink crest, loud screechy call and can be seen wheeling in playful noisy flocks before bedtime (or rather, roost-time).

    Galah may be slang for an idiot, but these comical parrots are intelligent and form lifelong bonds with their mates.

    Size: mid-sized 36cm

    Call: Loud screech ‘chichi’

    Where to spot them: foraging in open grassy areas, roosting in timbered habitats

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    4. Gang-gang cockatoo

    Callocephalon fimbriatum

    The gang gang’s call is unmistakable: it sounds like a rusty hinge creaking. Both male and female are stocky with dark grey plumage and wispy head-feathers arranged in a curling cowlick. In males, this crest is bright red, while females have slate grey like the rest of their feathers. The gang gang cockatoo is the faunal emblem of the ACT, so look out for it in logo-form on ACT Parks signs.

    Gang gang cockatoos form close pairs – keep an eye out for couples as they scope out nesting holes in eucalypts, or listen for their subdued grumbling as they munch on seeds. Gang gangs are common in autumn and winter. You can spot them year-round, but many leave the city in spring to breed in the surrounding mountains.

    Size: smaller than other cockatoos – 34cm

    Call: creaky screech like a rusty gate

    Where to spot them: in urban parks and gardens, especially near Mount Ainslie, Aranda and Black Mountain.


    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    5. White-throated gerygone

    Gerygone olivacea

    The white-throated gerygone (pronounced ‘je-RIG-oh-nee) is sometimes called the ‘native canary’ for its enchanting musical call. These little birds descend on Canberra in spring and summer to breed. Males will sing their rich melodies throughout the day – clear cascading trills up to 20 seconds long. They mate for life, and build a hanging tear-shaped nest from bark and twigs bound with spider silk.

    You can spot them flitting after insects in the outer canopies of woodlands. Both male and female are grey-brown with canary-yellow tummies and a white patch on their throat.

    Size: 11cm

    Call: rich, clear warbling

    Where to spot them: eucalypt woodlands

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    6. Noisy miner

    Manorina melanocephala

    These small birds are feisty, and they certainly live up to their ‘noisy’ moniker. Grey-feathered with a black face and a yellow bill, noisy miners can be found in suburban gardens and parks. As part of the honeyeater family, they eat nectar, fruit and insects, usually in a rowdy group.

    Noisy miners are aggressive, often attacking much bigger birds such as hawks. They’re also curious: some have been recorded opening sugar packets at cafés in search of a sweet snack.

    Don’t confuse noisy miners, which are native, with the introduced common myna. Noisy miners are mostly grey whereas common mynas are dark brown and black.

    Size: 26cm

    Call: Loud piping ‘pee-pee-pee’.

    Where to spot them: Woodland, urban parks and gardens.

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

    7. Eastern spinebill

    Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

    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. Spinebills also enjoy the odd insect or two.

    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

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    8. Magpie-lark/peewee

    Grallina cyanoleuca

    Also known as a peewee, the black-and-white magpie-lark is a familiar sight in Canberra. Although the magpie-lark and magpie share both a similar name and black and white colouring, they can easily be distinguished. Magpie-larks are smaller, have a thin white bill, and have more white plumage.

    They are usually seen on the ground foraging for insects and earthworms. They can be aggressive during breeding season and will even attack their own reflection in windows.

    Size: 28cm

    Call: shrill ‘pee-wee’

    Where to spot them: open grassy areas, foreshores of wetlands and waterways

    Photo Credit: Andrew Thomas/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    9. Crested pigeon

    Ocyphaps lophotes

    Once restricted to the inland arid regions of Australia, crested pigeons have found a new niche in Australia’s cities. These punk pigeons are easily identified by their spiky black crest. They have a grey face and underparts melding into sandy brown upperparts. The wings are striped with black and feature metallic patches of purple and green.

    When crested pigeons flap their wings, a noisy whistle is produced due to air rushing over a specially modified feather. Upon landing, they will flick their tails up.

    To attract a female, male crested pigeons perform a pigeon version of moshing. They bob their plump bodies up and down, fanning out their tail and wings and making soft hoots.

    Crested pigeons inhabit open grassy areas including parks, playing fields and grain fields.

    Size: 30cm

    Call: soft hooting, but you’re more likely to hear the whistle (like a wind-up toy) of their wings

    Where to spot them: parks, sports fields, open lawns, farmland

    Photo Credit: Robyn Jay/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    10. Flame robin

    Petroica phoenicea

    These striking songbirds are named for the males’ vivid orange-red breast plumage. Males also sport slate-grey upperparts, a white moustache and dark wings and tail edged with white. They can be tricky to differentiate from male scarlet robins and red-capped robins – similar species with red colouring – but here’s a handy feature to note: flame robins’ red colouring extends all the way to the base of their bill. Female flame robins, on the other hand, are much more plainly garbed in grey-brown with creamy underparts. They can be difficult to distinguish from other robin species.

    Flame robins are territorial and will defend their patch by puffing up their feathers into a grumpy orange-red bird-orb. They also have a loud musical call that can be heard from 150 metres away. These ostentatious little guys don’t shy away from an audience: they will take centre stage on a stump or fence post to belt out their high-pitched call. It consists of three sets of three descending notes, sometimes likened to ‘you-are-not-a-pretty-bird-like-me’.

    During winter, foraging flocks of flame robins can be spotted in the parks, fields and gardens of Canberra’s suburban fringe. They spend their summers in the mountains raising a family with their mate.

    Size: 13cm

    Call: high-pitched descending trill, in groups of three notes

    Where to spot them: perched on a stump or fence ready to pounce on an insect; foraging in open fields or clearings in winter

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    11. White-winged chough

    Corcorax melanorhamphos

    The chough (pronounced ‘chuff’) is an intriguing and amusing bird to watch. Choughs are glossy black birds sometimes mistaken for ravens or currawongs. You can differentiate them by their slender, curved bill, red eyes, and white patches on their wing. Plus, they’re usually hanging out in family groups of about ten birds, foraging for seeds and insects among the leaf litter.

    Choughs have a complex social structure and are cooperative breeders. The fam will build a mud nest together, and the breeding adults will lay eggs. Raising the resulting young is a group effort, with everyone pitching in to help. Sometimes, groups will kidnap young choughs from other flocks to boost their chick-rearing manpower (many beaks make light work!).

    Size: 45cm

    Call: scratchy, screeching alarm call; piping whistle with a melancholy tone

    Where to spot them: Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie, and the university campuses.

    Photo Credit:

    12. White-eared honeyeater

    Nesoptilotis leucotis

    White-eared honeyeaters frequent Canberran gardens from April to late August. They are distinctive in both appearance and voice: both sexes are olive-green with a yellow tinge, topped with black head plumage and little white ear patches.

    You’ll usually see these honeyeaters on their own, foraging for insects under bark or amongst eucalypt leaves. They’re fast-paced feeders, wolfing down one insect every five seconds on average.

    In summer, white-eared honeyeaters return to the mountains to breed. If you’re up in the ranges at this time, look out for crafty individuals plucking hair from livestock, native mammals or even your own head of hair – white-eared honeyeaters use this to line their nests!

    Size: 20cm

    Call: clear, slightly metallic ‘ki-chwu’, a low, gravelly ‘tch-wok-wok-wok’ and a scratchy ‘tchwik’.

    Where to spot them: foraging in eucalypts in the suburbs from April to late August

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    13. Superb fairy-wren

    Malurus cyaneus

    These tiny feather-spheres make up for their small size with bright colours – or at least, the males do. Male superb fairy-wrens don striking blue and black breeding plumage, while their tum is white-grey. Females and young birds are brown-grey all over.

    Superb fairy-wrens are common in urban gardens and parks, as long as there is sufficiently dense, low shrubbery for shelter. They can be seen flitting in and out of bushes low to the ground, catching insects. They feed in small social groups, usually consisting of one male plus several females and young birds.

    The mating habits of superb fairy-wrens are more scandalous than celebrity tabloid news: One female may be courted by up to 13 males in the space of half an hour, and three quarters of a female’s offspring will be fathered by males outside her social group.

    Size: small – 14 cm

    Call: high-pitched trills

    Where to spot them: darting in and out of low bushes in parks, gardens and forest. Common in the Australian National Botanic Gardens

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    14. Australian wood-duck

    Chenonetta jubata

    The wood-duck resembles a small, dumpy goose. They’re an abundant and well-loved resident of the Australian National University campus – but they’re common throughout Canberra. Both male and female have grey wings, black stripes along their backs, and mottled breasts. Males have a dark brown head and a short Mohawk hairdo, while females’ heads are paler brown with white stripes above and below the eyes.

    We’re used to seeing ducks in the water and waddling across the ground, but it’s not unusual to spot these ducks perched high in a tree. Monogamous pairs nest in tree hollows, laying eggs in a swathe of down. After hatching, the ducklings have to make the daring leap from the tree hole to the ground!

    Size: 47cm

    Call: rising honk

    Where to spot them: wetlands, urban parks, farmland near dams

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    15. Bush stone-curlew

    Burhinus grallarius

    Until just three years ago, the bush stone-curlew was last seen in Canberra in the 1970s. These long-legged birds were once widespread in suitable habitats across Australia, but numbers have drastically declined in many places due to habitat loss and predation by foxes. In 2014, bush stone-curlews returned to the Canberra region as part of a reintroduction program at Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary.

    Also known as the bush thick-knee, bush stone-curlews are ground-dwelling birds best-known for their unnerving wailing call heard at night. They are mostly a dull brown on their back, streaked with black and varying shades of brown. Their underparts are off-white with dark streaks, and they have large yellow eyes framed by a white eyebrow.

    Bush stone-curlews are nocturnal, foraging for a range of insects, seeds, lizards and molluscs at night. During breeding season, they perform an elaborate courtship ritual. Birds stretch out their wings, fan up their tails and extend their necks forward, stamping their feet as if marching, and screaming continuously. This rhythmic boogie/karaoke sesh can continue for up to an hour at a time.

    Size: 56cm

    Call: eerie high-pitched ‘weeerr-loooo’, often heard at dusk

    Where to spot them: Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary

    Photo Credit: Geoff Whalan/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    16. Eastern yellow robin

    Eopsaltria australis

    If you venture into the denser, shadier spots in the woodland reserves around Canberra, you may encounter the inquisitive eastern yellow robin. These robins have a grey back and head, yellow tummy and olive rump. You’ll usually spot them clinging to the side of a tree trunk before darting off to snatch an insect – the classic ‘perch and pounce’ hunting technique.

    Eastern yellow robins are confident around humans and thus easily observed, however they only rarely venture into backyards. They’re one of the first birds to call at dawn, so next time you embark on an early morning stroll, listen out for their high-pitched piping interspersed by a repeating sharp ‘chop’.

    Size: 16cm

    Call: repeated bell-like piping, sharp ‘chop’s

    Where to spot them: denser woodland and forest, Mount Ainslie, Black Mountain

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    17. Eurasian coot

    Fulica atra

    Part of the rail family, coots have sooty black plumage with a silver-white bill that extends into a face shield. Nestlings are dark and downy with dishevelled red and orange heads. Coots are noisy and their main call is an explosive loud honk.

    Although they may appear pretty chill, coots can be aggressive and ruthless. They are fiercely territorial when breeding, sometimes tipping the eggs out of other nests or killing the young of other species. If food is scarce, coots may even kill their own young.

    Eurasian coots are found across several continents including Europe and Asia. Although omnivorous, coots in Australia tend to eat mostly vegetable matter. They can dive for up to 15 second, and up to seven metres, to feed.

    Size: 46cm

    Call: trumpeting

    Where to spot them: wetlands, lagoons and swamps 

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    18. Satin bowerbird

    Ptilonorhynchus violaceus

    Male bowerbirds build an impressive structure out of sticks called a bower. They decorate it with blue things: berries, flowers and even bits of plastic. When a female comes to visit, he puts on a mating display. If she likes his moves and his interior decorating, the pair will mate.

    Male bowerbirds are dressed beak-to-tail in a glossy metallic black. Females are garbed much more plainly; in olive-brown upperparts and wings, and a light buff-coloured underside with a scalloped pattern. Juveniles resemble females until the age of five. Both sexes have a striking violet-blue eye.

    Size: 30cm

    Call: a wide variety of whistles, buzzing and cheeps, including mimicry.

    Where to spot them: the Australian National Botanic Gardens

    Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    19. Wedge-tailed eagle

    Aquila audax

    The majestic wedgie is Australia’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of 2.3m. They are common in the hills and mountains surrounding Canberra, and may occasionally be seen cruising high above the outer suburbs to the south and west of the city. Wedge-tailed eagles are named for the characteristic shape of their tails. Their plumage is brown to reddish brown, and their feathers extend like trousers down to their powerful talons.

    Wedgies use these talons to catch live prey such as rabbits or tear into roadkill. Eagles have been observed attacking large animals including kangaroos – but these big birds are shy and won’t attack ground-dwelling humans. However, your drone may not fare so well if it strays into the territory of a wedgie – they’ve been known to defend their nest sites from threats including model airplanes and hang gliders.

    Look out for their nests (a giant bundle of sticks) high in an exposed tree. One recorded nest measured an impressive 1.8m across, 3m deep and weighed 400kg!

     Size: massive – 2.3m wingspan

    Where to spot them: Namadgi National Park, Murrumbidgee river corridor

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

    20. Weebill

    Smicrornis brevirostris

    Australia’s smallest bird is named after its pint-sized bill – you can spot weebills in Canberra’s woodlands and tree-filled gardens. They flit amongst the outer edges of the canopy, snacking on insects. In winter, they’ll join forces with silvereyes and thornbills to form ‘team tiny’ feeding flocks.

    Weebills have brown heads blending into olive colouring on their backs, and buff underparts. Their tailfeathers and wings are also coloured pale brown. You can differentiate them from other similarly coloured birds due to their small stature, stubby bills, and absence of spots or stripes on the face.

    Size: 8cm

    Call: high-pitched twittering, ‘wee-willy-tee-wee’; sharp cheeps

    Where to spot them: feeding in active flocks in eucalypts

    Photo Credit: © Tobias Hayashi

GALLERY: Urban bird watching guide to Canberra

By AG STAFF | September 22, 2017

The woodlands, grasslands and backyards of Canberra are teeming with birdlife. “Canberra is known as the ‘Bush Capital’ for good reason,” says local birder and photographer Tobias Hayashi. “Many reserves within and around the city attract lots of wildlife.” The annual Garden Bird Survey, running since 1981, has collected a treasure trove of observations for more than 200 species. For a bird watching adventure close to the CBD, Tobias recommends Mount Ainslie. “The grassy woodland around the base of Mount Ainslie, in particular Campbell Park, is probably one of the best and most easily accessible places to see a wide range of bush birds,” he says. “In spring, many species can be found busily building nests, only a few kilometres from the city centre.” The Australian National Botanic Gardens is another great spot to hang out with the local birds. Keep an eye out for two special residents. “There is a very large resident population of superb fairy-wrens, which have been part of an ongoing study by researchers looking at the promiscuous sexual behaviours of these iconic birds,” says Tobias. “There are many satin bowerbirds around the gardens as well, and if you look closely you may find a bower,” he adds. Further afield, keen Canberra twitchers flock to Jerrabomberra Wetlands. According to Tobias, “The wetlands support a great range of birds including many waterbirds and birds of prey. Rare birds from other states turn up at the wetlands too.” For a ‘wilderness’ birding experience, there’s always Namadgi National Park, which makes up more than 40% of the ACT. “In the wetter forests, you may find lyrebirds, rufous fantails and even the odd wonga pigeon, which has recently returned to the area after disappearing following the 2003 bushfires,” says Tobias. Here are 20 Canberran residents you may encounter on your birding adventures. Text by Ellen Rykers.