1. Carnaby’s black cockatoo

    Calyptorhynchus latirostris

    These black beauties are endemic to southwest WA and are counted every year by Perth birders in The Great Cocky Count. Carnaby’s black-cockatoos have grey-black feathers edged with white, giving their plumage a scalloped pattern. They have short crests, white cheek patches and a white tail band.

    You may spot them flying overhead with deep, undulating wingbeats, or perched in flocks on the crown of a tree, cracking open the nuts and seeds of banksia, eucalypts and introduced pines.

    Unfortunately, Carnaby’s black-cockatoos are endangered. Their numbers have been in steep decline over recent decades and continue to be at risk due to habitat destruction. Like other cockatoos, they rely on tree-holes for nesting. Trees must be at least 100 years old before they develop hollows big enough to accommodate a Carnaby’s couple.

    Carnaby’s black-cockatoos can be tricky to distinguish from Perth’s other black-cockatoos, but the good folks at Birdlife Australia can help with identification.

    Size: 53–58cm with wingspan greater than 1m

    Call: screechy ‘wy-lah’

    Where to spot them: eucalyptus woodland, especially with wandoo and salmon gum, Dryandra Woodland, Wandoo Woodlands (Collins Road)

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    2. Blue-billed duck

    Oxyura australis

    Blue-billed ducks don’t usually have blue bills. Most of the time, they’re a drab slate-grey. But come breeding season, males’ bills will become bright blue, accompanied by a change in plumage from speckly grey to deep chestnut and black. Females’ feathers are black tipped with brown year-round, and both sexes sport spiky stuff tailfeathers.

    When trying to woo a mate, males will perform an elaborate splashy courtship display. However these quiet ducks can be secretive during this time, inhabiting deep swamps with lots of vegetation.

    Outside of breeding season, large flocks of these (pretty much) exclusively aquatic ducks can form. When disturbed, blue-billed ducks don’t take off in a fright-flight, opting instead to dive deep and resurface far away.

    Size: 40cm

    Call: low quack, but not usually heard

    Where to spot them: Herdsman Lake, freshwater swamps with plenty of vegetation

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    3. Splendid fairy-wren

    Malurus splendens splendens

    Also known as the ‘blue wren’, these tiny tweeters are named for the resplendent breeding plumage of males: shades of shimmering azure are offset by bands of black around the face and neck. This iridescent blue probably appears even more spectacular to avian eyes, as they can see light in the ultraviolet spectrum. Females and nonbreeding males are much blander in contrast, with brown feathers washed with a bluish tinge.

    Like other fairy-wrens, those of the Splendid variety have social lives worthy of celebrity tabloids. They form bonds with just one partner but chase tail on the side! Males will entice females by fanning out their face feathers, performing exaggerated flight patterns reminiscent of a sea horse, and presenting her with pretty pink and purple petals.

    Size: 14cm

    Call: zizzing reel, louder than other fairy-wrens

    Where to spot them: Ellis Brook Valley, Star Swamp, dense shrubland and forest margins

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    3. Forest red-tailed black-cockatoo

    Calyptorhynchus banksii naso

    The subspecies of red-tailed black-cockatoo found in Perth has a rather large bill, resulting in the scientific moniker of ‘naso’. Males are black with dark grey bills and fiery red panels in their tailfeathers. Females have paler bills, and their black plumage is adorned with orangey stripes on the tail and chest and yellow-red spots on the cheeks.

    Forest red-tailed black-cockatoos inhabit forests and eucalypt woodlands near waterways, where they congregate in noisy flocks.

    When courting, a male will puff up his helmet-like crest and cheek feathers, then growl softly as he struts and jumps to show off his vivid tailfeathers. The female will usually respond by biting him.

    Size: 60cm

    Call: metallic, rolling ‘cree-cree’

    Where to spot them: Ellis Brook Valley

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    5. Western rosella

    Platycercus icterotis

    This southwest WA endemic is the smallest of all the rosellas, and the only one with sunshine-yellow cheeks. Males are mostly red with green rumps and blue on their wings and tailfeathers. Females are mostly green with red flecks on their underparts. These quiet, sweet birds hang out in pairs or small family groups, sometimes flocking in larger bands during winter. They usually forage on the ground, snacking on seeds and grasses.

    Size: 26cm

    Call: soft ringing ‘clink-clink’

    Where to spot them: Dryandra Woodlands, open forests, farms

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    6. Singing honeyeater

    Gavicalis virescens

    Singing honeyeaters are very common in Perth’s suburban parks and backyards, with some streets home to one male every 50m or so. Both male and female are grey-brown, with olive-yellow colouring on their wings and tails. They wear a black mask across their eyes, underlined with yellow. If you’re an early riser, you may hear their dawn chorus of lively whistles, which can last for up to one hour.

    Singing honeyeaters live in noisy family groups of 5-6 birds, and they will form angry mobs to gang up on intruders to their territory.

    Size: 19cm

    Call: strong rolling whistles

    Where to spot them: woodlands, suburbs, Rottnest Island

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    7. Grey butcherbird

    Cracticus torquatus

    These feisty little birds are named for their habit of impaling prey on sticks, or hanging it in tree forks. Butcherbirds have a little hook in the end of their upper bill – perfect for grabbing prey such as small lizards, birds and insects.

    They look vaguely like a small kingfisher, but have a black head, white underside, grey back and thin white collar. Juveniles have browner colouring.

    Size: 27cm

    Call: Enchanting musical call, interspersed with harsher notes.

    Where to spot them: Sitting on an open perch, wooded habitats including suburbs.

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    8. Musk duck

    Biziura lobata

    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, a male musk duck will inflate his lobe and fan out his 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: lakes and wetlands; Herdsman Lake

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    9. Red-eared firetail 

    Stagonopleura oculata

    Red-eared firetails are yet another southwest WA endemic to keep an eye – or ear – out for. These finches are shy and can be difficult to find, but a good strategy is to listen for their calls. Red-eared firetails are mainly brown – perhaps to help them blend in with the ground while foraging – but they do sport crimson bills, ear spots and rumps as well as a black-and-white-spotted belly.

    Red-eared firetails live in shrubby vegetation and are usually found in small flocks or by themselves.

    Size: 12cm

    Call: piercing single note ‘oooeee’

    Where to spot them: Perth Hills, Ellis Brook Valley below the falls, feeding in open on grass at Victoria Reservoir

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    10. Red-capped parrot

    Purpureicephalus spurius

    These vibrant parrots are dressed in a ruby-red crown, contrasting with lime green cheeks, dark green upperparts and indigo blue underparts. Their rump merges from lime into green on their tail and dark blue tail-tips, while their flanks are red.

    Look for these flying rainbows in open forests, farmland, and suburban landscapes. They particularly like to munch on marri seeds, using their long, hook-shaped bill to extract the goodies – a specialised technique that juveniles must learn.

    Size: 36cm

    Call: shrieks, two-syllable ‘shrek-shrek’ when flying

    Where to spot them: Ellis Brook Valley, Wandoo Woodlands (Collins Road), and suburban gardens

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    11. Red-winged fairy-wren

    Malurus elegans

    These cuties are endemic to southwest WA, and are the largest of the fairy-wrens. Like other fairy-wrens, males get all dressed up to impress the ladies, with chestnut-red shoulder pads, greyish wings and tail, pale grey underparts, an indigo cravat edged with black, and topped off with a shimmering crown of silvery-blue. Females and juveniles remain plain in grey-brown get-up.

    These fuzzballs will sing to say, “this is my territory!” and individuals can be distinguished on song alone. Their other antics include ‘hop-searching’ for insects to eat and presenting yellow petals to their mates.

    Size: 15cm

    Call: short, high-pitched reel; soft ‘tsee-tsee’; loud sharp ‘tsit’

    Where to spot them: Ellis Brook Valley, Victoria Reservoir, shrubby vegetation in wetter forests with karri

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    12. Western spinebill

    Acanthorhynchus superciliosus

    Like its eastern cousins, the western spinebill is named for its long slender curved bill – the perfect tool for imbibing nectar from banksia flowers. The male is strikingly patterned with a grey back and wings, creamy underparts, and a copper-coloured nape and throat. Single bands of black and white ring the chest, while a white beard and eyebrows offset the black head. The female is similar in colouration but duller, and lacks the distinctive black and white bands.

    Size: 14cm

    Call: shrill staccato ‘kleet-kleet’

    Where to spot them: Ellis Brook, Dryandra Woodlands, heath and woodland

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    13. Australian ringneck

    Barnardius zonarius semitorquatus

    There are four subspecies of the Australian ringneck, and the variety found in Perth is called the ‘twenty-eight parrot’ after its friendly whistling call. All ringnecks are mostly green with an unmistakable yellow band around the nape of their neck. Perth’s resident ringnecks sport a black head, bright green back, rump, wings and abdomen, and a teal breast. Their cheeks are flushed blue and their bills are decorated with a crimson forehead spot.

    The Noongar people cherished these charming parrots and welcomed them as guardians against evil spirits.

    Ringnecks nest in tree hollows – homes that have been hard to come by since the influx of introduced aggressive rainbow lorikeets.

    Size: 36cm

    Call: whistled ‘twenty-eight’, loud ‘kwink-kwink’ in flight, soft chattering

    Where to spot them: eucalypt woodlands, Ellis Brook Valley, Wandoo Woodlands (Collins Road), Dryandra Woodlands, parks and gardens

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    14. White-winged fairy-wren

    Malurus leucopterus leuconotus

    Most of the time, these feather-spheres appear sandy-brown with bluish tailfeathers. But come breeding season, the males transform into electric blue attention-seekers.

    In a courtship display, he will bow to a female, flattening his feathers to the horizontal. A white band, formed by their wingfeathers, accentuates his striking blue plumage. Females will respond by performing a wing-fluttering dance: she will lower her head and tail, then outstretch her wings and flutter them with an open beak.

    Nests are hidden close to the ground, so be careful you don’t trample any on your quest to see all five fairy-wren species!

    Size: 13cm

    Call: high-pitched, three to five chirps followed by series of rising and falling notes

    Where to spot them: coastal suburbs, saltbush and heathland

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    15. Little corella

    Cacatua sanguinea

    These noisy rascals love to play. You can spot them sliding down steep roofs, hanging upside down by their feet, dangling by their bill, or even taking a spin on a whirlybird air vent. All the while, they’ll be screeching with delight or chuckling away – a laughing call that resembles the cartoon character Peter Griffin’s snigger.

    Little corellas are small white cockatoos with triangular crests, blue eyerings, a rosy splotch between the bill and eye, and a sulphur-yellow wash under their wings visible in flight. They congregate in large flocks to play or feed on seeds on the ground.

    They can be distinguished from other corella species by their small stature and short bills. Western corellas are no longer common in Perth, while the introduced eastern long-billed corellas have much longer upper mandibles than their little cousins. Introduced corellas are widespread in the metro area, and are a problem for the endemic black-cockatoos, as they compete with them for nest space.

    Size: 37cm

    Call: chuckling, screeches

    Where to spot them: lawns and playing fields

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    16. Western wattlebird

    Anthochaera lunulata

    Until recently, the western-dwelling wattlebirds were considered to be the same species as their east coast little wattlebird cousins. However, in 2008, they were officially granted full species status. Despite their name, western wattlebirds don’t actually have wattles. They are dark brown streaked with white, have a red eye, bright silvery cheek stripe and copper patches on their wings that are visible in flight.

    Western wattlebirds feed on nectar using their brush-tipped tongue, and can be found in Perth’s suburban gardens – although their distribution is a little patchy.

    Size: 29cm

    Call: rapid twittering, squeaking and ‘quok’ing

    Where to spot them: Star Swamp, King’s Park Botanic Gardens, Wireless Hill Park

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    17. Variegated fairy-wren

    Malurus lamberti assimilis

    In Perth, these tiny rainbow-balls are often called purple-backed fairy-wrens – which some scientists have suggested deserves to be separated as its own species, due to genetic differences between them and their east coast relatives.

    Breeding males don a technicolour dream coat: brilliant blue crown and ear tufts, a royal blue upper back, black throat and nape, chestnut shoulders, blue-grey tail, grey wings and a creamy white belly. Females are grey washed with a blue hue.

    Fairy-wrens hop energetically, balanced by their disproportionately long tail. Their stubby little wings are only good for short flights.

    Size: 13cm

    Call: Fast, metallic reel

    Where to spot them: northern Perth suburbs, low shrubland

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    18. Freckled duck

    Stictonetta naevosa

    You can see Australia’s rarest waterfowl just a few kilometres from the CBD: the aptly named freckled duck. These large-headed ducks have dark brown plumage flecked with white. Their bill is slate grey and slightly upturned – but in breeding season, the male’s bill will be tinged with fire engine red.

    Freckled ducks prefer well-vegetated freshwater swamps, but also inhabit lakes, wetlands and sewage ponds. Alternative names include the oatmeal duck – because apparently their plumage looks like oatmeal – and the monkey duck – an enigmatic name, the origin of which has been lost.

    Size: 54cm

    Call: soft piping, melodious ‘wheeeooo’

    Where to spot them: Herdsman Lake

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    19. Blue-breasted fairy-wren

    Malurus pulcherrimus

    The blue-breasted fairy-wren is very similar in appearance to the variegated fairy-wren, so you’ll need a keen eye to differentiate the two. The blue-breasted fellows have a more violet-hued crown and saddle, and their breast is navy blue rather than black.

    These blue boys and their families live in the dense understory of woodland, heath and mallee scrub. They can be tricky to observe due to their secretive nature.

    Like all fairy-wrens, the blue-breasted variety has a complex social structure with cooperative breeding practices. Groups will usually consist of one male in breeding plumage with a number of females and younger males (including previous years’ offspring), who all pitch in to help raise the new brood.

    Size: 15cm

    Call: soft reel

    Where to spot them: Dryandra Woodland, Wandoo Woodland (Collins Road)

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

    20. Willie wagtail

    Rhipidura leucophrys

    These black-and-white fantails are feisty little creatures. They are territorial and will attack much larger animals including kookaburra, wedgetail eagles and even snakes! However, they are mostly tolerant of their human neighbours and can be surprisingly tame.

    Willie wagtails are named for their habit of wagging their tail back and forth while perched. They are mostly black, with white underparts, pointy white eyebrows that make them look angry, and white whiskery bits on their face.

    Size: 20cm

    Call: ‘sweet-pretty-creature’, harsh ‘chit-chit’ alarm call

    Where to spot them: common in urban parks and gardens

    Photo Credit: © Ken Glasson

Urban birdwatching guide to Perth

By Ellen Rykers | October 11, 2017

From the ephemeral lakes to the woodlands and eastern hills, Perth abounds with birds – some 190 species in total.

We spoke to expert birders Ken Glasson, Keith Wilcox, John Baas and Mike Bamford from Birdlife WA for some insider tips for finding Perth’s feathered residents. “Most of these birds can be viewed within the metro area,” our experts explained, “But some species do warrant short trips outside the city.”

Bird watchers are likely to spot a few birds that are unique to WA, such as the iconic but endangered Carnaby’s black-cockatoo. But it’s in the tiny feather-sphere category that Perth really excels: “Perth has a remarkable collection of fairy-wrens,” Ken says. “There are five species present, including the widespread splendid blue wren and the southwest endemic red-winged fairy-wren in the hills. Perth is the only major urban area where you can see the white-winged fairy-wren.”

The lakes and Swan River estuary system are perfect for meeting waterbirds and migratory waders – but plan ahead, according to our insiders. “Many lakes are ephemeral and dry but late summer, so make enquiries before planning a trip. Also, many species are migratory and have limited seasons in the WA sun,” they explain. Our experts recommend Herdsman Lake, a wetland just 7km from the CBD where over 100 species have been recorded.

For bush birds, check out Ellis Brook Valley, where a whopping 110 bird species have been spotted. “There are many good walks here, but the ones from the last car park before the falls are probably the best,” our birders advise.

For the best chance of sighting the 20 beauties in this gallery, Ken suggests checking out Wandoo Woodlands (accessed off Collins Road), Star Swamp and Rottnest Island, in addition to Herdsman Lake and Ellis Brook mentioned above.

Grab your binoculars and get ready for an urban birding adventure – west coast style.