5 Aussie birds we love to hate

The brush turkey renovates your backyard and the ibis steals your chips, but despite their peskiness, these birds have a lot of redeeming qualities.
By Australian Geographic October 11, 2018 Reading Time: 4 Minutes

HUMANS AND birds don’t always exist in harmony. And that’s especially true in the months of magpie season, during which each and every human within a 100m radius of a magpie nest is considered fair game.

Increasingly more birds are calling urban environments home. In Sydney, more than 50 new bird species have been recorded since 1958, with 15 of those making a permanent home here. Most recently, the yellow-tailed black cockatoo was spotted in Centennial Park.

But unlike the gorgeous black cockies, a lot of the new occupants have a bad reputation, and it isn’t always warranted. Here, we look at some of these birds’ more redeemable qualities.

1. Australian white ibis

Bin rummaging

The ibis has undergone a serious makeover since they were the runners-up in the Guardian’s 2017 Bird of the Year contest. However, a lot of people are still finding these underdogs hard to love.

It’s important to appreciate the long journey these birds have been on. Due to the destruction of their natural habitat, the Macquarie Marshes, ibises were forced to migrate.

Since then, they’ve adapted to survive in the hustle and bustle of Sydney, our biggest capital city, eating anything and everything they can.

A recent study even found that ibises were making meal decisions based on the weather. If it was sunny they knew humans would be out to give them food, if it was raining, they trotted over to The Domain, a park on the city’s eastern edge, to forage naturally.


(Image credit: Super_T/Shutterstock)

2. Australian magpie

Dive bombing

At the moment, magpies have by far the worst reputation of all, death-staring people and swooping them from a distance. Most of these attacks take place between August and November when chicks are in the nest.

Savage attacks, however, aren’t very common, according to experts. When a magpie dive-bombs a human, it’s usually just to intimidate them, rather than to cause actual harm, and there are some ways to avoid these attacks.

Despite their aggressive tendencies, you have to admire Aussie magpies for their incredible intelligence. They’ve been known to play hide and seek, use tools and exhibit complex social relations.


(Image credit: University of Western Australia)

3. Brush turkey

Backyard renovation

The unsolicited nests or large mounds created by brush turkeys are considered to be quite the annoyance by homeowners. In fact, ‘brush turkey deterrent’ is the second top Google search suggestion.

Recently, what’s been described as a ‘turkey army’ has begun invading suburban Sydney, wreaking havoc. A single male brush turkey has been known to demolish a freshly planted and mulched garden in a day, stripping young plants from the ground with seemingly malicious intent. But there’s still plenty to love about them.

The brush turkey is the oldest living member of the ancient megapode family that can only be found in the Indo-Pacific region. That they’ve persisted in urban areas against all odds is an absolute miracle that perplexes scientists.

(Image credit: Esther Beaton)

4. Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Attacking household furniture

Now, the sulphur-crested cockatoo generally has a good reputation with us humans, but that relationship can quickly turn sour in the absence of food. New outdoor set? Goodbye.

There was also that time they attacked the National Broadband Network with estimated damage costs surging to a whopping $80,000.

However, there’s just far too much to love about them, like the fact that they form long-term relationships, the longest recorded lasting 60 years. And of course there’s their iconic golden-yellow crests.

Recently, researchers discovered four drawings of a cockatoo in a book about ornithology and falconry written between 1241 and 1244, pre-dating European settlement in Australia, providing new evidence of a flourishing trade network between Australasia and Europe in the 13th century.

cockatoo and turkey

(Image credit: Esther Beaton)

5. Crest pigeons

Being a pigeon

Pigeons generally have a pretty bad reputation, even though colourful rainforest pigeons exist. The most afflicted by this “dirty” reputation is the widespread crested pigeon.

Unlike the rock dove or common pigeon, an invasive species with which they’re often seen crossing paths, the crested pigeon is native to Australia, and they’re one of only two species of pigeon with an erect crest.

But it’s not just their crest that’s spectacular, they having singing wings. Last year, researchers found that crested pigeons were making high-pitch noises with their feathers to warn other pigeons of potential danger.

topknot pigeon

(Image credit: Mari May/Shutterstock)