Outback birdlife

In the previous post on Northern Territory birdlife I did not mention one place where there is an abundance of outback birdlife because it deserves a post of its own. Territory Wildlife Park is just 45 minutes south of Darwin and is unique in having so many distinctly different habitats in such a small area.

Male Crimson Finches (Neochmia phaeton) Copyright Lip Kee Yap and used under the Creative Commons Licence source: wikipedia.org
Male Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)
Copyright Lip Kee Yap – used under the Creative Commons Licence – source: wikipedia.org

There are freshwater lagoons, billabongs and wetlands, monsoon forests with springs and woodlands all within walking distance of each other. With such diversity of habitats comes a huge diversity of birds.

As the name Territory Wildlife Park implies the birds and animals are only what would be seen in the Northern Territory. Yes, some of the birds are captive but many are not. Some birds are free to come and go like those at Goose Lagoon. Others are in large enclosures and aviaries. Walking around the Monsoon Forest Walk you come across different large aviaries each with birds specific to a particular eco-system. The walk climaxes in a giant walk-through aviary where the path spirals through the treetops and down to a stream and ground dwelling birds. Perhaps the highlight of any visit to the Territory Wildlife Park is the Flight Deck show. This is not, as the name suggests, a display by the Royal Australian Air Force but a live show of birds. In my experience there have always been trained raptors with leashes. Firstly raptors were only a part of the show and secondly only one bird had leash tassels; all the others were free.

It is a great place to see the diversity of outback birdlife concentrated in one place. Some of the birds would be difficult to spot elsewhere like this Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii) were they not in an aviary.

Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)
Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)

The name is a bit of a misnomer as despite being in the kingfisher family it almost solely hunts land invertebrates, small frogs and lizards. It nests in termite mounds and will chisel out a burrow with its beak by flying at the mound. Often the force of the impact will knock it unconscious.

In the next aviary there were flashes of blood red as Crimson Finches (Neochmia phaeton) darted around among the foliage. It is also known as the Blood finch because of the male’s predominantly bright red plumage (see the small photograph above).

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Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)

Also in one of the aviaries was the Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). This bird is endemic to Australia though it is more familiar to most people as a pet.

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The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)

The walk-through aviary immerses you in the forest canopy and the forest floor. Once inside it is easy to forget that you are now in an aviary with no glass or wire between you and the birds. The walkway spirals down through the arboreal layers to the forest floor. The Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis) and the Bush-stone Curlew (Burhinus grallarius) were just two of the birds I saw when I was there. The latter are easy to trip over because of their plumage which blends in well with their surrounds and their habit of remaining stock still when danger threatens.

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Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis)
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Be careful not to trip over the Bush-stone Curlew (Burhinus grallarius)
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Bush-stone Curlew (Burhinus grallarius)

At Goose Lake you can spot, as the name suggests, geese. The Green Pygmy Goose (Nettapus pulchellus) is one of the prettiest geese I have seen. Its scientific name derives from the latin word pulcher meaning “pretty”.

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Green Pygmy Goose (Nettapus pulchellus)

The Flight Deck is a showcase for outback birdlife. A flash of green and the primary colours heralded the arrival of a couple of Red-collared Lorikeets (Trichoglossus rubritorquis). Arguably one of Australia’s most colourful birds they are loud, playful cheeky clowns that will often stop and preen each other in a manner that looks almost romantic.

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Red-collared Lorikeets (Trichoglossus rubritorquis)

We were reminded that many of the birds were threatened because their habitat was disappearing. If Northern Territory is to keep the diversity of its outback birdlife then their habitat needs to be protected. The Australian or Delicate Barn Owl (Tyto alba delicatula) is a subspecies of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) that has a far more global distribution. Its habitat is disappearing and its numbers decreasing.

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Australian or Delicate Barn Owl (Tyto alba delicatula)

After a couple of birds I recognised from elsewhere in the Northern Territory – the jabiru and the white-bellied sea eagle the Eastern Osprey (Pandion cristatus) flew in. This magnificent bird is a subspecies of the osprey recognised globally. It feeds on a diet of mainly fish and is an efficient predator. Being a relatively small raptor it constantly spreads its wings to appear larger to other raptors who are not averse to stealing its meal.

Eastern Osprey with a fish dinner
Eastern Osprey with a fish dinner

If your time is limited and you want to see as much of the Outback birdlife as possible then a visit to the Territory Wildlife Park is a great place to visit. It’s also great to visit to get a feel for birdlife you might see in the different habitats of the Territory. It’s a good starting point.

Have you been to the Northern Territory for birdwatching? Where did you visit? Share with us in the comments below.

For more on what to do in the Northern Territory visit their website www.australiasoutback.co.uk

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