Monday, 23 October 2017

Australia's Bird Families; a brief introduction #1

I'll actually be in South America when this comes on line, but you're reading this courtesy of the magic of blogging... Today is the first day of National Bird Week in Australia, coordinated by Birdlife Australia, our national non-government bird conservation and study organisation. A little while ago I was contacted by Jack from the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, a key activity of Bird Week, to ask if I'd like to theme a blog post to support the activities, and of course I was flattered and happy to cooperate. (You can find out more about both Birdlife Australia and the Count here.)

I've decided to celebrate Australia's birds by introducing just one species from (nearly) every family of native Australian birds - in a few cases I don't have a suitable photograph but you'll meet most of the families here in three postings over the next few weeks. (I'm sure you'll notice the gaps, so I won't point them out!) Time pressures in terms of preparing to go away, and the number of families involved (over 80!) means that the coverage will be rather superficial - just regard this as a celebration of Australian birds. And as ever I make no claims to being a Photographer; my pics are definitely illustrations! The names and the order they appear in is as per the IOC list at the current time (though they are in the process of radically updating the order of Orders, as it were). I have placed some emphasis on rarer or lesser known species, but not at all exclusively.
Order Casuariiformes
Family Casuariidae; emu and cassowaries

Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius, Mount Hypipamee NP, tropical Queensland.
The only Australian cassowary (this and two others occur in New Guinea); they are dark
solitary rainforest dwellers, fruit and carrion eaters, with a distinctive bony helmet.
They are seriously threatened in Australia by habitat loss, dogs and traffic.
Order Anseriformes
Anseranatidae; Magpie Goose
Magpie Geese Anseranas semipalmata, south of Darwin.
A strange Daffy Duck lookalike, the only member of its family, neither goose nor duck, but
apparently something older.
Order Anseriformes
Anatidae; ducks, geese and swans
Green Pygmy Geese Nettapus pulchellus, Kakadu National Park.
No these aren't geese either, but true ducks.
Order Galliformes
Family Megapodidae; mound builders
Australian Brushturkey Alectura lathami, Chichester State Forest, New South Wales.
A fascinating group of old chook relatives, whose chicks are incubated in a huge mound of composting
litter, and must be entirely independent from hatching. The female brushturkey, primarily a rainforest bird,
selects her mate on the quality of his mound, but can only lay in it after mating with him.
Order Procellariiformes
Family Oceanitidae; southern storm petrels
White-bellied Storm Petrel Fregetta grallaria, off Lord Howe Island.
'Mother Carey's Chickens' of sailors' lore; this family has relatively recently been split
from the northern storm petrels. The birds are almost solely seen in the open ocean.
Order Procellariiformes
Family Procellariidae; petrels and shearwaters

Flesh-footed Shearwaters Ardenna carneipes, Balls Pyramid off Lord Howe Island.
Shearwaters are great wanderers of the worlds' oceans, completely at home on the wing,
which probably evolved in the eternal winds of the southern oceans.
Order Podicipediformes
Family Podicipedidae; grebes
Australasian Grebes Tachybaptus novaehollandiae on floating nest, near Canberra.
An ancient world-wide group with no near relatives; heavy-bodied divers for food and safety.
Order Phaethontiformes
Phaethontidae; tropicbirds
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda, Lord Howe Island.
Until recently placed with pelicans, frigatebirds, cormorants etc, tropicbirds are now given
their own order. They perform stunning synchronised display flights.
Order Ciconiiformes
Family Ciconiidae; storks

Black-necked Storks Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, tropical central Queensland;
she has the yellow iris. At present it seems that only storks belong in this order (ie not herons or ibis).
There is debate whether the Australian population represents a species separate from
southern Asian birds.
Order Pelecaniformes
Family Threskiornithidae; ibis and spoonbills
Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra.
He is in full breeding splendour. The world's six spoonbill species are distrubuted
across all continents - but only Australia has two.
Order Pelecaniformes
Family Ardeidae; herons and bitterns

Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus, McKellar Wetlands, Canberra.
One of Australia's rarest birds (perhaps 1,000 survive), and possibly our least-known large bird.
When this bird turned up at a suburban wetland three years ago, it was the first reported here in
at least 70 years - no living birder had hitherto seen one here.

Order Pelecaniformes
Family Pelecanidae; pelicans

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, Camooweal, north-west Queensland; landing.
Not only are wings and feet spread as brakes,but even the beak is open!
The only pelican found here, this species has the longest bill of any living bird.
Order Suliformes
Family Fregatidae; frigatebirds
Great Frigatebird Fregata minor, Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.
Perhaps only swifts are more adapted to an aerial life than the superb long-winged frigatebirds
of the tropical oceans. Famed (or defamed) as pirates of other seabirds' fish,
they actually catch most of their own meals.
Order Suliformes
Family Sulidae; gannets and boobies
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra preening on nest, Lord Howe Island.
Large seabirds which dive into the ocean for fish from considerable heights, aided by a shock-absorbing
layer of sub-dermal cells at the front of the body; they have also dispensed with external nostrils.
Order Suliformes
Family Phalacrocoracidae; cormorants
Black-faced Cormorants Phalacrocorax fuscescens and Pied Cormorants P. varius, Lincoln NP, South Australia.
Australia has five of the world's 40-odd species; Black-faced are exclusively marine, around the southern
coasts, while Pied feed both in the ocean and inland..
Order Suliformes
Family Anhingidae; darters
Male Australian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae, Kakadu NP, Northern Territory.
A straight sharp bill and long tail help distinguish darters from cormorants. Both darters and cormorants
get waterlogged while diving - it helps them stay under - and must dry out later.
While cormorants actively chase prey, darters tend to creep along the bottom.
Order Accipitriformes
Family Pandionidae; ospreys
Eastern Osprey pair Pandion cristatus, at nest, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.
There are now two osprey species recognised; they are the only day-time birds which
live exclusively on fish.
Order Accipitriformes
Family Accipitridae; hawks and eagles
Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus (with sparrow), suburban Canberra - our own
back yard in fact. Sparrowhawks and goshawks form a formidable subgroup of this huge family
of carnivorous birds; the three Australian species tend to be bird-hunting specialists.
Order Otidiformes
Family Otidae; bustards
Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis, Winton, central Queensland (and isn't there always a Willie Wagtail?!).
Only one Australian species among the world's 20-plus, which include some of the world's biggest birds.
They are grassland nomads, starting to make a comeback after many decades of over-hunting.
Order Gruiformes
Family Rallidae; rails, crakes, swamphens etc
Lord Howe Island Woodhen Gallirallus sylvestris. Endemic to the island, this flightless rail was on the very
brink of extinction in 1980, with only 15 birds left. Captive breeding and elimination of the feral pigs
has made this a great conservation success story. Any wetland in the world is likely to harbour
at least one species of this family. (They're all banded.)
Order Gruiformes
Family Gruidae; cranes
Young Brolgas Antigone rubicunda, near Clermont, Queensland.
One of two Australian cranes, which are both fairly secure in northern Australia (though Brolgas have beeen
largely eliminated from the south) unlike several northern hemisphere species.
And that's enough for today! Next time I'll finish off the non-passerine orders - I do hope you come back for that. Meantime, enjoy Bird Week - and even more importantly, keep enjoying the birds!!

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1 comment:

Susan said...

Super dooper. A lovely overview.