BIRDS

Endemic Birds of Tasmania

Tasmania has twelve species of bird which are found nowhere else on Earth (i.e. endemic birds). There are also a number of species which are endemic at the subspecies level, such as the threatened wedge-tail eagle, and a number of species which are known as breeding endemics. Breeding endemics breed only in Tasmania and migrate to mainland Australia outside the breeding season. The endangered orange-bellied parrot and swift parrot are two such species.

TASMANIAN NATIVE HEN, Gallinula mortierii

The Tasmanian Native Hen is a distant relative of the domestic hen. It is found only in Tasmania, being distributed throughout the State except for the west and southwest. It ranges from the coast to areas 1000 m above sea level. Like the thylacine and Tasmanian devil, native hens became extinct on the mainland around the time the dingo arrived in Australia.

Tasmanian Native Hens are most common on marshes, river flats and near fresh water streams and rivers. Their ideal habitat is short, grazed pasture and damp pasture near streams with grassy vegetation for nesting. Although they cannot fly, they are good swimmers and very fast runners. When a Native Hen senses danger they often flick their tail to warn others and if chased will seek the shelter of grass or reeds. Using their short wings for balance, they are capable of running at 50 km per hour.

GREEN ROSELLA, Platycercus caledonicus

A common, endemic bird well known to many Tasmanians, the Green Rosella is Australia's largest rosella (330-370mm). The upperparts are dark mottled green and black, the head, neck and underparts are yellow. There is a red forehead patch above the beak and a blue cheek patch. The wings have a blue shoulder patch.

DUSKY ROBIN, Melanodryas vittata

The endemic Dusky Robin is dark olive-brown above and a lighter grey-white below. The wing has a narrow white shoulder. The Dusky Robin occurs in open eucalypt forest, woodland and coastal heath throughout Tasmania. A subspecies of this bird is confined to King Island.

TASMANIAN THORNBILL, Acanthiza ewingii

The Tasmanian Thornbill is only found in Tasmania and the Bass Strait Islands. It is a small (100mm), brown bird similar to the Brown Thornbill. The throat and breast are streaked with grey and white. The white undertail distinguishes this species from the Brown Thornbill.

The species is common and occurs in rainforests, wet sclerophyll forests and wet scrub.

SCRUBTIT, Acanthornis magnus

Although common, the endemic Scrubtit is often difficult to see due to its secretive nature, and can be easily confused with the Tasmanian Thornbill or Tasmanian Scrubwren. Up to 120mm long, the Scrubtit has a light cream coloured throat, breast and belly and a brown head, and a brown eye with a black centre and white eye ring which assists in distinguishing the species.

TASMANIAN SCRUBWREN, Sericornis humilus

The endemic Tasmanian Scrubwren, sometimes also known as the Brown Scrubwren, is a small (to 130mm), dark olive-brown bird with grey-white streaked throat and pale yellow eyes with a black centre. It is very similar in size and shape to the White-browed Scrubwren, Sericornis frontalis, and indeed was formerly considered to be a subspecies of S. frontalis.

The Tasmanian Scrubwren is confined to mainland Tasmania and Bass Strait islands where it prefers areas with dense vegetation, such as wet forests. It is usually seen on or close to the ground

YELLOW WATTLEBIRD, Anthochaera paradoxa

The Yellow Wattlebird is Australia's largest honeyeater (380-480 mm). It is found only in Tasmania. The species has a grey-brown plumage streaked with white. The belly is yellow. It has distinctive yellow "wattles" (long, pendulous lobes) hanging from behind the ear. It occurs singularly or in pairs in eucalypt forest and woodland. It is a common species, often seen in gardens.

YELLOW-THROATED HONEYEATER, Lichenostomus flavicollis

The endemic Yellow-throated Honeyeater is a common resident throughout Tasmania. It is a medium sized bird, up to 210mm, with olive-green colouring on the wings and back and speckled yellow-grey underparts. The dark grey crown and face contrasts with a rich yellow chin and throat. Ussually seen singly or in pairs, often foraging on the trunks or foliage of large trees. Its preferred habitat is wet and dry eucalypt forest, alpine woodland and coastal heath. It is also commonly seen in gardens and parks.

BLACK-HEADED HONEYEATER, Melithreptus affinus

The Black-headed Honeyeater, one of Tasmania's endemic species, is a small (up to 150mm) bird with an entirely black head and throat with a small blue-white crescent over the eye. The upperparts are olive green and the underparts are grey-white. It is distinguishable by its completely black head. Common in wet and dry sclerophyll forests, and occasionally found in subalpine and alpine forests to 1200m metres, open woodlands, coastal heaths and low shrub communities. It is also sometimes seen in urban parks and gardens.

STRONG-BILLED HONEYEATER, Melithreptus validirostris

The endemic Strong-billed Honeyeater has a black head with a distinctive white crescent across the back of the neck which leads to a white-blue crescent just above the eye. The chin and throat are white. The upperparts are olive-grey to green above and the underparts a dull grey-green. It is a common resident in mature, wet forest, cool temperate rainforest, wet scrub and heath, and occasionally in parks and gardens throughout Tasmania. It sometimes moves to drier habitats during the winter months.

BLACK CURRAWONG, Strepera fuliginosa

The endemic Black Currawong is a large bird (up to 490mm). It is completely black, except for white-tipped tail feathers and a small patch of white in the wing. The eye is a bright yellow. It is common throughout the highlands of Tasmania in subalpine forest and woodland, often moving to lower altitudes during the winter, when it can form flocks of up to 50 individuals.

FORTY-SPOTTED PARDALOTE, Pardalotus quadragintus

One of the smallest birds in Australia, the endemic Forty-spotted Pardalote is threatened with extinction. It belongs to a group known as 'diamond birds' because of their tiny, jewel-like appearance. Measuring about 90 - 100 mm, the body is light olive green with pale yellow around the eye and on the rump. The wings are black with distinctive white dots. Unlike its close relative, the spotted pardalote, there are no head markings. Forty-spotted Pardalotes live in dry eucalypt forests and woodlands only where white gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) occurs. The species can sometimes be seen at Maria Island National Park, the Labillardiere Peninsula in South Bruny National Park and the Peter Murrell Reserve near Kingston.

Breeding Endemic Birds of Tasmania:

ORANGE-BELLIED PARROT, Neophema chrysogaster

On the brink of extinction the Orange-bellied Parrot has been ranked as one of the world's rarest and most endangered species. For bushwalkers and those who are able to fly into the Tasmanian south-west, there is a good chance of seeing Orange-bellied Parrots. At Melaleuca, in the Southwest National Park, a bird hide has been built especially for observing the birds. From mid-October until the end of March, the birds are regular visitors, coming and going throughout the day. However the best times to see them are in the early mornings or late afternoons. There are two bushwalkers' huts with room for up to 20 people. The Orange-bellied Parrot is approximately 200 mm long, a little larger than a budgerigar. Its plumage is bright grass-green above and mostly yellow below with a bright orange patch in the centre of the lower belly. It has a bright azure blue patch on the outer wing and a blue bar across the forehead above the nostrils. It is a migratory bird, which breeds only in coastal south-west Tasmania and spends the winter in coastal Victoria and South Australia. In Tasmania it occurs in buttongrass moorland interspersed with patches of forest or tea tree scrub.

After breeding, migrating birds move gradually northwards up the west coast, through the Hunter Group and King Island in Bass Strait and on to the mainland. On the journey the birds usually feed on beach-front vegetation including salt tolerant species such as sea rocket, Cakile maritima. They also eat various coastal native and introduced grasses.

It nests high in hollows in eucalypt trees that grow adjacent to its feeding plains. In early October the birds arrive in the south west and depart after the breeding season usually in March and April. Four to six eggs are laid. It is estimated that fewer than 50 individuals of this rare and endangered species occur in suitable habitat in the far southwest of Tasmania.

SWIFT PARROT, Lathamus discolor

The Swift Parrot is a threatened species, largely due to the loss of its habitat. It is 230-250 mm long, bigger than a budgerigar but smaller than a rosella. Streamlined for rapid flight, it is green with red on the throat, chin and forehead. It also has red patches on its shoulders and under the wings. It has a blue crown and cheeks, blue on its wings and a long pointed tail. It can be readily identified in flight by its bright red underwing patches. The Swift Parrot occurs in south-eastern Australia. It is a migratory bird that only breeds in Tasmania and over winters on mainland Australia. The breeding range is largely restricted to the east of Tasmania within the range of the blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus.

The Swift Parrot usually arrives in Tasmania in August. Nest sites in eastern Tasmania are predominantly located near the coast in dry forests on upper slopes and ridge tops. They make their nests inside a hollow tree branch or trunk in very old or dead trees, which can take hundreds of years to form. Such hollows are very important homes for many birds, and animals like possums and bats.

In the breeding season, males and females form pairs. It is not unusual to find more than one pair nesting close to each other. Nest sites may be re-used but not necessarily in successive years. The use of a particular nest site depends on the availability of food in that area.

After the breeding season, in February and March, the entire population flies north, dispersing throughout Victoria and NSW. Like other migratory species, swift parrots form into flocks prior to migrating. Some of these can be quite large consisting of up to 500 birds. It appears they break up into small flocks of 10-20 birds to cross Bass Strait during the day.

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