This section provides information on the ecology of birds within the initial scope of the Healthy Wildlife project.
This section provides information on the ecology of birds within the initial scope of the Healthy Wildlife project.
These are birds that visit people’s backyards for food or are fed by people at lakes and other waterways. Feeding can expose these birds to parasitic and other diseases. This includes magpies, swans, ducks, swamphens, galahs and ravens. More species will be added over time.
If you hear a carolling warbling song greeting the dawn, you may be lucky to have a truly great Australian local bird in your backyard. This playful and highly intelligent bird is known as an Australian Magpie.
Magpies are found all over Australia. The Western Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen dorsalis), known as koolbardi in the Noongar language, is one of five sub-species of the Australian Magpie and is found in the south-west of Western Australia.1 They normally live in bushland, although they are common in urban areas. Magpies are synanthropes, which means they have an ability to live in an urban environment with humans.
Magpies are a large butcherbird and grow up to 45cm long. They have a black head, underparts, wing tips and tail tip. Males are white on the back of their neck and females are a duller grey. They have a blue-grey beak, black legs and brown eyes.2
Magpies are omnivorous and walk around at ground level looking for food. They eat a wide variety of insects, as well as invertebrates such as earthworms and snails. This makes them useful for pest control.2
The magpies breeding season is between August and October. The females select a nesting site in a tall tree, on a power pole or even on the roof of a building. She can lay between one and six eggs, and feeds her young until they are ready to fly and leave the nest.3
While magpies are often synonymous with swooping during breeding season, studies have shown that only 12% of male magpies will actually swoop people. Additionally, more often than not, the swooping behaviour is a deterring display rather than an attack.1 So remain cautious, yet calm and confident, and enjoy their carolling calls.
See the Media page to watch the video ‘Do magpies know their victims?’
If you are walking along wetlands and spot some tail feathers and feet sticking up out of the water, then you may have just come across a dabbling Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) known as ‘Yet’ in the Noongar language.
The Pacific Black Duck is one of the most versatile Australian ducks.1 They are common throughout the country, residing in freshwater and moderately saline wetlands, estuaries and sheltered coastal areas. You can observe them around the Perth hills in dams, swamps and waterways, as well as on the coastal plain. They prefer to nest on the ground or in tree stumps and hollows around wetland areas.2
Despite their name, the Pacific Black Duck is predominantly a mid-brown colour. They have a characteristic dark brown line from the top of their beak up across their eyes, with cream colouring above and below, and a dark brown bill.4 Among their feathers, they have a bright glossy green patch in their secondary flight feathers. Adults grow between 50 and 60 cm in length.2
These ducks are mainly vegetarian, feeding off aquatic plants and seeds, although their diet is occasionally supplemented with aquatic insects and small invertebrates. They ‘dabble’ for food, by plunging their upper bodies in water, leaving their rear ends vertically out of the water.3 They are usually spotted in pairs or small flocks, and readily mix with other duck species.4
The Pacific Black Duck coincides mating with the availability of food and water, often waiting for the onset of heavy rains or when waterways are at their peak volume.4 Courtship between these ducks is often initiated by the female, so be on the look-out for any preening, bobbing and wing-flapping displays.5
Download the ‘Should I feed the ducks?’ information sheet.
If your local park has a big lake, or if you go for a walk along the foreshore of the Swan or Canning Rivers, you are no doubt familiar with Western Australia’s bird emblem, the iconic Black Swan (Cygnus atratus), known as ‘marli’ or ‘koltjak’ in the Noongar language.1 “Atratus” means “dressed in black.” 2
The black swan is a graceful large waterbird with black plumage, white wing tips which are visible when in flight and an orange-red bill. They are the only entirely black coloured swan in the world.3 Immature birds are much greyer with black wing tips.3 Their body is 100–140 cm long, with a wing span of almost 2 metres. Males have a larger neck and, when swimming, they hold their neck more erect. 2
Black swans live in large salt, brackish or fresh water waterways and permanent wetlands. They travel between wetlands at night under cover of darkness where they blend in with shadows.4
Black swans mate for life and can live up to 40 years.2 They breed between June and September with females laying a clutch of up to 10 and pairs sharing incubation duties and cygnet rearing. Nests are untidy, made up of reeds and grasses placed on a small island or floated in deeper water. One brood is raised per season and chicks are able to swim and feed themselves as soon as they hatch.3
Black swans are vegetarian and mainly eat algae and weeds. They obtain these by plunging their beaks into water up to 1 metre deep and less frequently, because they are clumsy out of the water, by grazing on land.3
You will know if you live nearby a flock of Pink and Grey Galahs (Eolophus roseicapillus), known as Djahal-ngakal in the Noongar language, by nightfall. Galahs congregate to roost together at night, often seen in flocks larger than 100, amplifying their characteristic noisy squawk.1
These sociable birds are widespread and abundant, found over most of Australia. Galahs search for hollows of living or dead eucalypt trees near water courses for nesting period. However, where hollows are scarce galahs get resourceful, using cliffs or gate post steel pipes instead.2
Galah’s have a rose-pink head, neck and underparts with a paler pink crown and grey back, wings and undertail. Their eastern counterparts tend to have darker plumage than the West Australian birds.1 While males and females are similar in appearance, the males have dark brown eyes and the females are coloured pinkish-red. Both sexes are 24-40cm in length and weigh between 230-380 grams.2
They are herbivores, feeding primarily on seeds found on the ground.2 The population of Galahs has increased around urban areas, due to the increased availability of food and water. While these native birds are bouncing acrobatic flyers, they spend most of their time sheltering from the heat, in foliage such as trees and shrubs.1
Galahs form permanent, life-long bonds with their mates. Both sexes share parenting duties, incubating the eggs and caring for their young. Unfortunately the chicks have a high mortality rate, with up to 50% of chicks dying within the first 6 months.1
If your garden is covered in banksias and grevilleas, then you may be lucky enough to spot nectar-loving native birds known as New Holland Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris (Meliornis) novaehollandiae), or Bandin in the Noongar language. They are a highly active bird, flying briskly and not staying in one place for too long. They are inquisitive, curious birds that will sometimes even approach people.1
The New Holland Honeyeaters are mostly black and white, with a characteristic large yellow patch on their wings and yellow sides on their tail. They have a small white ear patch, with thin white whiskers at the base of their beak and white iris’.1 The birds have a long, narrow beak with a protruding tongue to access the nectar. Honeyeaters are between 17 and 20 cm in length and the females tend to be slightly smaller than the males.
These native Australian birds are common in forests, woodlands, heaths and gardens.1 The New Holland Honeyeaters diet consists mainly of flowers nectar, namely from banksias and grevilleas. They are active feeders, in that they busily dart from flower to flower when eating. If nectar is not plentiful, these omnivores will also eat fruit, insects or spiders.3 While they may feed alone, they prefer feeding in large groups, mostly in lower areas of bushes and thickets.1
Pairs may raise two to three broods in a year, although their preferred breeding seasons are summer and winter. They often nest within 6m of the ground. Young chicks are browner in colour and have grey eyes.2
Honeyeaters communicate with each other through chattering sounds, as well as a loud ‘chik’ and a fainter ‘pseet’ noise. When they are in danger, a group of honeyeaters will sound a loud alarm call together.1
If you visit the wetlands and peer through the reeds, you may just spot a long-legged water dwelling bird with a large red crown. These native birds are Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio), known as Kwilom (pronounced ‘quill-awm’) in the Noongar language.1
The Purple Swamphen is predominantly black, with purple-blue plumage on its breast, belly and neck, and a white undertail. They have a distinctive bright red bill which extends to the top of their head, forming a shield between their eyes.2 The birds are around 45 to 50 centimetres tall. They have large brown-red legs and long slender unwebbed toes that assist with walking and foraging in shallow water.3
These native Australian birds roost in freshwater, slightly saline wetlands, streams and marshes, although can also be found around grasslands and pastures.2 The Purple Swamphens have a reputation for being aggressive towards other waterfowl, signalled by their harsh screaming call.3 They forage in shallow water and on land for aquatic vegetation, preferring reeds and rush shoots. These omnivores have also been known to occasionally feed on small animals such as frogs, snails and birds.4
Breeding season is between July and December, however can take place any time of the year. They often breed in solitary pairs or small groups, nesting in trampled reeds lined with softer grasses.4 Chicks are fluffy black, with similarly long legs and a more conspicuous reddish brown crown.3
Considering the size of the Swamphen, they are quite proficient fliers. Their dangling legs and elongated toes may make them appear awkward. They are very capable swimmers, however prefer to simply roam along the water edges.5
The Southern Boobook (Ninox novaseelandiae) is sometimes called a mopoke. This name can be confusing, as it is often shared with the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), a similarly sized but unrelated nightbird. In the southwest of Western Australia, the boobook goes by several Noongar names including “kookomit” and “yartj.”
The boobook is the smallest and most common owl species in Australia. There is some disagreement about whether populations in Tasmania and New Zealand may be separate species (Gwee et al., 2017). On the Australian mainland, boobooks have the largest range of any owl in Australia and can be found in all habitats except for treeless deserts where there are no hollows for them to nest. On a few occasions, they have even been found in areas of the Nullabor where they have gotten by without trees by finding suitable hollows in small caves. Boobooks in different habitats can vary dramatically in colour with paler boobooks found in hotter drier climates, and darker-coloured boobooks in wetter parts of the country.
Boobooks are well-adapted to life in the dark. Comb-like fringes on their flight feathers allow them to fly almost silently and to sneak up on their prey. Their excellent hearing and large eyes allow them to hunt in very low light. Like all owls, their eyes are so large that they cannot turn in their sockets. This means that boobooks need to turn their heads if they want to look in a different direction.
Boobooks are generalist predators and will eat a wide variety of prey species. Most of their diet includes rodents like rats and mice, small birds, and a wide variety of large invertebrates including spiders, moths, beetles, crickets, cockroaches, and centipedes. They also occasionally take lizards and bats, and have even been observed hunting frogs. They will sometimes take larger prey as well. Remains of birds as large as Australian Magpies and Red Wattlebirds have been found beneath the roost of one particularly ambitious boobook in the Perth area.
Boobooks are commonly seen in urban and residential areas and their characteristic “boo-book” call can often be heard in the Perth Hills between August and December when they are breeding and nesting. Boobooks usually lay two to four eggs but occasionally they can manage to raise five chicks. Chicks usually leave the nest between October and December. For the first few weeks, their father continues to feed them as they learn to hunt on their own. During this period, they can often be seen roosting in a group in low branches of dense trees and bushes.
Sometimes people mistakenly assume that the boobooks are ill or injured because they are roosting only a few metres off the ground and attempt to take them to wildlife care centres or chase them higher up the tree. Really, these boobooks are just trying to hide from diurnal predators like goshawks and eagles. If you look directly above the roosting boobooks, you will usually notice that the sky above them is completely blocked by the leaves and branches. It’s a great place to hide out while recovering from a long night on the wing.
Download the Case Study – Southern Boobook Owls and Rodenticides information sheet and the Rodenticides and Wildlife information sheet. Please note that these information sheets contain graphic images which may be disturbing to some readers.
Gwee, C. Y., Christidis, L., Eaton, J. A., Norman, J. A., Trainor, C. R., Verbelen, P., & Rheindt, F. E. (2017). Bioacoustic and multi-locus DNA data of Ninox owls support high incidence of extinction and recolonisation on small, low-lying islands across Wallacea. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 109, 246–258. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2016.12.024