Australian Wetland Birds

The birds that use wetlands are many and varied. There are herons and egrets, spoonbills and ibises, sandpipers, and terns, and gulls and raptors. There are as many and as varied a group of wetland birds as there are woodland or grassland birds. In migration there are all sorts of birds that end up at the edge of the sea or great lakes because the wind altered their flight path or they haven’t yet learned the right path to follow. Many birds can fly for long periods of time and cover great distances. Water birds are often required to fly long distances to find a suitable wetland for breeding or feeding.

In this blog I will mention and show some of Australia’s freshwater wetland birds. There will be a few large wading birds and a few rails & crakes, and the inland sort of sandpiper types that you might come across. Each has a preferred habitat. I will show the more usual wetland birds not the occasional or unique wetland birds; some will be very common and other much less so. This page will be done primarily with captions as there isn’t much of a story here. There will be other pages that deal with costal birds.

In the Great Red Center or in any of the outback area, the wetlands are ephemeral; evaporating or running off into larger streams quite rapidly. Hence, birders often visit sewage lagoons in desert areas as they are more permanent that natural wetlands. Tucson’s Ruthrauff Road (now there are four birding areas provided by the wastewater people), Hornsby Bend in Austin or the Alice Spring’s water treatment plant in central Australia are all birding destinations; as are hundreds of other locations. Water is the basis of life on earth and wetlands are often the most diverse and densely populated habitat.
The floral carpet added incongruity to this large expanse of dry-land wetland. We were in a rather dusty area and then it simply became wet and the “lake” covered hundreds of acres. The water was rarely over 6″ deep and though the ground was slimy with fine mud it was not vegetated by more than a handful of plant species. The Painted Snipe toward the end of this blog page were photographed here.
The Mallard is now a worldwide species and it has many cousins across the globe. The Australian bird that is the closest relative to the Mallard is the Pacific Black Duck, a rather elegant Mallard-type. This is a common bird of freshwater wetlands and is common in urban parks and rural rivers.
The Dusky Moorhen is another common bird found in cities as well as out in the country. The moorhens (or gallinules) are found worldwide and most likely share a rather recent common ancestor. Birds of the wetlands are often strong and long distance flyers and thus find there way easily from island to island sometimes covering thousands of miles in a single flight.
The White-faced Heron is found everywhere but the driest of the outback deserts. It is a bird that can make a living on the coast, in estuaries, or in any of the inland wetlands. 
Many of the more common sandpipers have adapted to areas that are not so wet. we think of plovers and sandpipers as coastal birds because many of us are coastal and during migration many of the birds are coastal as well. However, in Asia, Africa, and Australia there are many birds with sandpiper origins that do not necessarily live near water. The Masked Lapwing was called masked plover for many years. It is in the same group as the plovers of the African savannas. This is a bird found in yards, parks, farm lands, and is not shy at all. It helps that Australian people and dogs are not very aggressive. 
There are two spoonbills in Australia; the Royal and the Yellow-billed. These are species that avoid the most arid deserts but are otherwise widespread. The Royal Spoonbill shown above was found in the Royal Botanical Garden in downtown Sydney amongst parrots, cockatoos, and thousands of large bats called Flying Foxes. 
Another city bird is the Bush Stone-curlew. The bird above was photographed at night on the lawn of the public library in Cairns. This is a bird of the night as can be easily determined by the large eye. It is well camouflaged and will freeze if threatened. They are rather widespread but never too common. They are said to be birds of the open woodland and beaches. In this day and age the open woodlands are often residential areas.
The Australian Spotted Crake is what we call a rail here in North America and a very common one. We saw a hundred of these birds or more and they were rarely shy or retiring. As a matter of fact they were often in roadside drainage swales and seen from a fast-moving vehicle.
The Purple Swamphen is found on almost all of the western pacific islands. This is a testament to its ability to fly; despite its appearance as a chicken-like creature it can get up and go.  In New Zealand the same species is called by its Maori name, Pukeko. 
The Australian Painted Snipe (above and below) were found in an area that was covered with shallow water and had a shrub cover throughout. They were not easy to find or see, but they stayed still as we carefully edged around into position to get a look.
Grebes are a wetland bird with ancient roots. They have lobed toes, not webbed feet and they are excellent swimmers and divers. They can compress their feathers and sink out out sight without a ripple. The bird sown above is an Australasian Grebe.

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