Nature Stuff

Common water birds around Sydney — part 1

Sydney’s permanent large ponds, like the lakes in Centennnial Park, are great spots to see all sorts of water birds. Want to know what kind of birds they are? This guide is far from complete, but at least it can help you fit a name to the most likely culprits.

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Pacific Black Duck

Pacific Black Duck paddling on the calm waters of a Sydney pond

Pacific Black Duck

Anas superciliosa
A really common duck. When I watch people feeding a bunch of them I often find at least one duck that could use a course in anger management — chasing the others with its head down. Their natural diet is aquatic seeds and small aquatic creatures. Their unnatural diet is bread, which they’ll eagerly take but which is no good for them. Their love of aquatic seeds does not endear them to rice farmers. More info here.

Grey Teal

Grey Teals Grey Teal

Anas gracilis
The white throat feathers make me think these birds are Grey Teals, but I might be wrong and these pics could be of Chestnut Teals. The Grey Teal (or Chestnut Teal) could look like a Pacific Black Duck at first glance until you notice the stripe through the eye is missing, and speaking of the eye, notice the beautiful red colour, which is a feature of these birds.

Chestnut Teal

Chestnut Teal

Anas castanea
You might be wondering how on earth I could confuse this bird with the Grey Teal mentioned above. Because this is the male Chestnut Teal. The females look pretty much like a Grey Teal except with slightly darker colouration.

Australasian Shoveler

Australasian Shoveler Australasian Shoveler

Anas rhynchotis
Looks a bit like the Chestnut Teal until you notice that beak. These birds have some serious beaks. The bird in this shot is a male. The female also has the serious beak but has colouring similar to the female teals.

Silver Gull

Silver Gull

Larus novaehollandiae
No self-respecting guide to Sydney water birds could go without these guys. This is the seagull you’re most likely to see, especially if you’re trying to mind your own business on the beach with some fish and chips. It hangs around beaches, parks and rubbish dumps. This is one very adaptable critter. Did you know there are more of them in Australia now than before Europeans arrived? Strange, but true.

Black Swan

Black Swan Black Swan

Cygnus atratus
An impressive, very large bird. These guys are ready to breed when they’re only 18 months old. Old birds tend to form permanent pairs, while the younger birds will form temporary bonds. (Typical youth!) The babies (called cygnets) are seriously cute: fluffy, downy, light grey. They develop light brown feathers after about 3 weeks. Both parents look after the eggs and both care for the young. More information here.

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican

Pelecanus conspicillatus
A really big bird seen in most parts of Australia. The biggest flocks of these guys I’ve seen were in inland Australia, where they congregrate in flooded areas to breed, but when things are dry inland they hang around the coastal areas, near fresh or salt water. Fossil evidence shows that they’ve been here, mostly unchanged, for 30-40 million years. They appear as beautiful and graceful in the air; then go and wreck everything by appearing awkward and clumsy on land. They eat fish and are really good at catching them. More info here.

Australian White Ibis

Australian White Ibis Australian White Ibis

Threskiornis molucca
Common around parks and rubbish tips, these are large birds which, through no fault of their own, can sometimes require intervention by human wildlife experts to prevent them from breeding too much and becoming a pest. They eat mussels, crustaceans, water insects, fish, snails, frogs and pretty much anything you want to eat too. They also love to pick around rubbish. Sometimes they can be cheeky, grabbing food from children or jabbing people with their long beaks. Feeding these birds encourages that kind of thing. More info here.

Straw-necked Ibis

Straw-necked Ibis

Threskiornis spinicollis
It looks like an Australian White Ibis (same size, shape and that face which only an ibis could love) except the plumage along its back and wings is dark and often sparkling with an iridescent sheen. These guys feast on insects and especially enjoy grasshoppers and locusts. Having seen locust plagues I therefore appreciate these birds all the more, except of course it takes a whole lot more than a Straw-necked Ibis to control a locust plague.

White-faced Heron White-faced Heron

White-faced Heron

Egretta novaehollandiae
This is the most commonly seen heron in Australia. You can find them all over the continent. You’ll often spot one or two walking around looking for food in grasslands and especially near water. They’ll eat crustaceans, fish, frogs, insects and even mice. They have a really cool way of flying, with their neck folded, head close to the body and legs extended and trailing. They can breed at any time of the year.

White-necked Heron

White-necked Heron

Ardea pacifica
While I see the White-faced Heron a lot, I hardly ever see the White-necked ones. Which is why I only have this pretty bad photo, but this will at least reveal enough about what they look like so you won’t get them confused. These guys can be spotted around most of mainland Australia.


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