Nature Stuff

Common water birds around Sydney — page 2

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Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen and chick

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen Purple Swamphen

Porphyrio porphyrio
The bright plumage and big feet on these birds make a big impression the first time you see them. They eat frogs, molluscs and reed stems and with those giant long toes can sometimes be seen walking on the leaves of water lilies. Surprisingly, for birds with such long toes, they run really well.

Dusky Moorhen Dusky Moorhen Dusky Moorhen

Dusky Moorhen

Gullinula tenebrosa
I used to mistake these for Purple Swamphens. But these birds are a bit smaller, lack the intensity of blue in their plumage and their beaks look different too. You can see some young ones in one of these photos but the really young chicks look like long-haired black tennis balls — crazy-cute. I usually hear the chicks before I see them, and then often spot them walking among the water lilies.


Darter Darter Darter

Anhinga melanogaster
These birds don’t have water-repellant feathers. This means that after being in the water they have to stand with their wings out to dry, like what’s happening in a couple of these photos. But having feathers that aren’t water-repellant also means they swim underwater really well. This is a fairly big bird that often just pokes its head out of the water — the rest being submerged. It gives them the appearance of a snake, which is why some people call them snake birds. They eat fish. That’s a male marked with the m and probably a female marked with the f. I say probably because both sexes in the younger darters have those colours. More about darters here.



Ardea or Egretta species
A very regal-looking bird with a crazy-long skinny neck. I’ll come right out and say these egrets look pretty much the same to me. Amazingly beautiful, definitely, but hard to tell apart. In case you’re wondering what I mean, there’s the Great Egret and the Little Egret. And there’s an intermediate one called the Intermediate Egret. Now, the Little Egret sometimes hangs around cattle, as does another type called the Cattle Egret. So I admit I’m not good with egrets, but at least I can tell them from the cattle. They eat fish and insects but not cattle.

That bird shown here with the orange feathers by the way, is a Cattle Egret in its breeding plumage.

Wood Duck Wood Duck Wood Duck

Wood Duck (or Maned Duck)

Chenonetta jubata
That’s the female marked f and the males marked m. The male has a cute brown mane on the back of its head as you can see in one of the smaller pics. Cruel people might call it a mullet haircut. These birds are comfortable on land and among trees, as long as there’s water somewhere nearby. They feed on some types of grass and seeds, with a real taste for rice.

Eurasian Coot

Eurasian Coots Eurasian Coot

Fulica atra
A few of these guys swimming around makes a pleasant, calming scene. But watch a whole lot of them when they get together and you’re likely to end up with a facial tic. That’s because they create large, crazy floating flocks in a manner which looks chaotic to me, but which obviously makes sense to the coots. Almost exclusively vegetarian, when it comes to breeding time they sometimes forget to play nice with other species. They’ve even been known to kill the occasional duckling.

Musk Duck

Musk Duck

Biziura lobata
A strange-looking duck, this one. First of all, it often swims half-submerged. Second, the male has a large lobe of skin hanging under its bill. It distends it during courtship to look attractive to the female. Beauty in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. If you should ever find yourself close enough to one, you’ll notice that the lobe has a strong musky smell. Thus the name. During courtship the male splashes water behind it during an impressive, noisy display. Sydney is unlikely to see this because it’s apparently outside of its breeding range.


Hardheads Hardhead

Aythya australis
If it strikes you as being somehow disrespectful to address these individuals as ‘Hardheads’ then ‘White-eyed Ducks’ should also do it. Speaking of white eyes, the males have them while the females have brown eyes. Which would make them brown-eyed White-eyed Ducks, which I guess is why we go back to calling them Hardheads. Hardheads are good swimmers, both on the water and diving into it. They mainly eat water plants but they also don’t mind the occasional aquatic beetles and yabbies.

Masked Lapwing

Masked Lapwing Masked Lapwing

Vanellus miles
These critters are also called Spur-winged Plovers throughout the southern part of their range, and Sydney is in that southern part. It turns out that those southern birds look a little different too. Much more info here.


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