Birds of the Goulburn Wetlands

Many different kinds of birds are attracted to the wetlands. During dry periods, when the pools shrink, flocks of birds arrive for the easy meal or fish and insect soup. In this photo they include egrets, spoonbills, ibis and cormorants.

Many different kinds of birds are attracted to the wetlands. During dry periods, when the pools shrink, flocks of birds arrive for the easy meal or fish and insect soup. In this photo they include egrets, spoonbills, ibis and cormorants.

Birds are the easiest living things for humans to see. Unfortunately most birds have come to associate humans with danger, so they won’t let you approach very near. Smaller birds (like thornbills and some honeyeaters) may appear as coloured blurs that disappear as soon as you look their way. This makes identifying birds hard.  But you can detect far more if you know their calls. The trouble is that many birds are a bit like humans: they have several different calls and these calls can also be different in different areas.

Despite this, wetlands in particular attract many different kinds of bird. What’s more important is that birds are key indicators of what is happening in the world around us. because all birds need particular sets of environmental conditions to survive, each bird species (and its presence, abundance or absence) tells us something important we should be aware of if we are to survive ourselves.

What will help you identify birds?

It always surprises me how many people never know birds may be around. Even though they are the most visible of wildlife (they are always around in the day with us), they are literally beneath their notice: they don’t satisfy their immediate hunger, they don’t interact socially with us (at least wild birds don’t) and they’re hardly ever part of movies, television or computer games (except the angry ones). So, if you wish to become one of those people that bogans laugh at, someone whose interests are irrelevant to normal people and who most developers and miners really loathe, you will need some or many of the following:

  • patience and the ability to be silent, walk slowly or stand still: the aim is not to travel speedily chatting away loudly, but to see the birds without scaring many away
  • speed and detail of your observations: have your eye out for patterns, shapes and colours that distinguish different birds, especially the ones that flit quickly past the corner of your eye
  • a good field guide: small enough to carry and with the best artwork to distinguish birds (I use the latest edition of Pizzey’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia)
  • a pair of binoculars (field glasses) light enough to carry and not cause a wobbly image, but powerful enough to magnify as much as possible (Imelda bought a pair of Pentax 10X50 for $200 in 2012)
  • if you want you can get a good camera, a sound recording device (smart phones with apps are good), a notebook and pencil (how reliable is your memory?) and/or a birding telescope on a stand

Groups of birds found in the wetlands

I have listed birds that have been seen in the wetlands since 2010, when I first started to take photos. This list will be updated from time to time. Internet technology permitting, I will list each species at the bottom of this page and eventually link it to its own page with a photo, or a page devoted to its group.

I have grouped the birds into three: passerine birds, dryland non-passerines and wetland non-passerines … only I’ve done this in reverse order.

The magpie, a common, fairly large passerine.

The magpie, a common, fairly large passerine.

Passerines are all the so-called songbirds. Many of them are sparrow-like (that’s what the word passerine means) and most have fairly simply shaped beaks. But all passerines can be defined by their feet: three toes forward and one back that can lock them into position when they sleep on branches. They often weave complicated and well-formed nests. The biggest passerine in Australia is the lyrebird (about the size of a large chook, though a chook is a non-passerine) but many are small. The tiniest include the fairy-wrens, silvereyes, thornbills and mistletoe birds. The smallest Australian bird is the weebill, a type of thornbill often heard but not so often seen around Goulburn.



A crested pigeon, one of the more common native non-passerines in Goulburn.

A crested pigeon, one of the more common native non-passerines in Goulburn.

Dryland non-passerines have a much wider range of feet and beaks than the passerines. They often have pretty basic nests and some use hollow branches and tree trunks. The largest non-passerine in Australia is the emu (thought the bigger ostrich has been introduced as well) and the smallest are possibly the smaller bronze-cuckoos. The dividing line between passerine and non-passerine is possibly between the swifts (often 4 front toes and non-passerine) and the swallows (3 front toed passerines). Dryland non-passerines found around Goulburn include emus, fowls (quails, pheasants, peafowl, turkeys and chickens), guineafowl, pigeons and doves, owls, nightjars and frogmouths, eagles, hawks and other raptors, bustards (though we exterminated them here), stone-curlews (probably also gone), buttonquail, cockatoos, parrots, cuckoos, bee-eaters and dollarbirds (though the last two are only uncommonly seen around Goulburn).

Male chestnut teal, a species of duck closely related to the grey teal, which is usually more common in Goulburn.

Male chestnut teal, a species of duck closely related to the grey teal, which is usually more common in Goulburn.

Wetland non-passerines include most of those birds associated with water, especially the ones that feed, wade or swim in it. Around the Goulburn district they include swans ducks and geese, magpie geese (no longer here), grebes, gulls, terns, darters, cormorants, egrets, herons, storks (no longer here), pelicans, ibises and spoonbills, cranes (no longer here), rails, stilts and avocets, plovers, dotterels and lapwings, snipe, curlews, sandpipers and a host of other migratory waders, and kingfishers. Since these are the birds most people expect to see around wetlands, we’ll start with them.


Wetland Non-passerines

  • Australian Wood Duck, common all year, especially near mown grass
  • Hardhead, common when water is in larger pools over 1 metre deep
  • Pacific Black Duck, common when cover is available
  • Grey Teal, common throughout the year, even in bad droughts, breeding
  • Chestnut Teal, uncommon visitor, usually in small groups
  • Australasian Grebe, fluffy bums, always at least a pair here, breeding
  • Australian Darter, snake bird, occasional, in singles or pairs
  • Great Cormorant, a large black cormorant, occasional
  • Little Black Cormorant, common, singles or small groups
  • Pied Cormorant, a large black and white cormorant, uncommon
  • Little Pied Cormorant, common, usually at least one, sometimes many,  here
  • White-necked Heron, occasional, often dispersing younger birds
  • White-faced Heron, common, usually at least one pair, breeding
  • Great Egret, occasional to common, one to many birds, feeding fledged young
  • Straw-necked Ibis, occasional, abundant in grasshopper and mouse irruptions
  • Australian White Ibis, common to abundant, also associated with tip, feeding fledged young
  • Royal Spoonbill, seasonal, occasionally common, feeding fledged young
  • Yellow-billed Spoonbill, seasonal, occasional, less numerous than Royal Spoonbills
  • Dusky Moorhen, common all year, breeding resident
  • Purple Swamphen, occasional, only appears with thickets of tall aquatic graminoids
  • Eurasian Coot, common to abundant all year, feeding on water ribbons and water peppers, breeding resident
  • Black-fronted Dotterel, common all year but easily overlooked, breeding resident
  • Masked Lapwing, aka spur-winged plover, common, breeding resident
  • Latham’s Snipe, aka Japanese Snipe, common migrant in late spring to summer, a RAMSAR protected specie
  • Common Greenshank, very difficult to identify due to shyness, great eyesight and habit of rapidly disappearing, summer migrant
  • Common Sandpiper, as for Greenshank, another painfully difficult bird to approach and identify
  • Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, see Greenshank
  • Silver Gull, occasionally abundant, associated with tip, flocks often contain juveniles

Dryland Non-passerines

  •  Stubble Quail, common when extensive areas of long grass allowed, absent when grass mown
  • Spotted Dove, rare, a feral species, more common nearer town
  • Rock Dove, the domestic pigeon, feral or domestic flocks, uncommon
  • Crested Pigeon, common to abundant all year, breeding resident
  • Black Shouldered Kite, common resident
  • Brown Goshawk, occasional, hunts crested pigeons and starlings
  • Grey Goshawk, single record, attacking ducks and cockatoos
  • Wedge-tailed Eagle, breeding pair include wetlands in their 50 sq. km territory, often overhead
  • Peregrine Falcon, breeding pair nearby, successfully eliminated most starlings and common (Indian) mynas
  • Galah, occasionally numerous, usually in small groups and flocks travelling through
  • Long-billed Corella, occasional flocks visiting, usually with Little Corellas
  • Little Corella, occasional flocks visiting, usually with other white cockatoos
  • Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, common, feeding in grassland or in cypresses and hawthorns in golf course
  • Crimson Rosella, occasional visitor
  • Red-rumped Parrot, occasional groups feeding in grassland
  • Eastern Koel, calling from riparian tall trees, seasonal visitor
  • Pallid Cuckoo, occasional seasonal visitor
  • Eastern Barn Owl, occasional pellets found in morning
  • Laughing Kookaburra, occasional to common, depending on tree cover


  • Superb Fairy-wren, common breeding resident
  • Brown Thornbill, occasional, depending on availability of shrubs and trees
  • Yellow-rumped Thornbill, occasional to common, depending on availability of shrubs
  • Spotted Pardalote, occasional breeding resident, utilising steep sandy banks for nesting
  • Red Wattlebird, uncommon to seasonally common resident
  • Australian Magpie, common breeding resident
  • Pied Currawong, occasional to common visitor
  • Australian Raven, common visitor, especially when waterfowl breeding
  • Little Raven, common seasonal visitor, often in large flocks
  • Willie Wagtail, common resident, in singles or pairs
  • Magpie-lark, aka peewee, common breeding resident, usually about 3 to  5 pairs
  • Australian Reed-warbler, common breeding visitor, depending on availability of cumbungi and great bulrush
  • Silverye, common seasonal visitor
  • Welcome Swallow, common resident
  • Common Blackbird, a feral species, more common and resident breeder when blackberries were present
  • Common Starling, a feral species, common breeding visitor, scarce since advent of falcons
  • Common Myna, a feral species, common in Goulburn Streets but scarce since advent of falcons
  • Red-browed Finch, occasional, passing through in flocks of up to 20
  • European Goldfinch, introduced, occasional resident, feeding mainly on thistle seeedheads, less common with weed eradication
  • Common Greenfinch, introduced, previously common, now scarce
  • House Sparrow, feral species, common to abundant visitor when nurse grasses setting seed