Bird Watching in the Quilpie Shire
Quilpie Shire is well known for the many species of birds that enjoy the Shire’s wide open spaces and life-giving waterholes. To celebrate its feathered fame, all but three of Quilpie’s streets are named after birds. The names of the Town and the Streets are believed to be derivatives of Aboriginal words.
QUILPIE –Derives from the word ‘Quilpeta’ which means Bush Stone Curlew. They are ground- dwelling nocturnal birds that grow to approximately 50cms tall. The colours of their feathers provide good camouflage in bushland making them difficult to see. Sometimes the only way you know they are around is from their distinctive long wailing call which can be quite scary at night. The Bush Stone Curlew usually lives in pairs and they mainly eat grasshoppers and other insects.
BROLGA – A large silver/grey bird that is a member of the crane family. It has a red featherless head with a grey crown. The legs are grey and there is black dewlap under the chin. Brolgas are omnivorous (feeding on both vegetable and animal matter), but primarily feed upon tubers and some crops. The elaborate dance performed by Brolga’s is a spectacular sight and involves much leaping, wing flapping and loud trumpeting. The Brolga’s dance was sometimes imitated by Aborigines in ceremonies.
QUARRION – Known as a Cockatiel these birds are the second most popular bird kept as a caged pet. The Cockatiel is predominately grey with a white wing patch, orange cheeks and a distinctive pointed crest. The male can be easily identified by its bright yellow forehead, face and crest. Cockatiels enter nest holes backwards or tail first, perhaps due to their very long tails. Cockatiels have downy hatchlings, whereas most other species of bird have hatchlings that are bald. The scientific name for Cockatiels is Nymphicus Hollandicus which translates as “Goddess of New England”, the name for Australia during 1700-1800.
BOONKAI – Commonly known as a White Ibis and identified by its almost entirely white body plumage and black head and neck. The head is featherless and its black bill is long and down-curved. In flight, flocks of Australian White Ibis form distinctive V-shaped flight patterns. The most favoured foods of the White Ibis are crayfish and mussels, which the bird obtains by digging with its long bill. Mussels are opened by hammering them on a hard surface.
JABIRU – The Jabiru, also called the Black-Necked Stork is the only species of stork found in Australia. They are known to be secretive birds and are usually seen alone or in a pair. Their main food is fish, but they also eat reptiles, frogs, crabs, rodents and carrion. Both male and female take part in nest building, incubating eggs and rearing the young. Food is regurgitated by the parents onto the floor of the nest, where the young pick it up. Baby Ibis are ready to leave the nest when they are 100-115 days old. Ibis often soar as high as several hundred metres.
WINCHU – Known as the Blue Crane or the White-Faced Heron, bird about 70cms tall with distinguishable grey-blue feathers. White–Faced Herons have tufts of fragile feathers called powder down, in various parts of their body. These feathers produce a powder with which the Heron cleans fish slime off its two tone grey plumage. Herons stalk about in shallow water, occasionally shooting out a long G-shaped neck to catch unwary prey in a stout straight beak. Herons have a special hinge mechanism at the sixth vertebrae which allows them to extend their neck in this way.
GALAH – The most common of Australian parrots are the pink and grey feathered galah. These birds live right across Australia and are also found on islands off Australia. Galahs nest in the hollows of large trees where they strip off the bark around the nesting area, leaving the wood so smooth that reptiles are unable to climb up to reach the eggs. The survival rate amongst new fledglings is very low. Only about ten out of every 100 will survive through their first winter. However those that do survive usually live a long life. The average life span of a Galah is 40-50 years.
GYRICA – The ‘Gyrica’ is an Owlet-nightjar and is Australia’s smallest and daintiest nocturnal bird. It is probably the most widespread and one of the least often seen night bird and is usually heard calling after the first few hours after sunset. The owlet nightjar also calls from the entrance of its roost hole, where on fine winter days it spends much of the day sunning itself. Owlet Nightjars usually have several roost hollows or “bolt holes” – if you disturb one from a hollow during the day, it will fly and quickly disappear into another. They have a wide gaping mouth, flanked by bristles which are ideal for catching food in flight. The Gyrica flies silently and erratically, rather like a butterfly.
CHULUNGRA – The Australian Bustard or Plains/Wild Turkey is one of Australia’s largest birds and were once hunted for sport and food and as a result are now mainly found inland. The mating display of the male bustard is spectacular. He puffs up his chest sac so that it drops almost to the ground and as he dances, the chest sac sways from side to side. To complete this majestic display, he fans his tail over his back and makes a deep booming/roaring noise. Though Bustards are usually seen on the ground, their flight, whilst heavy, is strong and can be sustained over long distances. When disturbed they first freeze, then stalk slowly and snootily away and if pursued break into a run and take wing.
BULN BULN – The Buln Buln is an Australian Ringneck or Mallee Ringneck (subspecies barnardi) Parrot and gets its name from the distinctive yellow ring around its neck that separates the green head from the blue colours of the body. The Mallee Ringneck is silent if down feeding on the ground and usually only make noise if they are in flight or in trees. When mating, the courting male crouches in front of the female, squares his shoulders and vibrates them slightly, with his tail fanned and moving quickly from side to side, whilst chattering constantly. They eat a wide range of foods that include nectar, insects and their larvae, seeds, fruit and native bulbs.
DUKAMURRA – A flock of Pelicans swimming in formation is a most beautiful and fascinating sight. It is thought that Pelicans use formation swimming as a way to drive fish into the shallows. To catch the fish, the birds dip their beaks into the water simultaneously, withdrawing with beaks slightly open to allow water to drain out of the pouch. The Pelican lives across most of Australia in various wetlands and will migrate easily to find water and food sources. Pelicans fly efficiently, although take-off is rather clumsy. They hold their heads back in flight and may soar in thermal air currents to a height of 3000 m above sea level. Pelicans have lived in Australia for a very long time. Their fossil remains have been found in deposits between 30 and 40 million years old.
CHIPU – The Chipu is a Grass Whistling Duck also known as the Monkey Duck. The Grass Whistling Duck is quite at home on land and walks gracefully for a duck, but appears clumsy on water where it floats high and swims slowly. During the day the ducks cluster densely on the ground near water and at night stream out in groups to feed elsewhere on the plains. Small groups may travel 30 km and more to feed and are often joined on favourite feeding grounds by flocks from other camps, which are attracted by the constant whistling and twittering. At dawn, the Whistling Ducks return to their camps. They spiral down to the water to swim to the bank and run rapidly to the communal daytime roost.
KOOKABURRA – According to an Aboriginal legend, the Kookaburra’s famous chorus of laughter every morning is a signal for the sky people to light the great fire that illuminates and warms the earth by day. To imitate the laugh is taboo, for the sky people may take offence and plunge the earth into eternal darkness. The true function of the distinguishable call is to advertise the territory of this bold bird. The Kookaburra is the largest member of the Kingfisher family and one of 2 species of kookaburra, the other is a Blue-winged Kookaburra. The diet of the Kookaburra consists of snakes, lizards, rodents and the odd small bird, but they mainly live on various insects and other invertebrates. In time of insect plagues they feed entirely on the pest, which may help considerably in curbing the plague.
MURANA – The Willie Wagtail is found right throughout Australia it also lives in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Moluccas and the Solomon Islands but is not found in Tasmania. Willie Wagtails are particularly aggressive when breeding and have been known to drive away large birds such as eagles, kookaburras and magpies. The white eyebrows of the Willie Wagtails play a useful part in the interaction between adult birds in the breeding season. In a dispute over territory, a rival can show aggression simply by raising his eyebrows. The dispute is usually resolved as soon as one contestant gives the signal of defeat by hiding its eyebrows completely and looking like a young submissive bird. Both male and female build the nest and feed the young. Several clutches of eggs may be laid in one season and nests are often reused.
EAGLE DRIVE – The road leading into the Quilpie Golf Club is aptly called Eagle Drive. Quilpie Shire is home to several species of Eagles including the majestic Wedge Tail Eagle. The Wedge – Tail Eagle is a beautiful dark brown/black eagle with fully feathered legs and a distinctive wedge shaped tail in flight. The Wedge-Tailed Eagle’s nest is a large structure of dead sticks and can be up to 3 metres deep and two metres wide. Their diet consists of marsupials, reptiles, birds, rabbits and dead animals such as road kill. The Wedge Tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey, weighing approximately 4 kg and with a huge wingspan of up to 2.8 metres and can soar to a height of 2,000 metres.