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21 October 2022 9 min read

Each year, Birdlife Australia celebrates National Bird Week with the Aussie Bird Count. This is where you can become a citizen scientist and record the bird species in you see in your local area.

We asked our friends at the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to run the numbers and find out Australia’s top 10 most spotted birds.

We have collected only a few interesting facts about each bird. You can find out more on the Atlas of Living Australia.

1. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)

Classic in black and white and with a call familiar to most Australians, the magpie sits comfortably in first place of our top 10 Australian birds.

You can find them all around the country, wherever there is a combination of trees and adjacent open areas.

Australian magpies are strongly territorial. They will defend their turf from other magpies and potential predators. During breeding season, they swoop to protect their nests. But as long as you keep your distance, magpies will leave you alone.

The magpie can mimic the calls of over 35 species of native and introduced birds. They can also impersonate other animal calls, such as dogs and horses. Magpies have also been known to mimic human speech, when living in near humans.

2. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)

Magpie-larks live across most of mainland Australia. You can find them in almost any habitat except rainforests and the driest deserts.

The name magpie-lark is quite misleading, as the species has no link with either magpies or larks. They do, however, share the Australian magpie’s black and white appearance.

Like Australian magpies they are territorial and males will vigorously defend their nests.

Magpie-larks build an unusual mud nest. During the breeding season both the male and female gather wet mud. They construct a bowl-shaped nest on a horizontal branch, or similar site, often up to 20 metres above the ground. They line the nest with feathers and grasses. Male and female birds often sit side-by-side and call alternately, each raising and lowering their wings as they do so.

3. Willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)

The willie wagtail is the largest, and most well-known, of the Australian fantails. It has black plumage with a white belly. You can tell it apart from other similar-sized black and white birds by its black throat, white eyebrows and whisker marks.

The willie wagtail lives across mainland Australia, in a variety of habitats. They prefer semi-open woodland or grassland with scattered trees. And they'll often hang out near wetlands or bodies of water.

It is cheeky, taking its common name from its habit of wagging its tail horizontally. They may also nest close to magpie-larks, letting the larger birds take on the burden of chasing off predators.

4. Welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

The welcome swallow’s name refers to people welcoming its return as a herald of spring in southern parts of Australia.

They are fast-flying and about 15 centimetres long. Welcome swallows live all across the country, including Tasmania and other nearby islands. They breed in southern and eastern Australia. Eastern populations are migratory, wintering in northern Australia. Western birds, however, stay put.

Welcome swallows feed on a wide variety of insects. They catch prey in flight using their acrobatic flying skills. Where insects are plentiful, welcome swallows feed in large flocks.

They're also social creatures, living in groups of up to 100 birds except when nesting.

5. Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Pretty in pink, the galah can be easily spotted due to its rose-pink and grey plumage. They form huge noisy flocks which feed on seeds mostly from the ground.

The galah can be found all across Australia except for the driest areas and the far north of Cape York Peninsula. It likes all habitats except for dense forests.

The name galah is derived from gilaa, a word from the Yuwaalaraay and neighbouring Aboriginal languages spoken in north-western New South Wales.

In captivity they have been recorded living for an incredible 72 years!

6. Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)

Winner of the 2021 Bird of the Year competition, the male adult superb fairy-wren is resplendent in blue.

The superb fairy-wren has a complicated breeding life. Colourful males are often accompanied by a group of brown ‘females’. But, some of these ‘females’ are actually males who have not yet attained their breeding plumage. The eggs found in nests are not always the babies of the colourful male. Many are the result of extra-pair liaisons, often performed before dawn.

You can see superb fairy-wrens from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia through eastern Australia and Tasmania to the south-eastern corner of South Australia.

7. Red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata)

The red wattlebird is not named for its love of the iconic Australian tree. But rather for the pinkish-red wattles (fleshy growths) on either side of its neck. They inhabit the southern half of mainland Australia.

The red wattlebird has a sweet tooth. It feeds primarily on nectar from flowers with its thin curved bill. It will occasionally supplement its diet with insects or fruit.

The red wattlebird is noisy and social. They live in pairs, a small family group or alone during the breeding season. But they gather in larger groups of up to several hundred over winter. It is also territorial, defending its nest and sources of food against other birds.

8. Pacific black duck (Anas superciliosa)

Pacific black ducks are more brown in plumage. But they actually get their common name from the bold black stripe across their heads.

You can spot them all across Australia (except in very arid regions). The pacific black duck is a social bird, usually seen in pairs or small groups. They feed on seeds and aquatic plants. You’ll often hear the pacific black duck before you see them. They are known for a distinctive rapid ‘quack’ that quietens over time.

Pacific black ducks can breed twice in a year. However this is dependent on food and water availability. This species often displays intricate courtship behaviour. Initiated by the female, they will preen, bob and flap their wings.

9. Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)

Now here’s a clever cockie! The sulphur-crested cockatoo is extremely intelligent. They are often seen problem solving (and up to mischief) in the wild. They have a loud raucous call which they have adapted from communicating in forest environments. Their calls can be 120 to 135 decibels which is comparable to a thunderclap or an air raid siren!

Cockatoos have beaks powerful enough to crack thick nuts and have high dexterity. They able to balance on one foot and use the other foot to handle objects. They can learn many things including ‘parroting’ human words and the calls of other birds. Cockatoos also have very complex social behaviour. For example, they use calls and their distinctive yellow crest to communicate in groups, which can be a spectacle to see.

You can tell the sex of a sulphur-crested cockatoo from their eye colour, with males having a solid black iris and females having a red iris.

10. Grey fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa)

©  JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Introducing one of the most restless Aussie birds. Rounding out our top 10 Australian birds is the grey fantail. It is constantly adjusting its perching position and swishing its fantastic fantail in the air! Grey fantails are inquisitive and will often approach observers out of curiosity. They feed on insects which they chase through tree canopies in dramatic aerial acrobatic displays.

Most birds will only build a single nest during breeding season. But grey fantails build multiple nests to maximise the chances of egg survival. Grey fantails are often reported to start building a nest only to abandon it if attention from predators is too high. Some grey fantails even build alternate nests as decoys! Once they build the final nest and lay their eggs, they incubate them for two weeks. Both parents share incubation and feeding duties.

Aussie Bird Count

The Aussie Bird Count is an activity for all-ages. It involves observing and counting the birds that live near you. By recording information about the birds you’ve seen, you will help BirdLife Australia better understand local birds. You’ll also get to know the wildlife on your doorstep including some of our top 10 Australian birds.

Taking part in the Aussie Bird Count is easy. All you have to do is:

  1. Spend 20 minutes in your favourite outdoor space and record the birds you see during that period
  2. Submit your results using the app or the web form.

You don’t need to be a bird expert. Birdlife Australia’s app and web form have a built-in “bird finder” tool to help you identify birds you’re unsure of.

You can count as many times as you want, every count helps. By participating, your records will also feed into the Atlas of Living Australia, supporting research and scientific decision making.

Getting local

Keen for a little more local knowledge? Check out your state or territory’s most spotted birds. You cqan also find out what wildlife is in your area with the ALA Explore Your Area tool!

Australian Capital Territory

  1. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  2. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  3. Pied currawong (Strepera graculina)
  4. Crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans)
  5. Red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata)

New South Wales

  1. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  2. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  3. Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)
  4. Australian raven (Corvus coronoides)
  5. Laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

Northern Territory

  1. Magpie goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
  2. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  3. Willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
  4. Bar-shouldered dove (Geopelia humeralis)
  5. Rainbow bee-eater (Merops ornatus)


  1. Torresian crow (Corvus orru)
  2. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  3. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  4. Willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
  5. Masked lapwing (Vanellus miles)

South Australia

  1. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  2. Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)
  3. Willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
  4. New Holland honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)
  5. Red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata)


  1. Forest raven (Corvus tasmanicus)
  2. Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)
  3. Masked lapwing (Vanellus miles)
  4. Grey fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa)
  5. Common blackbird (Turdus merula)


  1. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  2. Red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata)
  3. Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)
  4. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  5. Little raven (Corvus mellori)

Western Australia

  1. Willie wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
  2. Australian raven (Corvus coronoides)
  3. Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
  4. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
  5. Australian ringneck (Barnardius zonarius)

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