Many species will immediately seem familiar to visitors from the northern hemisphere - Australian wrens look and act much like northern hemisphere wrens and Australian robins seem to be close relatives of the northern hemisphere robins, but in fact the majority of Australian passerines are descended from the ancestors of the crow family, and the close resemblance is misleading: the cause is not genetic relatedness but convergent evolution.
For example, almost any land habitat offers a niche for a small bird that specialises in finding small insects: the form best fitted to that task is one with long legs for agility and obstacle clearance, moderately-sized wings optimised for quick, short flight, and a large, upright tail for rapid changes of direction. In consequence, the unrelated birds that fill that niche in the Americas and in Australia look and act as though they are close relatives.
Kinds of Birds
Australian birds can be classified into six broad categories:
- Old endemics: long-established non-passerines of ultimately Gondwanan origin, notably emus, cassowaries and the huge parrot group
- Corvid radiation: Passerines peculiar to Australasia, descended from the corvid family, and now occupying a vast range of roles and sizes; examples include wrens, robins, magpies, thornbills, pardalotes, the huge honeyeater family, treecreepers, lyrebirds, birds of paradise and bowerbirds
- Eurasian colonists: later colonists from Eurasia, including plovers, swallows, larks, thrushes, cisticolas, sunbirds and some raptors
- Recent introductions: birds recently introduced by humans; some, such as the European Goldfinch and Greenfinch, appear to coexist with native fauna; others, such as the Common Starling, Blackbird, House and Tree Sparrows, and the Common Myna, are more destructive
- Migratory shorebirds: a suite of waders in the Scolopacidae and Charadriidae which breed in northern Asia and Alaska and spend the non-breeding season in Australasia
- Seabirds: a large and cosmopolitan group of petrels, albatrosses, sulids, gulls, terns and cormorants, many of which either breed on islands within Australian teritory or frequent its coast and territorial waters
For comprehensive regional lists, see:
- Australian Birds, covering Australia and its territories
- Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, the HANZAB list for Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the surrounding ocean and islands.
National organisations include:
- Birds Australia, also known as the Royal
Australasian Ornithologists Union, the leading
Australian NGO for birds, birding, ornithology and
Australian Bird Study Association, for banders and other field ornithologists
Birding-Aus - an Internet mailing list about Australian birds
Bird Observers Club of Australia, a major birdwatcher's organisation with 40 branches and affiliate groups
Regional References and Guides
Important regional references include:
- The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and
Antarctic Birds (HANZAB), the pre-eminent scientific
reference, a seven-volume encyclopedia.
The Atlas of Australian Birds, an extensive detailed survey of Australian bird distributions.
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000, Garnett, Stephen T.; & Crowley, Gabriel M., Environment Australia, Canberra, 2000 ISBN 0-642-54683-5, a comprehensive survey of the conservation status of Australian species, with costed conservation and recovery strategies.
Full-coverage field guides in print are as follows, (grouped in rough order of authority):
- Pizzey: Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Pizzey, G and Menkhorst, P (ed), 7th edition, 2003
- Slater: The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds, Slater P, Slater P and Slater R, 2003 revised edition
- Simpson and Day: Field Guide to Australian Birds, Simpson K and Day N, 7th edition, 2004 ISBN 0-670-04180-7
- Morcombe: Field Guide to Australian Birds, Morcombe, M, 2nd edition 2003, and complete compact edition 2004
- Flegg: Photographic Field Guide: Birds of Australia, Flegg, J, 2nd edition, 2002
- Trounson: Australian Birds: A Concise Photographic Field Guide, Trounson D and Trounson M, 2005 reprint
- Caley: What Bird is That?, Caley, N, 2000 edition
- Birds Australia.
- Bird Observers Club of Australia.
- Australian raptors
- The Birds of Australia: in seven volumes by John Gould - all volumes fully digitised