Birds and birdwatching

Birds are highly visible and vocal, spectacularly diverse, and fascinating to watch and study. This information sheet is a guide for those with queries about birds or who are interested in finding out more about birds and birdwatching.

Photo of an Australian King Parrot

Australian King Parrot, Alisterus scapularis
Photographer / Source: Gary Lewis

Bird facts

  • There are approximately 10 000 species of birds worldwide.
  • Over 800 species of birds have been seen in Australia and its territories.
  • Australia’s largest bird, the Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, appears on our national coat of arms.
  • The Helmeted Honeyeater Lichenostomus melanops cassidix is a State Faunal Emblem of Victoria.


Watching birds and major birding groups

Birdwatching is a popular hobby worldwide and there are millions of birdwatchers in many countries. Australia has several organisations dedicated to birdwatching and conservation that can help you and provide opportunities to meet other people interested in birds.

Birdlife Australia

Birdlife Australia (created in 2012 from the merger of Birds Australia & Bird Observation & Conservation Australia) is dedicated to the understanding, conservation and enjoyment of Australia's wild native birds and their habitats. They publish the quarterly magazine Australian Birdlife (formally called Wingspan).

Suite 2-05, 60 Leicester Street
Carlton VIC 3053
Phone (03) 9347 0757
Fax (03) 9347 9323
Email info@birdlife.org.au 
Website www.birdlife.org.au

Tips for birdwatching

A good pair of binoculars with a magnification between 7´ and 10´ will do for most situations. Always look around; birds are not always flying in front of you. Look in the foliage of bushes, or on the branches of trees, where birds might be sheltering.

Birds can be seen where you might not expect them. Dozens of species are recorded annually in the parks and streets around Melbourne Museum. Birds can show up in unlikely places. Use your ears. Songs and calls will often tell you what birds are around. Move quietly; birds are startled by loud noises and sudden movement.

Photographs and calls of Victorian bird species are available on Field Guide to Victorian Fauna, Museum Victoria's free app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

If you find a dead bird...

Dead native birds (from road kills, window collisions or attacks by other animals) can be lodged with Museum Victoria’s Ornithology department. Many valuable specimens in our collections have been handed in by members of the general public. Native birds, even if they are dead, may be retained only if you have a permit from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Dead birds should be hygienically wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer with a note giving location, date, and donor’s name. Contact the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum and they will speak to the Ornithology Collection to assess whether the museum wants the bird. Do NOT post the bird through the mail. Arrange with the Discovery Centre for a suitable time to deliver the bird in person. It is best to keep the bird frozen during transport.

Birds are protected

Native birds in Victoria are protected. It is illegal to interfere with birds or their nests and eggs, or to be in possession of live or dead native birds without a permit. Further details of regulations and permits can be obtained from the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Further Reading

Barrett, G. et al. 2003. The new Atlas of Australian Birds. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Melbourne.

Christidis L. and Boles W. E. 1994. The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Monograph 2, Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Melbourne.

Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Oxford University Press and Birds Australia, Melbourne. Volumes 1-6.

Morcombe, Michael. 2006. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parrish Publishing, Archerfield.

Museum Victoria, 2006. Melbourne's Wildlife: a field guide to the fauna of Greater Melbourne. Museum Victoria & CSIRO Publishing.

Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 2007. The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Harper Collins, Sydney.

Simpson K. and Day N., 2010. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. 7th edition. Viking, Ringwood.

Simpson K. and Wilson Z. 1998. Birdwatching in Australia and New Zealand. Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Slater, P., Slater, P. and Slater R. 2009. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Rigby, Adelaide.

Comments (66)

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jenny 16 June, 2014 11:12
how can I get rid of blackbirds from my yard or deter them from coming here? they are eating my garden and netting the whole lot would be expensive. is there any ways like mirrors or something that wont hurt them just deter the common blackbird from my gardens and backyard rather than netting the whole lot?
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Paul 21 November, 2013 22:05
I am a migrant from Europe and would like to know more about the wildlife in Victoria - especially native birds. Could you please recommend an illustrated book about this subject?
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Discovery Centre 24 November, 2013 14:37

Hi Paul,

Any of the books mentioned in the Further Reading section on this page should fit the bill. Though, Melbourne's Wildlife: a field guide to the fauna of Greater Melbourne. Museum Victoria & CSIRO Publishing, is a good general guide.

Gemma 11 September, 2013 18:18
hi, need to know what birds can you find at Balnarring Beach need to know by the 20th of sep, can you tell me on my email that will be helpful. thanks :)
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Kristen 17 June, 2013 22:39
I have found a hawk like bird, would I be able to send it to anyone to ID it? Thanks, Kristen :)
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Discovery Centre 18 June, 2013 11:00
Hello Kristen - if you can upload a clear image to us via our Ask the Experts page, we will see if the bird can be identified - it would also be useful to know where the bird was, you can add these details on the page linked above.
Discovery Centre 29 January, 2013 12:09
Hi Colleen, our bird staff would need an image to be able to give you a correct identification. If you see this bird again and you have your camera or phone with you please try and snap an image and email it to discoverycentre@museum.vic.gov.au
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colleen 28 January, 2013 20:23
i have these wattle birds that i feed all the time and as i was doin this another bird like a wattle came down to look and see what i was doing it came down right beside me and it had a creamie bellie and big black eyes and was i wondering what kind of bird it is
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Discovery Centre 24 December, 2012 13:29

Hi Minette, thanks for the question and the request for clarification.  We have spoken with the Ornithology Collection staff and they have provided the following information for you:

Victoria's native wildlife are protected under the Wildlife Act of 1975. This act regulates how people can engage in activities relating to wildlife found within the state, including requiring a person to possess a permit in order to collect wildlife or any part thereof, such as feathers.

Regulations on wildlife, such as the Wildlife Act 1975 and other similar legislation around the world, were created to protect and conserve species and promote biodiversity. In many cases, these regulations were necessary to prevent the large scale loss of wildlife, including endangered species. Regulating who and under what conditions people can possess wildlife is one way of promoting conservation of our native fauna. That is why collecting feathers, eggs, nests, and animals are all illegal without proper authorisation. It may seem excessive to regulate picking up feathers you've found on the ground, but law enforcement cannot make the distinction between feathers that have been moulted naturally by the bird or those collected from the illegal harvest of birds from the wild.

Picking up and admiring a feather is not an offense but taking it back to your home is. Other birds often use moulted feathers to line their nests - nature finds uses for these "discarded" items.

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Minette 23 December, 2012 14:22
A comment 14/02/2012 from Chelsea has caught my attention. My young children have also a fascination and love for feathers. Recently upon a visit to a sanctuary they were admiring a green feather that was on the ground, they picked it up to look closer only to be sternly told by a volunteer "staff" member that collecting feathers was illegal. I can understand the concept, but this was a child picking up a feather from the ground and admiring the beauty. Could you offer an explanation so I could relay this to my young ones? Wishing you a Merry Christmas and thanking you in advance...
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Discovery Centre 23 December, 2012 09:46
Hi Aaron, I would say the best thing to do would be to contact Wildlife Victoria for their advice and assistance. All the best.
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aaron 22 December, 2012 22:36
hi we have just found a silver eye bird out back the cat had it it seams ok but cant fly we have in a safe place but dont know what feed it can anyone help please
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Rosemary 8 December, 2012 17:01
Hi, I'm in the inner city. I have an injured fledgling blackbird in my yard. I've taken it to the vet, who confirmed that a wing is damaged (probably a rat bite) but not broken. The parent birds stopped coming to feed it a couple of days ago, after which I began feeding it - seems happy to take food from me although it's understandably wary of me. I've built a shelter to protect it from ground predators like rats (and never allow cats near my yard) but still allow the parents to come if they're around (they did fly into it for a day or so but have since stopped even though the baby still calls them). I would like to locate a carer for advice or care, but understand that most wildlife carers won't take non-natives. It's feeding and growing and I don't feel I can just 'let nature take its course', which would mean death by starvation or rat/cat attack. What to do? Thanks
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Discovery Centre 6 November, 2012 12:15
Hi Hamish, we have checked with the Collection Manager, Mammalogy and Ornithology, and he has provided an explanation for you!  There is a simple answer to the first part of this enquiry.  The action of gulls flying above tall buildings has been a phenomenon that has occurred ever since man started building skyscrapers.  The birds are attracted to each and every one of them that has lighting affixed at the top.  I first noted it some 30 years ago when in Sydney and at the same time people started questioning the practice.  It would appear that gulls, like many other birds, are attracted to lights at night.  This is regularly seen in the northern hemisphere were huge numbers of migrating birds are brought to tall well lit buildings.  Once there they simply avoid the dark and cluster or gather about the light source.  This is part of the answer, the rest is that large lights produce heat and heat rises.  So birds such as gulls are lifted above the buildings where they can soar effortlessly for lengthy periods.  Why gulls in particular, well other birds are mostly darker plumaged and we simply miss them if they are present whereas a white bird on a black background stands out.

 

As for the gulls collecting on roads at night this again could be caused by warm spots (underground heat storage, sunshine warming areas which maintain the heat longer than surrounds…). This would have to be checked before a logical answer given

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Hamish Macdonald 1 November, 2012 10:21
Hi there I have a query in regard to two specific group behaviours of seagulls I have noticed in the Melbourne area; 1) At night most I notice huge flocks of seagulls swirling around skyscraper's seemingly attracted by the lights, Im just curious as what kind of behaviour this is for birds, is it just a hang out thing or something more dynamic? (Im sure this one's a simple answer) 2) In north Melbourne on the cnr of Eades pl and Roden st me and my friends have continuously noticed a large group of gulls just hanging out on one section of the road at night. Moreover they are always just standing around but seem to be strongly attracted to this specific part of the road. There doesnt appear to be any food there and there is no major lighting, Im curious to see if there would be any explanation i.e giant magnet under the ground (x-file)? would like to hear your opinion cheers
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Discovery Centre 21 June, 2012 10:23
Hi Prue, our staff in the Ornithology Department are a bit stumped as to the identity of the bird. They would need to see an image of it to provide an identification. If you see it again and manage to get an image you can send it to discoverycentre@museum.vic.gov.au One suggestion was that it may have been a young rooster.
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prue 19 June, 2012 16:04
i am trying to identify a bird that i saw in Powelltown, Victoria the other day. it was a brown bird that stood about 15cm high with a long downturned tail and a very faint green on the wings. It also had a dominant crest on its head that gave the impression of a hand shape. i have never seen a bird like this in this area before and i am hoping someone can help me out. Thanks Prue
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Rose 10 May, 2012 16:32
Hi, what are some good iPhone apps for information on birds/birdwatching?
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Discovery Centre 14 May, 2012 11:35

Hello Rose,

 Museum Victoria’s new Field Guide app. Available in both iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch versions, the app combines detailed animal descriptions with stunning imagery and sounds to provide a valuable reference that can be used in urban, bush and coastal environments.

Cate 19 April, 2012 12:31
Ok, so I looked further than Australian birds, and I'm now sure its an introduced Indian Ringneck. It has set up home in the local wetland. I noticed there is control measures for this bird in NSW and WA. Is there someone I should report the sighting to?
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Cate 5 April, 2012 17:22
Hi! Today I followed the contact call of what I thought was a Black Cockatoo, only to find something else. At first I thought it was a Musk Lorikeet based on your field guide App, but the bird was larger and had a much longer tail. So my best guess is a lonely, immature Superb Parrot (as I couldnt see any yellow on its face from that distance). Are Superb Parrots known to make contact calls like Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos? I spotted the bird in the 3975 postcode, so I know this is an unlikely sighting. Thanks!
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Discovery Centre 20 April, 2012 12:03
The bird could have been a Superb Parrot, there has been a movement of these birds from there ‘normal’ range into areas such as southern Victoria.  The calls however are generally not like the black cockatoos and therefore I wonder if the bird in question was one of the Asian Ring-necked Parrots.  These are common cage birds and they do escape on occasion; they look remarkably like our Superb Parrot
sid 4 March, 2012 08:35
Hi, where can I find bird ringers who might be ringing birds in Melbourne in August 2012? cheers sid
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Discovery Centre 4 March, 2012 09:47

Hi Sid, you will probably need to contact Birds Australia for ringing research questions.

Hope this helps.

Discovery Centre 15 February, 2012 11:45
Hi Chelsea, the best option is probably to use our identification service. You can either send in photos or the specimens themselves. Full details are available on our identifications page.
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Louise Oosthuizen 21 June, 2014 08:36
I also collect feathers, I have recently been asked by an Instagram follower if it is illegal to do so? She was telling me in the US that it is illegal to 'own' any part of the bird including their nests....
Chelsea 14 February, 2012 19:47
My preschooler son has developed a love of collecting feathers! We love to find feathers and then go and learn about what birds they come from. There are two types of feathers that we keep finding but have no idea what birds they come from, even after looking at some Australian birds books... any ideas where we can get some help?
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margaret 22 January, 2012 11:55
I have seen a bird feeding in my back garden with wattle birds - looks similar but has black and red head and olive green body - is this the male of the species - much more colourful than the wattlebird feeding with it??
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Discovery Centre 14 December, 2011 10:38

Hi Rhiannon,

The behaviour is fairly normal and is a fact of life.  Often one of a group of nestlings hasn’t developed as much as others or may have been infected by internal or external parasites.  As such they may be found loitering and seemingly doing nothing.  Eventually they will move off to rejoin the group or by themselves.

 It is often, sadly, best to leave nature take its course and not interfere in these matters.

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Rhiannon 3 December, 2011 18:16
I am little concerned about a junvenile little wattle bird who consistently sits in a grevillea in our yard. I have watched this wattle bird and its sibling since they were very young being fed by their parents. The parents and their sibiling appear to no longer be around however this little wattle bird still sits in this tree. It will at times leave but later returns. Is this normal behaviour?
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col drury 17 July, 2011 00:55
stop searching folks, my dead bird has been identified. It's a female Eastern Spinebill.
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Discovery Centre 6 May, 2011 16:13
Hi David, firstly we would say that the cat, as a predator, is after the wattlebird rather than the bird tempting the cat. Wattlebirds are known to exhibit a strong defensive attitude and would normally stay just outside the range of any anticipated trouble. As it stands there is nothing we can suggest to keep these two animals apart but would hope that the cat would soon grow out of the behaviour and the wattlebird move on - they tend to move during winter unless there is a good local food supply. Finally the bird, being a native species, is fully protected by state legislation.
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DavidQ 1 May, 2011 10:13
I have a little wattlebird that is hanging around in our yard and waits to 'tease' & tempt our 10mth old kitten to climb trees, onto our roof etc, is this common, can anything be done about it? Our cats stay in at night but I don't want the bird top temp the cat onto the busy road in front of our house. Is this bird protected. We live in Seaford Victoria.
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Discovery Centre 27 April, 2011 09:48
Hi Col, Museum Victoria offers a free identification service, you can read the details and guidelines here.
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col drury 25 April, 2011 15:50
re my bird last night: beak is 2cm, I might have said 4cm. can anyone help?
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col drury 24 April, 2011 23:37
next door handed me a dead bird tonight. cannot identify. wt 1/2oz. bill 2cm curved down. body 7cm dark grey, white/brown chest & under throat. tail 4cm,silver underneath. can anyone help?
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Discovery Centre 5 February, 2011 10:08

Hi Marc, the breeding season for the Common Blackbird can last from September to January, depending on the weather conditions. During this period, they rear 2-3 broods; in a good year, a fourth may be attempted. The normal clutch size is 3-5. The incubation period is 14 days, which is also the usual time fledglings spend in the nest. The same nest is often used again if it has been a safe location for previous broods.

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Marc des Landes 3 February, 2011 14:55
My wife & I watched a blackbird build its nest about 80cm from our bedroom window. we watched her hatch the eggs feed the chicks and see them on their way. The, about a week later she came back and laid a secon lot, which she is now sitting on. Is the secon lot a normal thing??
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Discovery Centre 2 February, 2011 14:26
Good question, Annette - our ornithology specialists say that Crested Pigeon chicks fledge from the nest 2-3 weeks after hatching. The fledglings are quite independant, however it might be worth trying to keep your dog away from the nest if you notice the chicks have just fledged.
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Annette 31 January, 2011 09:12
Hi, we have a crested pigeon nested in a banksia rose bush in our front yard. I just noticed that there are now two babies in there also and was wondering how long it takes for the babies to fly and if they might stay in the yard as we have a staffy dog who loves to chase birds but has never caught one. My worry is that if they stay he might catch the babies.
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Discovery Centre 17 January, 2011 14:46
Hi Ian - Our Ornithologist has given us the following information for you: 

Without seeing the bird or its image it is difficult to make any qualified statement on this matter.  Melanism is reasonably common in birds and is usually detected as soon as the first feathers appear, so to be a truly melanistic bird this plumage would be carried from the time your colleague first obtained the bird.  If however the plumage has changed since its receipt then I would look for other causes such as the food it is being fed.  The apparent smaller size too could be attributed to its diet, if it has not had the correct food in its very early stage of growth then that could be the reason for its apparent diminutive size (remember the first food that pigeons receive is a special ‘pigeon milk’ produced by the parent).

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Ian 13 January, 2011 12:41
I have a colleague who rescued an infant crested pigeon. It has been reared for close to three months and now flies quite well. The bird appears to be melanistic as it is quite dark, plus it is still much smaller (dwarfism?) than adults crested pigeons when taken to the park for socialising. These could be the reasons the parents abandonned it. My question is would the bird be of value to researchers due to its differences? I haven't put this to the foster parents at this time.
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Discovery Centre 13 January, 2011 09:57

Hi Mary, yes the wattlebird, all species, are like other like-minded honeyeaters in that they defend their food sources.  They are not as aggressive as the miner as usually it is simply one or two birds being obnoxious rather than the gangs that appear with miners.  So in essence yes they will chase other species from the foods but they do allow others to frequently intrude it would appear that they like to be boss but are not that obsessive about it.

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Discovery Centre 13 January, 2011 09:48

Hi Joanne, what you did for the young bird should be fine. The adult birds will hear their young and find it easily, and since most birds have a poor sense of smell, they will not abandon it because it has been handled by humans. The best thing to do for these young birds is to first of all observe them and confirm that their parents are around and still tending to them. When a bird is in obvious danger from other birds what you did was a good option. I hope it is still going well.  

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Mary 10 January, 2011 21:55
Hi, Two little wattlebirds have recently taken over from a group of noisy miners in our garden inland of Dee Why, Sydney. Do you know if the little wattlebirds will also be aggressive towards smaller birds, such as blue wrens, spinebills, pardalotes etc, if they try to return to the garden? Regards.
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Joanne 10 January, 2011 18:58
I would appreciate your advice as to whether touching a fledgling (still in the nest or just out) will have adverse consequences. I am asking in the context of wild birds such as miners. I put one back in the nest as it was being attacked by a magpie. Should I have just left it??
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Discovery Centre 10 January, 2011 12:08

Hi Margaret, the leg bands would be from an aviary breeding program. Therefore the bird has been born and breed for commercial purposes and it would be almost impossible to obtain details through our normal sources.

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margaret 15 December, 2010 09:31
a quite tame King parrot keeps turning up on our verandah in the Dandenongs. He has 4 bands on his legs. 3 red, one silver. they have the numbers (near as I can tell) 221, 232,251, & 211-1P on them. What gives? can anyone tell me?
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Megan 11 November, 2010 20:30
Thanks so much for your advice guys I have been keeping an eye on him and he seems to be doing ok, but if I notice any change I will definately take your advice. Thanks again.
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Discovery Centre 28 October, 2010 13:58
Hi Megan - We consulted our bird experts for some advice. It's best to let nature take its course, but saying that we can understand the situation and the desire to do something. Magpie parents are very protective of their young so take precautions if you do the following: First arrange to see if a local vet will check the bird if brought to the surgery. If yes, then catch the youngster and take it for examination. When ready to release it back into the area simply place it down and walk away, the parents will return to look after it.
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Megan 26 October, 2010 14:59
Hi, I have a very adorable juvenile magpie living at my property. It is still with its parents and can find worms for itself etc. however I have noticed over the last week its right wing has something wrong with it. The bird can lift both wings, however when they are by its side the right wing doesnt sit properly, not folding fully back onto the bird. I have also noticed that it cannot fly. I am worried that it is susceptable to cats, dogs, other birds and cars and that it is too young to fend for itself should its parents disown it. What should I do?
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Discovery Centre 29 September, 2010 15:51

Hi Tegan, there are few studies directly based in Melbourne but available literature suggests that Common Mynas compete with some native birds for nest sites and, potentially, food resources. Also, they interact with other bird species. The best reference: Higgins, Peter & Cowling. (eds) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 7: Boatbill to Starlings. Also, some information is available in H. Crisp & A. Lill, City slickers: habitat use and foraging in urban Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis. Some good websites for you to look at are Common Indian Myna website, Canberra Indian Myna Action Group Inc & Feral.org.au 

The literature lists the birds affected by direct competition for nest sites in eastern Australia: Galah, Eastern Rosella, Sacred Kingfisher, House Sparrow and Common Starling. Aggressive interactions have been noted between Red Wattlebird, Noisy Miner and Common Starling during the breeding season. They have been seen interacting with Silver Gulls, Rock Doves, Spotted Turtle-Doves, Superb Parrot and Australian Magpie. They have been seen interacting with a cat and killing honeybees. Common Mynas are  habitat generalists specialising in ground-feeding. They do not show any significant aggressive interactions with other bird species for food resources during the breeding season.

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Tegan 28 September, 2010 11:48
i need a list of native birds that are affected by the indian mynain the environment around melbourne. can anyone help?
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justin 1 September, 2010 14:50
i love it
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Discovery Centre 21 April, 2010 10:21
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Dale 20 April, 2010 10:18
Hello, can someone tell me what the small birds are flitting in and out of shops and places through out Melbourne? I thought they were a canary, but I'm not overly sure. Regards Dale Busselton WA
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Discovery Centre 18 February, 2010 10:06

Hi Dave – Museum Victoria offers a free identification service. You can submit your identification request via our ‘Ask the experts’ webpage. Please provide us with images and, prior to sending us your enquiry, please read our identification guidelines.

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Dave Thomas 17 February, 2010 10:59
I would like to ID a bird I saw last week end at Queenscliff Victoria. It appeared to have a nest in the top of the pine trees in the park opposite the fish and chip shop near the ferry terminal, It was aprox 14 16 inches long, had a neck aprox 3 inches and a long beak about 2 to 3 inches, colour was a beige or bone with dark spots or short stripes.
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Discovery Centre 19 January, 2010 11:13

Hi Lauren, the bird you saw in the Forest Gallery was the Satin Bowerbird.  The females and immature males are as you have described.

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Lauren 16 January, 2010 21:35
Hello, Recently I was in the forest part of the museum, and while I was in there I saw the most striking green-feathered bird with quite intense blue eyes. I didn't ask at the time what species it was. I know my description is somewhat vague, but are you able to tell me what my little friends species is?
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Discovery Centre 6 January, 2010 11:51

Hi Samara, you might want to contact the RSPCA.  They will be able to put you in touch with a wildlife carer in your area.

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samara 4 January, 2010 21:10
HELP..!!!! i just found a bird in my garden..and he...or she is hurt and i don't know what to do ..well he is not badly hurt but he is still sooo young and he can't FLY!!! HELP PLEASE..!!!
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Alec Piper 14 September, 2009 01:48
A silvereye has nested in a sal bay tree on my patio. Chicks are now about two cms long and pulsing vigorously. Today I noticed three slaters crawling in the nest. Any comments?
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Discovery Centre 21 April, 2009 11:42
Hi Jessica! Due to the sheer volume of species that would be endemic or migrate through Victoria, I imagine a comprehensive list would be difficult to compile. However, I suggest you contact some of the organisations listed in the infosheet above. Birdwatching associations would be your best bet for up-to-date sightings of native birds in any particular area.
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Birdman 20 April, 2009 18:15
Hey Jessica - the Victorian branch of Birds Australia could probably help...
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Jessica Harrison 20 April, 2009 09:56
I am trying to fing as many as i can native birds to Australia that live in Victoria could you help I don't seem to be having ny luck!!! thank you
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