Lesson 2
Content Review Test




Characteristics of Birds

The Birds of Australia

Number of Species
Migratory Birds
Diversity of Birds
Habitat Types in Australia
Bird Families Represented in Australia


Officially, the study or knowledge of birds is called ornithology. It is a scientific term and word taken from the Greek language. That is, ornithikos = bird and ologos = teaching. Thus it means the knowledge or study of birds.

You will find that field guides of birds generally follow a certain order in which the birds are places. This is because birds, like all fauna and flora, are placed in a taxonomic order. This is the systematic and scientific arrangement of birds according to order, family, species & sub-species.

Characteristics of Birds

The characteristics of birds are:
  1. Body covering of feathers.
  2. Bones light, porous and air-filled.
  3. Forelimbs developed as wings.
  4. Body supported on two limbs.
  5. Mouth provided with a horny, beak.
  6. Eggs covered by a protective shell.
  7. Constant body temperature.
  8. Four chambered heart.

The Birds Of Australia

Number of Species

Australia is, area for area, among the richest and most colourful areas in the world for birds. To illustrate this, note that Australia has recorded about 800 species of birds but in comparison, North America has about 750, and the vast area of Europe and northern /Asia together has about 950 recorded species. (We are not as rich as Africa and Central/Southern America and India/South-East Asia)

We have approximately 500 land birds and about 80 swamp/water birds, and approximately 30 seabirds that breed in Australia.

Migratory Birds

Australia is yearly visited by approximately 90 species of non-breeding migrants, mainly waders and sea birds from the northern hemisphere, New Zealand and the sub-Antarctic. There are also more than 100 recorded rare visitors or vagrants.

About 50% of Australian birds are sedentary by nature. This is because of the mild climate, and thus the availability of food in normal seasons. However, drought and floods often afflict Australia, so there are nomadic movements at such times.

Approximately 10% of Australian birds migrate within the country as the seasons change. They move either north/south or higher/lower altitude. Some examples of the north/south movement are the Yellow faced Honeyeater and the Silvereyes; and of the higher/lower movement are the Rose Robin and the Pacific Baza.

There are some quite interesting migrants from outside of Australia. Most are waders, such as the Golden Plover. There are non-waders though, such as the Oriental Cuckoo, which breeds in the Asia region, such as Taiwan.

Several of our migrants are quite amazing in their migration habits. For example, the Short-tailed Shearwater or Muttonbird, which breeds only in Southern Australia, but migrates in our winter to the Arctic Sea. - an annual flight of thousands of miles. Another species of bird, which is a non-wader, breeding in Australia but migrating away from the continent to the near north in the non-breeding season is the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher.

Some migratory birds are non-breeding birds that come to Australia from vast distances. The tiny wading bird found around Cohuna, as well as throughout Australia, the Red-necked Stint, breeds in Arctic Siberia and travels to Australia for our summer months too. Another example is the Japanese Snipe or Latham’s Snipe, which breeds in Japan, but comes to Australia in the northern winter.

Diversity of Birds

In comparison to other countries and continents, we have a wonderful diversity of birds. We are especially rich in honeyeaters (70 species), parrots (60 species), Robins (20 species) and finches (20 species).

We also have some unique birds too, such as the Malleefowl, Freckled Duck, Plains-wanderer, Lyrebirds, Scrub-birds, Sittellas, Treecreepers, Fairy-wrens, Pardalotes, Bristlebirds, Scrubwrens, Gerygones, Thornbills, Australian Chats, Whipbirds, Wedgebills, & Quail-Thrushes, Babblers & Mud-nesters (Apostlebirds & Choughs), Birds of Paradise and Bowerbirds. We call them endemic species - they are unique to Australia and are so are found no where else in the world. (Some families of these are also represented in Papua New Guinea). Australia has about 345 endemic species.

We do lack some families of birds found elsewhere, such as the Woodpeckers, Hornbills and Shrikes. Yet even here, families of our birds replace them. For example, in Australia our Sittellas & Treecreepers replace the Woodpeckers.

In spite of the great changes that European settlement has brought to the Australian countryside, and the impact of introduced animals such as the rabbit, fox and cat, we can be thankful that perhaps only one mainland species has become extinct - and what a loss - the Paradise Parrot. Two sub-species of Emu are also extinct, those that once occurred on Kangaroo Island and the King Island in the Bass Straight.

We cannot afford though, to go on the way we are in treating our environment, if we are to keep intact our amazing birdlife species. For example, in the last 15 years over 10 million hectares of bushland have been cleared - that is more than half the state of Victoria. Scientists have calculated that as a consequence over a 150 million birds have perished. It is calculated that for every 100ha of vegetation cleared, 1,000 to 2,000 birds are destroyed. About 237 or 31% of our birds are listed as threatened. So, obviously, we cannot go on as we have been and still keep the wonderful country we have with regard to its native fauna and flora. Thoughtful conservation is very important.

So, in spite of some problems, we have a lot to be thankful for in Australia, and of which to be proud. Among those things are our amazing animals - the birds especially.

Some of the prominent families in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas are either not found at all in Australia, or only represented by one or two species. For example, Australia has no Woodpeckers, Hornbills, true Wrens and Shrikes.

Habitat Types in Australia

Birds are found in all habitats of the world, and are one of the most widely distributed species on the planet. Because Australia has such a great variety of climate and land types, we have just about every type of habitat represented.

The following are some of the main habitat types:
  1. Closed Forest. (Tropical and Temperate).
  2. Open Forest. (Wet and Dry).
  3. Woodland. (Tropical and Temperate, and classed by groundcover, e.g. grassy, shrubby).
  4. Heath. (Wet & Dry and High and Low Altitude).
  5. Grasslands.
  6. Marine. (Estuaries, Coastal and Oceans).
  7. Dunes. (Coastal and Inland).
  8. Inland Waters. (Fresh Water and Saline River systems e.g. Murray/Darling and Swamps, Lake Eyre etc).
  9. Islands.
These habitats are more specifically detailed in Lesson 3.

Bird Families Represented In Australia

There are about 146 - 216 recognized Bird Families in the World. In Australia about 85 Bird Families are represented. The figures vary according to which system and ‘specialist’ is being followed. (See sheet for the accepted listing of bird families and species represented in Australia, published by Birds Australia or the Royal Australian Ornithological Union).

For further information on Bird Families consult the introductory notes of such Field Guides as Simpson & Day. You may also find this information on such web sites as:


Birds have certain characteristics: a body covering of feathers; bones that are light, porous and air-filled; wings; a body supported on two limbs; a mouth provided with a horny, beak; they produce eggs covered by a protective shell; have a constant body temperature and a four chambered heart.

There are about 800 species of birds recorded in Australia. Some are unique to Australia and some are not. There are Migratory birds and many diverse types of birds. Birds are found in all different habitats.


The test is comprised of three parts:
  1. A colour - in sheet of bird outlines. Download sheet [hint]
  2. Make a sightings list of at least 20 birds that you have seen and identified. (Do this between lessons) [hint]
  3. The online test Test for Lesson 2
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