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About King Island and it's birds...

King Island is ancient.  It is remote and beautiful, sometimes it’s wild and sometimes it’s gentle — even balmy.  Once connected to both Tasmania and the Australian mainland by the Bass Strait land bridge, it was isolated over 10,000 years ago as the last ice-age ended and Bass Strait flooded. As a consequence much of the fauna and flora of King Island are endemic.

Located in the middle of the western entrance to Bass Strait,  King Island acts as a biological stepping-stone between Tasmania and mainland Australia, with ten of the twelve Tasmanian endemics living no further north while other species live no further south. For birds migrating north and south across Bass Strait, King Island is a vital stopover to rest and refuel.  Vagrants, birds that have lost their way, are frequent and sometimes surprising visitors, always worth keeping eyes open for.

In late spring pelagic and international migrants arrive to our shore and coastlines.  These include breeding birds such as Fairy and Little Terns and Short-tailed shearwater and non-breeding birds such as the Ruddy Turnstone and Red-necked Stint. Many waterbirds including various duck and egret species come and go throughout the year with occasional appearances of species such as Freckled and Pink- eared Duck and White-necked Heron.

King Island's birds fall into five broad groups: 
  • Resident species 

  • International migratory species,  

  • Bass Strait migratory species  

  • Vagrants and 

  • Threatened Species 


  1)     Resident Species 

 These birds live their entire lives on King Island. They include: 

  • Bush birds that occur elsewhere in Australia such as Grey Shrike-thrush, Golden Whistler and New Holland Honeyeater

  • Raptors such as Sea Eagle, Australasian Kestrel, Brown Falcon and the Boobook Owl (Tasmanian race leucopsis). 

  • Sea and shore birds such as Hooded and Red-capped Plover, Pacific Gull and Crested Tern

  • King Island Subspecies:   Yellow Wattlebird, Green Rosella, Dusky Robin, Superb Fairy-wren, Tasmanian Thornbill and Scrubwren, Black Currawong, King Island Brown Thornbill and King Island Scrubtit. 

  • Tasmanian endemics:  Ten of Tasmania’s twelve endemic birds live and breed on King Island e.g. Yellow-throated, Strong-billed and Black-headed Honeyeaters. We are only missing the 40 Spotted Pardolate (now extinct on KI) and Native Hen.

2)     International Migrants

  • Non-breeding Spring Arrivals: International travellers such as Ruddy Turnstone, Greenshank, Golden Plover, Red-necked Stint and, occasionally, Bar-tailed Godwits come to feast along the shorelines over summer and autumn, departing again in April. 

  • Breeding spring arrivals: Pelagic travellers such as Short-tailed Shearwaters and Fairy Prions.   

  • Winter arrivals: In late autumn the Double-banded Plover arrives from the Southern Alps of New Zealand to enjoy the comparatively mild winter of King Island. 

  • Weather Dependent: Spine-tailed Swifts (also known as White-tailed Needletails) are often seen as storms move over the island. 


3)     Bass Strait Migrants 

  • Those that stop, refuel and move on: species that migrate using King Island as a staging point but don’t breed here e.g. Orange-bellied, Swift and Blue-winged Parrots

  • Some stay, some move on: Spring arrivals with a percentage staying and breeding on King Island e.g. Flame Robin, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Silvereye and Swamp Harriers with the majority continuing on to Tasmania. In the autumn they all return across the Strait to over-winter on the mainland.

  • On the move anytime: birds that seem to be coming and going frequently e.g. Many water birds; including Freckled and Blue-billed ducks, Black Swans, Wood ducks etc. 


4)     Vagrants 

  • Occasional arrivals: birds that turn up but have no pattern to their presence.  Examples range from Scarlet Honeyeater to Crested Penguin. 

5)   Threatened Species

  • King Island Subspecies: Scrubtit, Black Currawong and Brown Thornbill (Critically Endangered), Yellow Wattlebird and Green Rosella (Endangered)

  • Bass-Strait migratory species: Orange-bellied and Swift Parrot (Critically Endangered)

  • Shorebirds: Hooded Plover (stable in Tasmania but threatened in most states on mainland), Little and Fairy Terns and all international migrants.   


NOTE: There are a number of species that are not formally listed as threatened but are thought to be in decline.  These include Short-tailed shearwater and Latham's Snipe 

More Information - click buttons below

Ruddy T'stones feeding RBR IMG_6989_edited-1.jpg
Black currawong 3, Naracoopa, King Is, TAS_BB2_4215 copy.jpg
Green Rosella 2 x Donna Romano copy.jpg
Banded lapwing, King Island, Tasmania_IMG_6019.jpg
Golden-headed Cisticola 3.jpg
KI brown thornbill, King Island, TAS_GBB_4029.jpg
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