Magic of King Islands Birds

The birds of King Island are many, varied and unique with at least 9 resident sub-species, national and international migratory birds and frequent vagrants to surprise. King Island is ancient.  It is remote and beautiful, sometimes it’s wild and sometimes it’s gentle — even balmy. 

 

Located in the middle of the Western entrance to Bass Strait, half-way between Victoria and Tasmania, the Island acts as a biological stepping-stone between Tasmania and mainland Australia. For birds migrating North and South across Bass Strait, the Island is a vital stopover

to rest and refuel.

In late spring other migrants arrive to our shore and coastlines.  These include breeding birds such as the Fairy Tern 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 Duck and White-necked Heron.

Bird life on King Island can be broadly placed into five major 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 such as Grey Shrike-thrush, New Holland Honeyeaters and Supurb Fairy-wrens  

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

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

  • King Island Subspecies:  Black Currawong (sounds like), Yellow Wattlebird, Green Rosella (sounds like), Dusky Robin, King Island Brown Thornbill and the King Island Scrub Tit. 

  • Tasmanian endemics:  10 of Tasmania’s 12 endemic birds live and breed on King Island   e.g. Yellow-throated and Black-headed Honeyeaters, only missing the 40 Spotted Pardolate (now extinct on KI) and Native Hen.

  • Threatened Species: King Island Scrubtit and Brown Thornbill (Critically Endangerd); King Island Green Rosella (Vulnerable) and Black Currawong (Vulnerable); species that are threatened on the mainland but stable on King Island e.g. the Hooded Plover. 

2)     INTERNATIONAL MIGRANTS  

  • Non-breeding Spring Arrivals: International travellers such as Ruddy Turnstone, Greenshank and Red-necked Stint come to feast along the shorelines over summer and autumn 

  • 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 across 

 

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 parrots and Blue-winged Parrots

  • Some stay some move on: Spring arrivals with a percentage staying and breeding on King Island e.g. Flame Robin and Silvereye but the majority continuing to Tasmania

  • 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)   LISTED THREATENED SPECIES

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

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

  • Shorebirds: Hooded Plover (stable in Tasmania but threatened in most states on mainland)         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 

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