Coffs Harbour Birdwatching
Coffs Harbour is a vibrant, NSW coastal city boasting a variety of exciting nature based tourist experiences. One of the highlights of this natural playground is the colourful bird life, which is extraordinary both in its variety and numbers.
Park at Fitzroy Oval and take the Coffs Creek Walkway east, towards the Botanical Gardens. As you walk beside the massive swamp mahoganies and scribbly gums that stretch out over the creek, keep an eye out for Galahs, majestic King Parrots and, cheeky Willie Wagtails. In the spring, when the trees are in flower, watch Rainbow Lorikeets and Blue-faced Honeyeaters feed on the nectar of the native blossoms.
Take time to stop at Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens which is one of the major regional botanic gardens on coastal New South Wales. It covers 20 hectares of Crown Land and is bounded on three sides by Coffs Creek, a wide mangrove-lined, tidal estuary.
The Garden was designed to feature natural forest, rare and endangered Australian species, and exotic plants from other sub-tropical regions of the world. There are five kilometres of well-made paths and boardwalks for visitors to explore this enchanting garden.
The garden and adjacent creek is a nature wonderland. Within this magnificent, diverse landscape more than 150 species of birds have been documented.
The central path leads to the delightful sensory garden and on to the Japanese Garden.
Along the way you are likely to see dozens of different birds including the acrobatic Grey Fantail, Striated Pardalote and Rainbow Bee-eater. A roosting Powerful Owl might be seen surveying the landscape.
Rich floral scents attract delicate Eastern Spinebills or even the brilliantly coloured Scarlet Honeyeater. Purple Swamphens, Australian Wood Ducks, and Pacific Black Ducks can be seen in and around the peaceful pond waters.
Not far away the Paperbark boardwalk leads to a tranquil part of the garden which is the perfect place to look out for the Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Pied Butcherbird, and Honeyeaters of all kinds.
The Mangrove boardwalks provide access to the mangroves that line the eastern boundary of the garden. Use the specially designed bird hides to possibly spot a Silver Gull, White-faced Heron, Little Black Cormorant, or even an Azure Kingfisher swooping down from the trees.
Leaving the gardens, and further along the walk, you arrive at the Promenade. Be sure to take a few minutes to climb to the lookout at the top of the complex and enjoy the sweeping view of the creek and surrounding areas.
The next section of the walk includes the extensive boardwalk that winds through the mangroves. Some of the many species that frequent this coastal area include the Australian White Ibis, Silver Gull, Australian Pelican, and Royal Spoonbill. See if you can spot a Little Black Cormorant with its outstretched wings drying in the sun.
Your final destination is Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, a historically and ecologically significant island with its panoramic coastal views. It is the most important roosting site in NSW for Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
To get to the island cross the road next to the bridge over the creek and follow the path along the back of the dunes until you emerge at the northern break wall. This leads to Mutton Bird Island.
The shimmering water and incredible coastal views provide an awesome setting for viewing the diverse marine wildlife that inhabits the area. The popular, easy walk along the break wall is perfect for spotting Pied Cormorant and Crested Tern hunting for fish. As the trail climbs up to the observation platform you will see Shearwater burrows throughout the long grass.
Now that you have worked up an appetite take the opportunity to visit one of the many local cafes.
The Wedge-tailed Shearwater is usually dark grey all-over, although a common variation is off-white underneath. The first part of their name refers to their wedge shaped tail and the second part relates to the way they glide and skim or ‘shear’ over the surface of the ocean. They feed by dipping their head into the ocean while flying and seizing a fish which is then flipped up and swallowed. They may also land on the surface to feed and can dive down to depths of over 60m in search of prey. They are also known as muttonbirds due to the taste of their flesh, and ghost-birds because of their wailing calls which ring out during the nights at their breeding colonies. One such colony is at Muttonbird Island in Coffs Harbour. The birds return every year in spring, often to the same burrow they used previously. The adults will excavate the burrow using their bill and feet. The legs of the bird are positioned way back on its body, which gives them an odd look when they walk, as if they are tipping forward.
The Australasian Gannet is a mostly white, with black wingtips and buff-yellow head. They are expert fishers, often seen cruising alone or in small groups 10m or more above the water. Suddenly they will turn, fold their wings and spectacularly crash into the water at speeds of up-to 90 km/h. They have evolved a strengthened skull and neck to withstand the impact of these dives and remain underwater for a few seconds, during which they usually swallow the fish whole, before bobbing back to the surface. When nesting, a pair can only successfully raise a single chick, as the egg is incubated on top of the webbed feet of one parent, while the other is out scouring the ocean for food.
The Crested Tern is a sleek white bird, with a bright yellow bill and forked tail. In the breeding season they have a splendid black cap and crest. Their diet is mainly fish between 10 and 15cm long as well as small squid, crabs and baby turtles. They often hunt in groups, flying several metres above the ocean and then plunging into the water or dipping its bill just under the surface to catch unsuspecting prey.
The beautiful male Satin Bowerbird does not develop his glossy blue-black plumage until around 7 years of age. Before that, males and females both look a similar olive-green and brown above, and paler underneath with a dark chevron pattern. The call of the Satin Bowerbird is a wild mix of whistling, buzzing and hissing as well as excellent mimicry of other birds. Full adult males tend to be solitary birds, but the young males and females often form groups that forage together, feasting on fruits, insects and even leaves in winter. The male builds a display bower on the ground, for attracting a mate. This is decorated with a variety of blue-green items such as flowers, feathers, shells, and a whole range of man-made plastic and ceramics.
Despite their magnificent colouring, the Wompoo Fruit-Dove can be difficult to see high in the rainforest canopy. It’s presence is often given away by the sound of fruit falling to the ground, as it feeds high above. The other sign to its presence is the deep resounding call of ‘wollack-woo’ or a quieter ‘wompoo’.
The Pipit is a ground dwelling bird, found across Australia, generally in open grassy habitat. They are most often seen as they search for food in a jerky stop-start motion, and will often perch on a low stone or shrub, wagging their tail up and down. During the breeding season the males make elaborate flights, with swooping dives while singing a sweet trilling song.
Australian King Parrot
The male is the only Australian parrot with a completely red head. Females have a completely green head. Often found in pairs or family groups, they are becoming increasingly common in semi-urban areas.
The Australian Pelican is mainly white with black tail and upperwings and is a common site around the coast of Australia, although it is also regularly occurs inland. It is able to travel great distances, soaring on thermals and then gliding for great distances with minimal effort. It is one of the world’s heaviest flying birds, with some males weighing upto 10kg. It also has the longest bill of any bird, upto 47cm, with the bill pouch able to hold 13 litres of water, when fully loaded. They often congregate in feeding flocks, sometimes numbering 2,000 birds. They nest in large colonies, particularly on the rare occasions that flooding rains fill the salt lakes of the Australian outback, when the pelicans flock inland in huge numbers with some colonies recorded at over 50,000 birds.
The Blue-faced Honeyeater is olive green above, white below with a black head and bright blue patch round the eye. This patch is pale green in younger birds. It is one of the largest honeyeaters, although it eats mostly insects and other invertebrates, as well as nectar and fruit. They often feed in noisy groups, excluding all other birds from the feeding area. When breeding, they will often use the abandoned nests of other species such as Grey-crowned Babbler, Noisy Friarbird, Magpie-lark or Magpie.
A familiar bird, particularly where there is plenty of nectar available. They will be seen busily flitting between flowers, which they probe with their long, fine, curved bill. When flying, their wings make a distinctive flicking sound.
easily recognised from other cockatoos, by its distinctive grey and pink plumage and short pale pink crest. Also known as the Rose-breasted Cockatoo, the Galah is one or the most common and widespread of Australia’s parrots. Since European colonisation, when they were found mainly inland, they have become more widespread, taking advantage of the changes in land use because of agriculture, which has increased availability of food and water. They are highly sociable and often join together in large noisy flocks when feeding and roosting. Also accomplished acrobats, often seen hanging upside down on telegraph wires.
Glossy Black Cockatoo
the smallest of Australia’s black cockatoos, mainly blackish brown with a red panel in the tail feathers. They feed almost exclusively on casuarina seeds, often taking time to search for a tree with seeds that are just right. Once they are happy, they will spend a long time in the one tree, eating contentedly, and it may be that the steady fall of casuarina seed remnants gives their presence away. It is estimated they spend nearly 90% of their day foraging for food. In flight they occasionally utter their drawn out ‘caw-caw’ call.
The Grey Fantail is closely related to the Willie Wagtail, only it seems to wag its tail even more! The Grey Fantail is rarely still, constantly shuffling about and swishing its tail when perched and then fluttering off to chase an insect with a quick twisting flight. Despite the light fluttering nature of their flight, they are capable of travelling long distances, even crossing Bass Strait to Tasmania.
Little Black Cormorant
The Little Black Cormorant is all black, although the feathers can appear to have a glossy green colour in sunlight. Most commonly found on freshwater wetlands, but they will also congregate at sheltered coastal waters. They are often found in flocks, flying low over the water in ‘V’ formation. They feed by diving underwater in pursuit of their prey and when hunting as a group (sometimes over 1000 birds) they slowly move across the water, with birds constantly leap-frogging from the back to the front of the feeding flock. They are colonial breeders, often nesting on the edge of ibis or heron colonies.
Widespread across Australia the Pied Butcherbird is closely related to the Australian Magpie and looks quite similar with its black and white plumage although it is somewhat smaller. It is considered to have one of the sweetest of all Australian birdsongs, with its beautiful piping call leading to one of its older names of Organbird. It is an agressive feeder, swooping down on a wide range of prey, such as insects, worms, small reptiles, frogs and birds.
beautiful bird, with wild plumage mix of green, purple, yellow and red, as well as a scarlet bill – a bird that truly fit its name. They often occur in large, loud, fast-moving flocks, which get even bigger when they meet up to roost. One of their physical features is a specially adapted brush-tipped tongue which is particularly useful when feeding on pollen and nectar, although they also feed on a wide variety of other foods, including fruit, seeds, grain and insects.
The male Scarlet Honeyeater is a spectacular red and black bird, which suits its old name of Bloodbird. The female is a subtle brown. They will often be seen feeding on flowering bottle brushes and eucalypts, as well as the flower spikes of grass trees.
Silver Gulls are striking birds, with crisp white plumage off-set by red legs, red bill and piercing white eyes. They can be found across Australia at almost any body of water and often flock in large number around fishing boats leaving or returning to the coast but seldom venture far ou to sea. They are highly persistent and successful scavengers, with a wide variety of food eaten, although naturally their diet would consist of worms, fish, crabs and insects. They usually breed in large colonies on offshore islands.
Mostly light blue-grey in colour with an obvious white face and yellow legs. In breeding season, long feathers (nuptial plumes) grow from the head, neck and back. They are the most commonly seen heron in Australia and also the most versatile. They live in a variety of habitats, as long as there is water nearby, including on reefs, tidal rock pools, estuaries, rivers, swamps and damp paddocks. They happily eat a wide range of aquatic food such as frogs, fish and yabbies, which they hunt with a variety of techniques from patient stalking to brisk chases.
the largest of the Australian fantails, it is mainly black with a crisp white belly and thin white eyebrow. The almost constant wagging of its tail is believed to help in flushing out insects which it will then pounce on. They may be seen following or even standing on top of cattle, waiting for the insects that get disturbed. They are known to carry large prey, such as butterflies, back to a favoured spot where they can de-wing them before swallowing. They have a pleasant song which may be repeated for long periods, even throughout bright moonlit nights. They also have a distinctive alarm call, likened to a box of matches being shaken. Their nests of grass and bark shreds are finished off with a felting of spiders’ web.