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Birds of the Murray–Darling Basin

The Basin is home to a wide variety of waterbirds and woodland birds, some of which live in the Basin all year round and some of which are migratory.

Waterbirds in the Basin wetlands

Floodplains include areas that stay wet even after flood waters have gone down. These are known as wetlands. The Basin contains more than half the wetlands in Australia where colonial waterbirds (waterbirds that breed and nest in colonies) can be found. Water for the environment plays an important role in supporting the wetlands that waterbirds need to breed and thrive.

Waterbirds depend on healthy wetland ecosystems to breed, forage for food and roost. Wetlands provide them with plenty of food and shelter, away from dangerous predators.The Basin supports more than 120 species of waterbirds, providing habitat for 25 internationally listed and 16 nationally listed waterbirds.

Waterbirds live in a range of wetlands – lakes, floodplains, swamps and estuaries – with different species breeding and feeding in different wetland environments. Some (for example, pelicans and cormorants) eat fish, others (for example, the black swan) are herbivores, while migratory shorebirds feed on small invertebrates. Large wading birds, such as white faced herons and the Australian ibis, feed on a range of invertebrates and vertebrates.

Waterbirds play an important role in freshwater ecosystems. By feeding on fish, frogs, invertebrates and plants, they help support the life cycle of plants and animals, and recycle nutrients back into the environment. Waterbird chicks and eggs provide an important food source for reptiles and predatory birds. Birds can also help keep agricultural pest numbers down by feeding on insects such as locust larvae and ticks.

Culturally, waterbirds are very important for First Nations people. Some species’ feathers are used in traditional ceremonies and many have historically been an important food source.

Important waterbirds of the Basin include:

  • Australasian painted snipe (endangered)
  • black-winged stilts
  • grey teal
  • hardhead (Australia’s only true diving duck)
  • hoary-headed grebe
  • little pied cormorant
  • royal spoonbill
  • sacred kingfisher
  • straw-necked ibis
  • white faced heron
  • white ibis
  • yellow-billed spoonbill.

Find out more about waterbirds in the Basin.

Download our poster on Basin waterbirds and macroinvertebrates.

Woodland birds

Woodlands are important to the floodplain ecosystem. With their fallen branches and tree-hollows, the black box and river red gum trees that grow alongside the Basin are an important habitat for a wide range of bird species.

The birds of the woodlands include:

  • species such as the brown treecreeper and striated pardalote, which live in the Basin’s woodlands all year round
  • species such as the diamond dove, which only live in the Basin’s woodlands at certain times of the year
  • migratory birds such as the sacred kingfisher and rufous whistler
  • several threatened and declining species, including the diamond firetail and greycrowned babbler
  • hollow-nesting species such as regent parrot, superb parrot and yellow rosella.

You may be interested in Bush bird monitoring within Barmah-Millewa Forest 1999-2017

Updated: 13 Aug 2020