Australian Birds in Cape York

So what Australian birds are found up in Cape York?

And how different are they from the birds in the rest of Australia?

There are three kinds of them.

The first are the birds that are only found in Cape York peninsula, and they are often birds that we share with Papua New Guinea instead of the rest of Australia. Some examples are palm cockatoos and eclectus parrots.

The second are the birds that are found in north Queensland but not in the rest of Australia. They are tropical birds, and some of them, too, are found in Papau New Guinea. Some examples are cassowaries and sunbirds.

The third kind are the birds that are also found in the southern, cooler parts of Australia. They are not tropical birds, and they include emus and laughing kookaburras.


First, there are the large, flightless birds called ratites and the most famous one in Australia is emu, that is also found in Cape York. 

But the one that north Queensland is famous for is cassowary, that is also found in Cape York, and Papua New Guinea.


Fowls and Megapodes
The second group is the birds related to roosters and chickens, and they include bush turkeys, quails, scrubfowls, pheasants, peacocks, guineafowls, and feral roosters and chickens - they look like the domesticated ones but they live in the wild and are called red junglefowls.

frigate bird

Ocean Birds
While Australia's most famous ocean birds such as penguins and albatrosses live in the southern parts of the country, as do gannets, fulmars and prions, up here we have boobies, frigatebirds, tropicbirds and some petrels.

australian pelican

Other Marine Birds
Pelicans - the most famous marine birds up here - live in fact just as happily in freshwater, and can be seen in freshwater lakes and billabongs in Cape York and elsewhere. 

Cormorants are tied to the coastal marine waters, while darters can be seen inland in the fresh water.

oyster catcher

Other Coastal Birds
Then there are a lot of other smaller coastal birds such as oyster catchers, sand pipers, jaegers, gulls, terns, curlews, tattlers, snipes, noddies, knots, jacanas, ruffs, plovers, lapwings, needletails, swifts, swiftlets and sanderlings to name a few.

jabiru stork

Wetland Birds
Our northern wetland birds are magpie geese, different species of ducks, purple swamphens, dusky moorhens, Eurasian coots, a few species of herons, egrets, bitterns, ibis and spoonbills, and most famously - jabiru - the largest of them all, and Australia's only stork.


Grassland Birds
Our largest grassland birds are brolgas (also found elsewhere in the northern and eastern half of Australia), and sarus cranes (found only up here). Australian bustards are smaller, up to 120cm tall, and also found in Cape York as well as elsewhere in Australia.

wedge tailed eagle

Diurnal Birds of Prey
The largest of Australian birds of prey are wedge tailed eagle and white bellied sea eagle, and both are found in Cape York. 
Other we have are kites, ospreys, bazas, buzzards, goshawks, sparrow hawks, hobbies, kestrels, harriers and falcons.

australian owls

Owls, Nightjars and Frogmouths
Of the nocturnal birds of prey we have southern boobook, barking owl, rufous owl, grass, barn, masked and lesser sooty owl (south eastern Cape), Australian owlet nightjar, large tailed and white throated nightjar; and tawny frogmouth, marbled frogmouth and Papuan frogmouth.

australian pigeons

Doves and Pigeons
We don't have the crested and spinifex pigeons, but we have squatter pigeons, white headed and topknot pigeons (both south-east Cape York), and the famous imperial pigeons. 
And we have emerald, diamond, bar shouldered and peaceful dove as well as some tropical rainforest doves like wompoo fruit dove.

australian parrots

Our parrots include red winged parrot, king parrot (south eastern Cape), golden shouldered parrot, double eyed fig parrot, red cheeked and elcectus parrot (both endemic); eastern rosella (we have the pale headed subspecies), and little, varied, scaly breasted and and rainbow lorikeet.

australian cockatoos

Australian cockatoos come in three colours: white, black and pink. Of the white ones we have sulphur crested cockatoo and little corella.

Of the pink ones we have galahs, and of the black ones we have the red tailed black cockatoo and palm cockatoo - the largest of all.

australian kookaburras

Kingfishers and Kookaburras
Like the rest of coastal and northern Queensland we have both species of Australian kookaburras - the laughing kookaburra and the blue winged kookaburra

And we have azure kingfisher, little kingfisher, as well as red backed, forest, collared, sacred, yellow billed and buff breasted paradise kingfisher.

rainbow bee eater

Other Forest Birds
We have rainbow bee eaters, dollarbirds, noisy and red bellied pitta, lovely and red backed fairy wren, red browed and striated pardalote, large billed scrubwren, weebill, and fairy, white throated, large billed and mangrove gerygone.


We have the blue faced honeyeater, yellow honeyeater, as well as brown, banded, varied, graceful, white streaked, yellow spotted,
white gaped, tawny breasted, black chinned, white throated, green backed and a few other honeyeaters. And we have the helmeted, little, noisy and silver crowned friarbird.

australian finches

Finches, Robins and Mannikins
We have the
chestnut breasted mannikin, double barred finch, masked finch, black throated finch, crimson finch, star finch and red browed finch, gouldian finch, grey crowned babbler, eastern yellow robin, mangrove robin, northern scrub robin and white faced robin.

willie wagtail

Flycatchers, Whistlers, Fantails and Wagtails
We have yellow legged flycatchers, lemon bellied flycatchers, broad billed flycatchers, leaden flycatchers, shining flycatchers,
mangrove golden whistlers, grey whistlers, rufous whistlers, northern fantails, rufous fantails and willie wagtails.


Figbirds, Silvereyes
We have sunbirds, mistletoebirds, silvereyes,
yellow orioles, Australasian figbirds, magnificent riflebirds, trumpet manucodes, great bowerbirds, and a few species of cuckoo shrikes, woodswallows, swallows, martins and pipits.

metallic starling

Starlings, Magpies, Crows
We have metallic starlings, yellow breasted boatbills; black faced, black winged, spectacled, frill necked and white eared monarchs, magpie larks, spangled drongos, Australian magpies, pied butcherbirds, black backed and black butcherbirds, torresian crows and pied currawongs.

Australian Bush Turkey

If there is one bird you will see in Cape York, it is bush turkey.

You may not see a lot of other wildlife unless you go out at dusk or dawn for bird watching, or during the night time for spotlighting.

But this bird it is literally everywhere, on almost every camping ground, on every forest track you do ... 

They are brave too - they come quite close to you, obviously hoping to get some food.

They are found in eastern Australia between Sydney in the south and the tip of Cape York in the north.

Anywhere south of Cape York they all have yellow 'collars' around their neck, and this is how most Australians are used to seeing them:

bush turkeys
The more common yellow-collared bush turkey, Cairns. 

But there is a separate sub-species in Cape York
, that has a purple collar instead.
So all the bush turkeys you see in central and northern Cape York, have purple collars, or sometimes white (more in females) - but not yellow.

bush turkey
The 'Cape York' Bush Turkey, near the tip of Cape York.

What Kind of Bird is a Bush Turkey?

Well it is not really a turkey. It belongs to the family of Megapodes, so it is related to scrub fowls and mallee fowls.

It is more properly called Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami.

It can grow quite large, up to about 70cm in length and it can have a wingspan of 80cm.

Where Is It Found?

Like already mentioned, its distribution is along the subcoastal eastern Australia, from about Sydney in the south and the tip of Cape York in the north.

Its habitat varies a bit between the southern and the northern populations, up here it tends to prefer highland areas to the lowland.

It likes moisture and is much more likely to be seen in rainforest areas than dry open woodlands.

australian brushturkey
A female 'Cape York' bush turkey, Wenlock River. 

What Does It Eat?

Bush turkeys are both meat and plant eaters. The meat diet mostly consists of insects, and the plant material consists of fruits that they find on the ground.

Nests and Breeding

Like other Megapodes, they make large mound nests on the forest floor where they incubate their eggs under a layer of soil and half rotten leaf matter. The nests are not too hard to spot if you have a look around.

bush turkey nest
Mound nest.

The breeding and egg laying season is during the hotter part of the year, about September to March. Many different females may lay their eggs into the same mound. The eggs hatch inside the mound, and the newly hatched young dig themselves out of the mound.

Blue Winged Kookaburra

Blue winged kookaburra is only found in northern Australia.

There are two species of kookaburras in Australia. The more famous, Laughing Kookaburra that is so well known for its laughing 'koo-koo-ka-ka-kook' call, is found in the whole eastern Australia and has also been introduced to the south west.

The less famous blue winged kookaburra is found in the whole northern Australia and has been also introduced to the Pilbara region in the west.

The two overlap in the north east, and both species are found in Cape York.

However, the more common one on the peninsula is the blue winged species, even though it's often mistaken for the laughing kookaburra that is more common in the south.

The reason for the mistake is - both species have some blue on the wings, so the wing colour is not a good indicator.

The photo below is of laughing kookaburra, and there is no blue on the wings visible. They do have some, even though less than the blue winged species.

laughing kookaburra
Laughing kookaburra baby. 

The best indicators instead are

* a very distinctive dark eye stripe on the laughing kookaburra's face. The blue winged one does not have the eye stripe.

* the laughing kookaburra has dark eyes, the blue winged one has light (except their young that have brown eyes).

* The blue winged one may be a bit smaller bird, but has a larger beak.

* obviously, the laugh. Blue winged kookaburra does not laugh.

blue winged kookaburra
Blue winged kookaburra. 

Both kookaburras are meat eaters. They eat large insects and small animals such as frogs, lizards, rodents, even fish and crayfish.

They breed in the end of the year, between September and December (very common amongst the birds in Australia). The young are known to be aggressive and often kill their younger siblings.

There is a difference to remember between the male and the female: only the male has a blue tail - the female has a rufous brown one.

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny frogmouth is a nocturnal predator distantly related to owls.

It is the most common of Australian frogmouths, found almost everywhere in the country, including Cape York Peninsula, as well as southern Papua New Guinea.

Like other frogmouths, it is perfectly camouflaged, looking like a tree trunk particularly when holding its head upward.

Like in other frogmouths, the male is grey and the female is reddish brown.

The tawny is the heaviest of them all, and unlike some others, has a yellow eye.

The southern individuals are larger than the northern ones.

Like others in the family (and unlike owls) they perch (instead of active chasing) and they catch their prey with their beak (instead of feet).

Unlike Papuan Frogmouths the Tawnies hardly eat anything larger than insects and spiders.

They hunt in darkness, mostly the hours after dusk and before dawn.

During the day they roost in trees, often invisible thanks to their perfect camouflage. When threatened they freeze but can also make a hissing noise.

tawny frogmouth
Tawny Frogmouth on its nest in Mt Molloy. 

They live in life-long pairs, and breed between August and December (except in arid areas where they wait for the rains).

They use the same nest year after year, which is in a tree branch,
often a forked one.

Both male and female incubate the eggs, but day time it's most likely the male you see up there.

tawny frogmouth
Tawny Frogmouth on its nest in Mt Carbine

The southern individuals are larger than the northern ones.

They live in eucalypt forests, open woodlands and many other habitats except treeless deserts and rainforests too dense.

They also inhabit rural and urban areas, and get hit by cars when catching insects on the roads.

Papuan Frogmouth

Papuan frogmouth is a bird you can see on the Cape York peninsula.

It is similar to the more common tawny frogmouth, and both are nocturnal predators distantly related to owls.

As opposed to tawny frogmouth that is found in most of Australia, the Papuan species is only found in Cape York and Torres Strait in Australia (it is also found in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia).

The Papuan Frogmouth is the largest of Australian frogmouths (the Tawny is the heaviest), and it has red eyes (the Tawny has yellow).

It also has a longer tail, and a darker pattern on wings. Like in tawnies, the male is grey and the female is reddish brown.

papuan frogmouth
Papuan Frogmouth on its nest in Iron Range NP.

And like other frogmouths they have a very good camouflage, resembling tree trunks amongst which they live.

Like other frogmouths they wait for their prey in a perch, but unlike tawnies they eat insects as well as small animals such as frogs, lizards, birds and rodents.

Their breeding season is between August and January, and they can be seen sitting on the nest similar to other frogmouths' placed in the fork of a tree branch.

Papuan Frogmouths live in subtropical or tropical moist lowland rainforests, monsoon forests and riparian and mangrove habitat where they often hunt at the forest edge.

Like tawny frogmouth they are in danger to get hit by cars when foraging on the roads where insects and small animals
are attracted by light.

cape york travel

Plan Your Trip... the FREE Cape York Travel Pocket Guide

Get this 50 pages guide totally for FREE. It contains information that helps you getting started with planning of your trip. You get to make early-stages desicions such as when to go, how long time you should take, how to get there and get around, where to stay (general info), what will it cost.. and a short insight to what is there to see and do in Cape York.

Plan and Bring to the Trip... the full Destination Cape York Travel Guide

visit cape york

This complete 300 pages travel guide is all you need before and during your trip. Besides the background chapters on the peninsula's history and wildlife; and the comprehensive detail about all the places (down to prices, opening hours and full contact detail), it has invaluable information on at least 10 four wheel drive tracks, at least 30 guaranteed FREE camping spots on the Cape (and at least 150 on your way to the Cape), at least 40 best swimming holes, all mapped; as well as practical things - from fuel, roads, wireless internet and mobile phone reception, how to deal with the national parks booking rules; and Aboriginal land entrance and camping permits and alcohol restrictions - to vehicle preparation and accessories and necessary recovery gear by my vehicle-recovery-guy partner). Not to mention locals' tips on how to spot that croc and palm cockatoo ;-)

If you liked the books or this website, let others know about it! 

Link to it from your website, your blog, your forum post... Share it on Facebook, Tweet about it...

Every link helps other travellers!

Thank you for doing the right thing and letting others know :-)

destination cape york

Latest Pages

Notice Board

Ask a Question

YOUR Adventure

YOUR Cape Memories

Keep yourself updated
on the latest -
weather, roads,
free travel tips,
and get the
FREE Cape York
Pocket Guide!




Don't worry - your email address is totally secure.
I use it only to send you the Cape York News.

Get the FREE Pocket Guide:
cape york travel free pocket guide

Get the Big Destination Guide
destination cape york book

Available with the Big Destination Guide:
cape york dog caravan trailer
FEEDBACK Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
cape york businesses

loyalty beach