The best birdwatching spots in Australia – and Australia is one of the best birdwatching destinations in the world – include the Northern Territory’s Top End national parks such as Kakadu National Park and Mary River National Park, idyllic Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales, and Kangaroo Island, off South Australia.
Many of Australia’s best birdwatching spots are easily accessible from state capital cities, so if you’re not a devoted birdwatcher you can combine some birdwatching with other animal encounters; include a bit of birding on a hiking, camping or fishing trip; or even do a spot of birdwatching on a food and wine focused getaway if you’re off to Kangaroo Island or Margaret River.
If you’re not an avid birder or twitcher or even a birdwatching enthusiast, you may not appreciate that Australia is one of the world’s top birdwatching destinations. Australia’s wide array of habitats, from lush wetlands and tropical rainforests to stony deserts and coastal heaths host nearly 900 bird species, of which around 45% of Australian birds are endemic. To put that into perspective, there are some 10,000 species of birds in the world.
The majority of the world’s bird species have Australian ancestry and, fun fact, Australia is the birthplace of melodious songbirds and colourful parrots and birds that are smarter, louder, more social, and more aggressive than the average bird. Australia is also home to some of the smallest birds, hummingbirds, and some of the biggest, flightless birds such as the emu and southern cassowary.
All of which make Australia one of the world’s best places for birdwatching, not only in national parks and wildlife reserves, but out on the open road – on Australian road trips we find ourselves constantly stopping to gaze up at birds of prey such as kites and eagles circling high overhead before swooping down to capture their lunch – and in Australian backyards.
If you can’t travel right now due to restrictions, you can do a bit of birdwatching in your own backyard – for a cause. Next week is National Bird Week, from Monday 19 to Sunday 25 October – a celebration of Australian birdlife that dates back to the early 1900s when the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union designated 28 October ‘Bird Day’. BirdLife Australia uses Bird Week to engage Australians in bird conservation with the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.
You can get involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count simply by dedicating 20 minutes to counting birds in your own backyard, local park or favourite outdoor space. Record the birds you know and look up those you don’t on the ‘Aussie Bird Count’ app or BirdLife Australia website, where you’ll see live stats on people participating and the number of birds and species they’re spotting across Australia. For inspiration, see the results from the 2019 Aussie Backyard Bird Count here.
I should say that we are not what you’d call twitchers or even birders by any means, although we’ll always jump at the chance to do a birdwatching tour, as we’ve done everywhere from Costa Rica to Kakadu. It doesn’t take long after we’ve embarked on a road tripin Australia before we spot something of interest that we’re looking up in our birding guide, and then it’s hard to take our eyes off the sky. A bird in flight is a thing of beauty. There’s something uplifting about birdwatching and we all need a lift up right now.
Best Birdwatching Spots in Australia Because There Are Few Things More Uplifting
These are our picks of the best places to go birdwatching in Australia for when you want to do nothing but gaze at gorgeous birds. Note that some of the birdwatching spots below may be temporarily closed due to travel restrictions so always check ahead before making travel plans.
Top End National Parks, Northern Territory
The Northern Territory’s Top End national parks boast some of the best birdwatching spots in Australia. Kakadu National Park, a few hour’s southeast of Darwin, and Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, Windows on the Wetlands, and Mary River National Park – all of which you’ll pass on your way to Kakadu, on what is one of Australia’s best road trips – and Litchfield National Park, just an hour and a half’s drive south of Darwin, are all home to an abundance of native Australian birds in lush wetlands and savannah woodlands, offering some of Australia’s best birding opportunities.
As you’d expect, the Top End also offers some of Australia’s best guided indigenous experiences and it’s on some of these Aboriginal-led tours that you’ll get to do a bit of birdwatching as you glide through mangroves teeming with wildlife or cruise along rivers brimming with crocodiles. Rent a car in Darwin for the drive to Kakadu National Park and allow at least a few days to explore. It’s an easy 254-kilometre drive to Jabiru, but you’ll want to make a few birdwatching stops on the way.
You’ll find abundant native birdlife at Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, established as part of an experimental rice project at nearby Humpty Doo in the 1950s that was unsuccessful partly because migrating birds fed on the rice crops. A bird hide at Pandanus Lookout offers sweeping views of the wetlands and birds, including one of our favourites, the cheeky comb-crested jacanas – also called ‘Jesus birds’, as they can walk on water! – along with egrets and magpie geese. There are several sign-posted walks. Don’t leave the boardwalks as there are also saltwater crocodiles.
The nearby Window on the Wetlands offers Adelaide River floodplain vistas and exhibits on the ecology, seasons, wildlife, and birdlife. Birdwatching here is best from December to July but you’ll see birdlife year-round. You’ll spot more birds, not only crocodiles, nearby on the Original Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruises and Mary River National Park and Mary River Crossing, a popular fishing spot and chance to see more birdlife, as well as crocs up close.
Mary River Wilderness Retreat is the closest accommodation and an excellent base for birdwatching, the highlight being elegant jabirus or black-necked storks. There are also wonderful lodgings with fantastic birdwatching at Wildman Wilderness Lodge, Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge and Bamurru Plains. On this Mary River Airboat, Safari Cruise and Helicopter Tour you’ll see plenty of birdlife from a helicopter, airboat and cruise on the Mary River Wetlands, where you’ll get to gawk at kingfishers, kites, jabirus, jacanas, sea eagles, and brolgas.
On the Pudakul Aboriginal Culture and Wildlife Tour you’ll see rich birdlife and wildlife (including crocs!), as well as learn about bush tucker and medicine, try basket weaving and have a go at the didgeridoo. If you don’t want to drive from Darwin to Kakadu, this Mary River Wetlands Tour takes in Fogg Dam, Window on the Wetlands, and Adelaide River.
Mamukala Wetlands is home to thousands of magpie geese and September-October is the best time to see them. The observation platform offers sweeping views. The Aurora Kakadu Lodge is a great spot to stay overnight so you can watch the birds before sunset and return again soon after sunrise when the birds are most active.
Once at Kakadu National Park, you could check into the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel at Jabiru, which is handy for numerous Kakadu highlights, including the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise, ran by Kakadu Cultural Tours and indigenous guides of the Djabulukgu Association. The leisurely cruise along East Alligator River offers even more birdwatching opportunities, along with insights into native fauna and flora, its traditional uses, and bush survival skills.
Cooinda Lodge Kakadu, southwest of Jabiru, is the best base for the outstanding Yellow Waters Cruise, operated by indigenous-owned Kakadu Tourism on the Yellow Waters Wetlands, one of the best birdwatching spots in Australia. Expect to see comb-crested jacanas, great-billed heron, white-bellied sea eagles, and black-necked storks, among many other birds. The final late afternoon cruise is recommended for the gorgeous light, but avid birdwatchers will want to do a morning cruise as well.
Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
New South Wales’ alluring Lord Howe Island, some 780 kilometres or a 2.5-hour flight northeast of Sydney, is another of the best birdwatching spots in Australia. Just 11 kilometres long and only two kilometres at its widest point, the pristine, sub-tropical island is distinguished by the dramatic twin peaks of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower at one end of the island and the gentler humps of Malabar Hill and Mount Eliza at the other.
Two-thirds of Lord Howe Island is blanketed in luxuriant vegetation and natural forest and in between the island’s summits are bays skirted by sandy beaches and a still shallow lagoon. Off-shore are the rocky outcrops of the Admiral Islands to the north, Blackburn Island in the west, and Mutton Bird Island to the east.
The compact island is UNESCO World Heritage-listed for its natural beauty, native habitats, and species of bird life and marine life that aren’t found anywhere else, including the flightless endemic Lord Howe Island woodhen that you’ll see running about the island and the white gallinule, which was almost eaten to extinction by the island’s early settlers.
What makes Lord Howe Island one of the best birdwatching spots in Australia is that it plays host to more than 130 permanent and migratory bird species (although over 200 species have been recorded here, including vagrants who have been blown off course), 14 seabird species based on the island, and seven native bird species, including the curious black-winged petrel, which drops from the sky to see what’s going on whenever it hears noisy humans. The island is also the only known breeding ground for the providence petrel. Many bird colonies are easily accessible and you can get quite close to some birds as they are used to humans.
Renowned naturalist Ian Hutton knows all the best places to go birdwatching on Lord Howe island and offers fantastic birding tours on foot – which, after the bicycle, is the main way that visitors get around the island. We joined Ian on a small group tour, which took us along North Beach where we saw hundreds of sooty terns that were hovering above the sand dunes, watching over their babies in the nests below.
The birds swooped down and drifted above our heads, as if warning us not to get too close. After they’re done breeding, the sooty terns head for the Coral Sea where they’ll spend six months – the birds can survive on a seafood diet and are able to filter sea water – before returning to Lord Howe.
We also visited a colony of black noddy in a colossal pine tree, climbed to the top of Mount Eliza for sweeping views of the island, and helped Ian check data on a Kentia Palm experiment he was monitoring. After doing Ian’s tour you can set off on your own each day on bike or foot to explore the many walking tracks. Take binoculars and water.
Birdwatching is year-round on Lord Howe Island and as the island is compact, there’s always something to see. All lodgings are well located. We loved family-owned Pinetrees, opposite the beach, which has bicycles and will pack picnic lunches for guests. Arajilla Retreat also has bikes for hire, can pack lunches and you can go bird watching directly from the property.
If you prefer an apartment with kitchen, Somerset Apartments is on the island’s main street, Waimarie Apartments is a five-minute walk from two beautiful beaches, including Blinky’s Beach, Lorhiti Apartments has wooden decks and direct access to Ned’s Beach, and Beachcomber Lodge is handy to Ned’s Beach and Middle Beach.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Kangaroo Island is another of the best birdwatching spots in Australia, boasting not only plentiful birdlife, but also an abundance of wildlife, which is why many of us think of Kangaroo Island as Australia’s Galapagos. Just 13km off Cape Jervis on the west coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, Kangaroo Island or ‘KI’ as the locals call it, is an easy two hour’s drive from Adelaide.
While KI might be easily accessible, don’t think you can get away with a day and an overnight stay here. Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island after Tasmania and Melville Island north of Darwin – it’s 150 kilometres long and 90 kilometres at its widest point – and a whopping one third of the island is protected by 30 national parks and conservation parks.
Some 450 kilometres of wild coastline, distinguished by towering rock formations, sheer cliffs and massive boulders polished by the tempestuous ocean, is punctuated by beautiful sandy beaches, peaceful bays and serene estuaries, while the pristine interior features everything from mallee scrub to eucalyptus forests. You’ll need an absolute minimum of a weekend on Kangaroo Island but a few days to a week is even better.
While the island was ravaged by the Australian bushfires last summer, there’s a gobsmacking range of flora and fauna unscathed by predators or disease. Along with birds, you can expect to see echidnas, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, possums, goannas, fur seals, sea lions, and little penguins.
Kangaroo Island is rich in birdlife, with some 260 bird species, including sea birds, water birds, bush birds, and raptors. The greatest activity occurs now, in spring, when it’s a birdwatching paradise from September through to the end of November you can witness one of the world’s great migrations just off shore when hundreds of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters return to breed following an enormous loop around the Pacific.
The island’s wetlands are filled with birds breeding and families taking their young to feast on flooded pastures. Expect to see yellow-billed spoonbills, chestnut breasted shelducks and Australian white ibis. You’ll also spot fairy-wrens, including the stunning blue males; plenty of honeyeaters, including eastern spinebills, New Holland honeyeaters and white-eared honeyeaters who, along with purple-crowned and rainbow lorikeets, feeding on callistemons and flowering eucalypts.
During summer you’ll see crimson rosellas feeding on fruit and seeds, hooded dotterels nest on sandy beaches, royal spoonbills and black swans gathering at Bay of Shoals and Pelican Lagoon, big flocks of crested terns at Seal Bay, and parrots, budgerigars and freckled ducks escaping the heat of the outback.
Birdwatchers should not dismiss autumn, or fall for our American readers, when it’s the time for the endangered glossy black cockatoos nesting in the hollows of red gum and sugar gum trees, and larger yellow-tailed black cockatoos, sometimes in flocks of a hundred or more, along with red wattlebirds foraging in the low coastal heath.
If you don’t have your own wheels, rent a car in Adelaide as you’ll need your own vehicle to get around Kangaroo Island, even if you do some tours. Drive to Cape Jervis, from where you’ll get the SeaLink car ferry to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. Distances on the island are long, so if you’re here for the birdlife and animal encounters rather than a flop and drop holiday, you might wish to move around.
You could stay the first night in Penneshaw, where you’ll find shops, bakeries and pubs – and the little penguins. The Kangaroo Island Seafront Hotel is excellent, with rooms with sea views, a pool, spa, bar, and pizzeria. Just out of Penneshaw, Sea Dragon Lodge has self-catering accommodation with kitchens, and a restaurant.
Kingscote, Kangaroo Island’s largest town, has even more to offer, with cafés and restaurants. Villas on the Bay has kitchens and barbecues, and access to a grocery delivery service, while Kangaroo Island Bayview Villas, on a hillside near Kingscote, have floor-to-ceiling windows with views over Nepean Bay, good kitchens, and BBQ facilities. Right by the entrance to Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat has rooms, suites and self-contained apartments on 113 acres of beautiful native bushland, along with a restaurant and bar.
More Best Birdwatching Spots in Australia
Below you’ll find more of our picks of the best places for birdwatching in Australia. Like the list above, this is very selective. There are birdwatching opportunities right across Australia, which is a colossal country. See the BirdLife Australia website (link above) for more ideas and do check ahead to make sure these spots are open as some may be closed due to travel restrictions.
Daintree National Park, Queensland – Best Birdwatcher’s Tropical Paradise
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park near Port Douglas in far north Queensland is another of Australia’s best birdwatching spots. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the tropical rainforest boasts some 430 bird species. Be prepared to get wet, as birdlife is most active during summer, which is wet season, when the rain and flowing rivers give life to the forest. Macleay’s honeyeaters, lesser sooty owls and buff-breasted paradise kingfishers can all be spotted. Daintree Wilderness Lodge is set within the Daintree Forest while there are stylish cabins with decks on the edge of the forest at Mist at Cape Tribulation.
Atherton Tablelands, Queensland – Best Birdwatching Spot for Beautiful Birds
Also in far north Queensland, just west of Cairns, the rainforests of the lush Atherton Tablelands, are home to some of Australia’s most beautiful birds, including more buff-breasted paradise kingfishers, along with blue-face parrot finches, and the Victoria’s riflebird, a black songbird with a green-blue metallic sheen, that is one of 11 bird species that are endemic to the Atherton Tablelands. You can birdwatch from your verandah or follow a walking trail into the forest from the Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges near Lake Eacham; there are stylish cabins, cottages, villas, at the BIG4 Atherton Tablelands Holiday Park, and the Atherton Apartments have kitchens and a swimming pool.
Broome Bird Observatory, Western Australia – Best for Migratory Birds
Located on the shores of Roebuck Bay just 40 minutes from beautiful Broome in the Kimberley region of north Western Australia, the Broome Bird Observatory is another of the best places for birdwatching in Australia. Over 300 bird species have been recorded here, including 50 species of the world’s shorebirds, 22 species of raptors, and it’s a gathering place for thousands of migratory birds. You can book birdwatching tours as well as basic accommodation at Broome Bird Observatory, including simple double rooms, family rooms, and budget singles and twins with bunk beds. There are kitchenettes in some cabins, a shared kitchen, and barbecue facilities. There’s plenty of accommodation in Broome, including beach resorts, hotels, holiday villas, B&Bs, and caravan parks and camping grounds.
Gluepot Reserve, South Australia – Best Birdwatching Spot for Rare Birds
Back in South Australia, Gluepot Reserve, 240 kilometres northeast of Adelaide, is a 51,300 hectare UNESCO Biosphere of centuries-old woodlands, bushland and mallee scrub. Gluepot Reserve hosts some 197 bird species, including 18 threatened species and some of Australia’s rarest birds, such as the elusive black-eared miner and scarlet-chested parrot, making this a paradise for twitchers. There are also red-lored whistlers, black-eared miners, major Mitchell cockatoos, and mallee fowls. The nearest accommodation is at Waikerie, where The Villas are sleek stylish lodgings at the country club, while The Book Keepers Cottage is a comfy holiday home in a historic residence with fireplaces in gardens. The Waikerie Holiday Park has smart cabins with kitchens, along with caravan and camping sites and a pool on the Murray River.
Two Peoples Bay, Western Australia – Best Birdwatching Spot for Endangered Birds
A 45-minute drive east of the historic coastal holiday town of Albany, best-known for being home to some of Western Australia’s best beaches, the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve is also home to some of Australia’s most threatened wildlife and bird species, including the Gilbert’s potoroo, an adorable marsupial that is one of the rarest critically endangered mammals, and the noisy scrub-bird, which was thought to be extinct but rediscovered. Also look out for the western spinebill, red-eared firetail, and Carnaby’s black cockatoo. There’s no accommodation at Two Peoples Bay, so base yourself in Albany. The BIG4 Middleton Beach Holiday Park has a wide range of accommodation, including beach houses with sea views, villas, chalets, cabins, and caravan and camping sites.
Bruny Island, Tasmania – Best Birdwatching Spot for Endemic Birds
Pristine Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania, may be famous for its cheese and breathtaking beauty, but twitchers flock here for the opportunity to tick Tasmania’s endemic birds off their list of must-see species. Top of that list is the endangered forty-spotted pardalote, along with short-tailed shearwaters, pink robins, swift parrots, and little penguins. There is also plenty of other wildlife to see, along with fabulous food and wine to sample. Bruny Island Escapes and Hotel Bruny have a wide range of accommodation, including rooms, studios, cottages, and villas.
Have you been to any of our best birdwatching spots in Australia? If you have, we’d love to know what you think and would welcome any tips for the amateur birdwatcher, birder or twitcher.