Wildlife - Birds
Tasmania’s west coast is home to a dazzling number of birds, and the protected forests of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park provide shelter for some of our rarest species.
Short tailed shearwater
One of the west coast’s most remarkable birds is the short-tailed shearwater, commonly known as the mutton bird.
Between April and October, thousands of short-tailed shearwaters return to their burrows on Ocean Beach each night. They migrate to this nesting site every year, making the 15,000 kilometres from the Arctic region to find the same burrow, and the same mate—shearwaters are faithful to the same partner for life.
Short-tailed shearwaters are a traditional food source for Tasmanian Aboriginal people and the local community still maintains this important cultural practice. European settlers, who also harvested the birds for food, were the first to name shearwaters ‘mutton birds’.
There are two species of eagle in Tasmania—the white-bellied sea eagle and wedge-tailed eagle, and you have the chance to see both when you visit Strahan and the west coast.
White-bellied sea eagles are coastal dwellers, but they are also known to hunt around rivers and lakes. They not actually true eagles, but giant kites, with a wingspan reaching up to two metres These birds of prey are territorial and can often be seen perched on a high branch or soaring in flight. They feed on fish, eels, penguins and other small birds, small mammals and reptiles.
Wedge-tailed eagles are Australia’s largest raptors, standing up to one metre tall with a wingspan of 2.2 metres. These massive birds of prey feed on small mammals and carrion and are most often seen soaring in thermal air currents high overhead. Dark brown in colour, wedge-tailed eagles can be identified in flight by their large size and distinctive wedge-shaped tail. Look out for them as you explore the west coast—their habitat ranges from open plains to mountains and forests.
Tasmanian azure kingfisher
As you cruise the Gordon River, keep a careful watch for a flash of iridescent blue among the trees—the Tasmanian azure kingfisher.
These small, brightly coloured birds are easily identified by the deep royal blue feathers on the head, neck and upper body, and bright, red-orange chest. They are elusive, and most likely to be seen perching on branches above the river, watching for prey that includes small fish, freshwater crayfish, frogs and insects.
The Tasmanian azure kingfisher is a sub-species that occurs only in Tasmania, and is thought to number just 250 individuals. Protected habitat such as the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park offers azure kingfishers their best change of survival.
This uncommon, pretty bird is the only one of Tasmania’s four robin species to live in rainforest. They perch in tree branches, darting out to catch insect prey and occasionally feeding on the forest floor.
If you join the Gordon River Cruise, watch out for pink robins in the rainforest canopy at Heritage Landing—take a moment to stand still and quiet and look up into the canopy. Listen for their delicate call; a soft warbling song made by the male.