Australian Birdwatching

Field Guide to Australian Birds and Birdwatching

Avid twitchers and those folks who are getting into birdwatching, this guide is for you. Read on to build your birding skills.

Field Guide

Up until mid-2017, there were only four field guides covering Aussie birdies. These books were excellent; each with its strong points and birders were well-informed. Now they’re all out-dated as many taxonomy revisions have been made in recent years. New guidebooks have a lot to offer, not just names and pictures of individual species. Read the information on habitats, bird families, birdwatching tips, etc. Each guide uses taxonomic order, not alphabetic, so use the index to find birds.

Now, there’s a new guidebook that supersedes the others. The Australian Bird Guide (ABG) by Peter Menkhorst, Rohan Clarke, Danny Rogers and artists Kim Franklin, Jeff Davies and Peter Marsack has over 10,000 birds. For bird watching tours Australia, see Australian Wildlife Journeys. Even for general wildlife tours in Australia, see them also.

Get a Checklist

Download a local bird list, keep it with your guidebook, and tick off the birds you’ve seen. Learn about the birds you haven’t seen so you can recognise them on your next excursion. Smartphone apps like Pizzey and Morcombe are good-to-have. Apps are better than books because they’re more convenient to carry and have a feature that plays bird sounds.


The more powerful the binocs, the better they are. A good configuration for birdwatching is 8×43. Simply put, the magnification is 8x and 43mm is the objective lens. Anything less than 6x and more than 12x narrows the field of view and makes it hard to get good views. Small binoculars are convenient as they are light and can fit in a pocket, but they may not provide great viewing. Spotting scopes are great for longer-distance viewing, like shorebirds and waterbirds.


Bird photography adds a new dimension to birding, making it thrilling. For some, it’s the main focus of their bird watching and some keen photographers do without binoculars. Point-and-shoot cameras are available and able to capture good pictures and videos. A Nikon P9000 with an 83x zoom is a birders’ favourite. It’s versatile, lightweight, and the results are amazing.


Wear camouflaged clothing, and move about calmly and quietly, to gain the confidence of birds. A hat is another must-wear. It shades your head, protects it from being pocked by twigs and reduces glare around your eyes.

Be alert for sound and movement when searching out birds. Listen for calls, look for feathers and movement within the foliage, then bring your binoculars up and focus steadily. Approach birds slowly and silently. Quick advances scare off birds, and once a bird flies off, your chances of seeing it properly are almost zero. Observe nests from a distance rather than going in for a closer look. Close-ups put the nest at risk by alerting predators or spooking the parents.

Tag a Guide

Even with all these skills and tools, you can miss the sights you crave. Go birding with a local guide to max out your experience. A guide is an extra brain and pair of skilled eyes and ears.