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Bird Emblems of Australia

Closely Identified with Their State or Territory

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There are the Australian state and territory floral emblems, and there are their counterpart animal emblems. And, yes, the two mainland territories and nearly all of the six states have their bird emblems, too.

1. Australian Capital Territory

Gang-gang cockatoo, photograph by David Cook Wildlife Photography, Wikimedia Commons
Gang-gang cockatoo, photograph by David Cook Wildlife Photography, Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, Canberra is the only city where the ash-grey gang-gang cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum), the Australian Capital Territory's bird emblem, lives and forages for food. Particularly in winter the gang-gang cockatoo can be seen in small flocks in Canberra gardens where it finds pine cones and berries to eat. Come summertime it returns to the mountain forests to breed in the hollows of trees.

Outside of cities, the gang-gang cockatoo can be found in areas of southeastern Australia, including the island of Tasmania

The male gang-gang cockatoo can be distinguished from the female by the color red of its head and crest. The female has a fluffy grey crest.

The bird's name comes from a New South Wales Aboriginal language.

Other Australian Capital Territory emblem: flower, royal bluebell (Wahlenbergia gloriosa).

2. New South Wales

Kookaburra, copyright Tourism New South Wales
Kookaburra © Tourism New South Wales

The kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae, formerly Dacelo gigas), bird of the raucous laughter, is the bird emblem of New South Wales. A large brown kingfisher, the kookaburra has also been known as the "laughing jackass" because of the sound of its birdcall.

Native to Australia and New Guinea, the kookaburra can be found not only in humid forests but also in residential areas near running water.

It is carnivorous and will eat small creatures such as insects, mice, lizards, snakes and small birds, as well as raw meat.

Interestingly Hollywood has used the kookaburra's laughter as part of the jungle sounds in films set in, say, African jungles where kookaburras are nowhere to be found.

Other New South Wales emblems: flower, waratah (Telopea speciosissima); animal, platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus); fish, blue groper (Achoerodus viridis); gemstone, black opal.

3. Northern Territory

Wedge-tailed eagle. copyright Tourism NT
Wedge-tailed eagle © Tourism NT

The wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax), with an average wingspan of 2.5 metres, is Australia's largest bird of prey. Its wedge-shaped tail gives the bird its name.

Officially adoped by the Northern Territory as its bird emblem, the wedge-tailed eagle is to be found throughout Australia and southern New Guinea.

When young the bird is mid-brown in color with a reddish-brown head and wings, getting progressively darker as it ages, becoming mostly blackish-brown, with the female of the species slightly paler than the male. The female bird weighs up to 4.2 kilograms and is bigger and heavier than the male, which may weigh from 3.2 to 4 kilograms.

Other Northern Territory emblems: flower, Sturt's desert rose (Gossypium sturtianum); animal, red kangaroo (Macropus rufus).

4. Queensland

Brolga, copyright Tourism NT
Brolga © Tourism NT

Although the brolga (Grus rubicunda) has appeared on the Queensland coat of arms since 1977, it only became the official bird emblem of the state in 1986.

The brolga is the only species of crane native to Australia and is to be found, in Queensland, in the coastal grasslands and swamps from Rockhampton all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

While widespread in Queensland, the brolga is also to be found in wetlands in the Northern Territory and as far south as Victoria.

The brolga is famous for its mating dance, performed with intricate movements and with wings outstretched.

Other Queensland emblems: flower, Cooktown orchid (Dendrobium phalaenopsis); animal, koala (Phascolarctos cinereus); aquatic, Barrier Reef anemone fish (Amphiprion akindynos); gemstone, sapphire.

5. South Australia

Piping shrike in the state flag of South Australia
Piping shrike in the state flag of South Australia

The piping shrike (Gymnorhina tibicen telonocua, formerly Gymnorhina tibicen leuconota), also known as the white-backed magpie, appears on the state flag and coat of arms of South Australia and is the state's de factor bird emblem although it has not been formally adopted as such.

The piping shrike is found in South Australia, Victoria and the New South Wales Outback.

Explorer Charles Sturt wrote in the 1840s that in South Australia the white-backed shrike was a winter bird, and his "clear fine note was always the most heard on the coldest morning." He added that the bird was easily domesticated and learned to pipe tunes.

While the natural habitat of the piping shrike is open woodland, it has adapted to urban and farm life, feeding on insects and lizards and carrion.

South Australia emblems: flower, Sturt's desert pea; animal, hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons); marine, leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques); gemstone, opal.

6. Tasmania

The island state of Tasmania has no official bird emblem either, although the yellow wattlebird (Anthochaera paradoxa) is often considered the state bird.

Tasmania emblems: flower, Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus); mineral, crocoite, an orange-red lead mineral.

7. Victoria

Helmeted honeyeater public domain image from "The Birds of Australia" by John Gould
Helmeted honeyeater public domain image from "The Birds of Australia" by John Gould

The critically endangered subspecies of the helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) is the official bird emblem of the state of Victoria.

It is Victoria's only endemic bird and survives in small numbers in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve some 50 kilometres east of Melbourne in the Upper Yarra Valley.

The largest of the yellow-tufted honeyeater subspecies, the bird is some 17-23 centimetres long, weighing 30-40 grams. It has a broad black mask across the eyes and bright golden ear tufts, golden yellow throat stripe and a fixed helmet of plush golden forehead feathers.

Other Victoria emblems: flower, common heath (Epacris impressa); animal, Leadbeater's possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri); marine, weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus).

8. Western Australia

Black swan, copyright Tourism Western Australia
Black swan © Tourism Western Australia

The black swan (Cygnus atratus) is both state and bird emblem of the state of Western Australia and features prominently in the state flag and coat of arms.

It is a black-feathered bird with white flight feathers and a bright red bill. The mature swan is 110-142 centimetres long and weighs 3.7-9 kilograms.

It can be found in wetlands in southwestern and eastern Australia. Particularly in Western Australia, its range includes the area from the North West Cape on the state's northwest coast, through Cape Leeuwin at the southwesterly tip of the state and to Eucla near the Victorian border.

Perth's Swan River is named after the black swan which unfortunately no longer finds the river a suitable habitat apparently due to noise and pollution.

Other Western Australia emblems: flower, red and green kangaroo paw; animal, numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus).

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