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Black Swan

Scientific name: Cygnus atratus

Australia's largest waterfowl and native to the continent Early reports of its existence were met with scepticism in England and Europe until well-documented illustrations were supplied and live specimens despatched to scientists and collectors. Governor Macquarie sent black swans as gifts to friends and patrons in England, and collected some as pets for his son Lachlan (a gift from Captain Allman during the tour of inspection to Port Macquarie in November 1821), as well as carrying seven black swans with him on board the Surry during his return voyage in 1822. Black swans are found throughout Australia wherever there are lakes and rivers with plenty of waterweed.

Wingspan of approx. 2 metres and a tip-to-tail length of up to 1.4 metres. Plumage on water or land appears to be almost totally black, but in flight the white primaries and outer secondaries of their wingtips are dramatically revealed. Their beaks are bright red with a narrow white band across the top and a white tip.

Black swans usually breed from April to September, but may do so at other times if conditions are favourable. Like most swans, they appear to mate for life. Courtship involves ritual calling, head-bobbing and neck-stretching to reinforce the relationship between the pair. The female lays a clutch of four to six eggs that both sexes incubate, and each changeover of duty is accompanied by additional elaborate ceremony to confirm the mating bond.

In coastal wetlands and smaller lakes and waterways single pairs build large nests of waterweed or reeds in shallow water; while at inland lakes they can congregate in their thousands, inhabiting low islands in colonies of up to several hundred breeding pairs. [This was probably the case when Macquarie observed large numbers of swans at Lake Bathurst and Lake George in October 1820].


(also known as 'native companion' in colonial times)
Scientific name: Grus rubicunda

One of two species of crane found in Australia. (Fifteen species occur throughout the world). Brolgas are large, long-legged, long-necked birds noted for their impressive dancing displays, in which they bow gracefully to one another, leap vertically and sidestep. Their meeting ritual was noted by early colonists as well as being reflected and performed as a part of Aboriginal ceremonial dance. Found across the northern Australia and down the eastern half of the continent as far as Bass Strait. Use of the term 'native companion' was retained from colonial times until the turn of the twentieth century, when it was replaced by the word - brolga [named derived from Kamilaroi language: buralga].

Brolgas stand up to 1.4 metres tall and the plumage is grey all over except for a bare scarlet patch across the face, the back of the head and the nape of the neck. They have a tuft of dark feathers under the chin, dark wing tips in flight, and dark legs. Brolgas breed in shallow swamplands, building nests of dry grass or sedge. Monogamous pairs, the female usually lays two eggs. Both sexes incubate the eggs.

Bronze-Wing Pigeon

Scientific name: Phaps chalcoptera

The common or forest bronzewing pigeon is distributed throughout Australia, living in a variety of habitats, including eucalypt forest and woodland, mallee and heath. A bird popular for hunting and eating during the early days of European settlement.

A plump pigeon that ranges from 30 cm to 35 cm in length and, despite its size, extremely well camouflaged. When it is approached the common bronzewing leaves the ground with a noisy flapping of wings and flies swiftly to the safety of a tree where it perches motionless, blending easily with the surroundings. Its plumage includes a brown to pinkish breast, a cream forehead and iridescent patches of bronze and green in its wings. Feeds mainly on the seeds of native grasses and acacias, which it collects from the ground.

[There is also a brush bronzewing whose habitat is not as widely spread as the common bronzewing. It is found only in south-eastern and south-western Australia, including Tasmania and various islands, in areas of dense undergrowth, such as heathland, mallee and eucalypt forest. Smaller than the common bronzewing, growing to 28-30 cm, and its colouring slightly redder. Scientific name: Phaps elegans. It is unclear as to whether Macquarie was familiar with both species - however a specimen located in a collector's chest believed to have belonged to Macquarie (private collection in Australia) only includes a common bronzewing].

Cape Barren Goose

Scientific name: Cereopsis novaehollandiae

The native Cape Barren Goose nests only on the Bass Strait islands off Tasmania, though in the non-breeding season they fly between the islands and the Tasmanian and mainland coasts of southern Australia. Earlier accounts suggest that sealers and settlers had hunted this species almost to extinction by the turn of the twentieth century. Protection by wildlife agencies has increased numbers now to around 17000, which may approximate their population before European settlement.

The Cape Barren goose is a plump, stumpy-billed bird 75-100 cm in length. It has grey plumage with rows of black spots on the wings, a small beak almost completely covered by a pale greenish-yellow waxy layer (cere), pink legs, and black feet. The male generally builds a nest of grass, plants or available materials on or near the ground in tussock grasses or among rocks or low bushes. He maintains guard while the female lines the nest and maintains it, laying four or five creamy white eggs. Incubation takes 34-37 days and the goslings hatch covered with black, white and grey patterned down. Both parents guard their offspring fiercely, and will attack any animal that approaches the nest. Cape Barren geese rarely swim, and spend most of their time grazing among the tussock grasses of their island homes except when they fly to the mainland coasts in the non-breeding season.



Scientific name: Dromaius novaehollandiae

A large flightless bird inhabiting most of mainland Australia except rainforest and very arid desert regions. It is generally nomadic or partly migratory. Emus generally congregate in small groups, though occasionally in mobs of thousands; and feed on leaves, fruit, flowers, shoots of native plants, seeds and insects. There were once emu species in Tasmania, and on Kangaroo Island (South Australia) and King Island (Bass Stait) respectively, but these were exterminated in the early years of European settlement.

Adult emus weigh 30 - 45 kilograms and stand about 1.6 - 1.9 metres high. Females outweigh males on average but otherwise the sexes are almost identical. Emus have only the most rudimentary of wings and they are distinguished more by their long grey legs - and they will walk considerable distances in search of food and water, moving seasonally over hundreds of kilometres; if they feel threatened or in danger emus can produce bursts of speed of up to 50 kilomatres an hour. Emu plumage is a shaggy grey-brown, parted down the centre of their back; they have sparse black feathering on their crown and this continues down their neck until it merges with the bare bluish coloured skin of their throat and face. Located halfway down the front of their neck is an inflatable air sac that is used for making a wide variety of sounds. Their bill is short and wide.

Emus are sexually mature at approx. two years of age. and usually breed in autumn and winter, at a time when they have been able to build up their body fat from richer nourishment available in the spring/summer months. Pairs form in late summer in a relationship that lasts for several months - until the female lays a clutch of 5 - 15 blue-green eggs; at this stage she wanders off to join wandering groups of emus, while the male incubates the eggs (approx. 60 days), and then raises the chicks, who stay close to their father for the next six to seven months. Adult plumage appears after about six months.

Lachlan Macquarie records details relating to emus in a number of places in his journals, and regarded their exotic nature and appearance as valuable features in presenting them as gifts for patrons and friends in India and England.

Lowries (Lorikeets)

[lori-, from LORY, +(PARA)KEET]

Any of several small, brightly-coloured, nectar-feeding parrots found mainly in Australasia, especially of the genera Trichoglossus and Glossopsitta. Most common in woodlands and forests along eastern and southern coasts, and across tropical northern Australia. The main species include:

Rainbow lorikeet - Trichoglossus haematodus
Scaly-breasted lorikeet - Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus
Varied lorikeet - Psitteuteles versicolor
Purple-crowned lorikeet - Glossopsitta porphyrocephala
Musk lorikeet - Glossopsitta concinna
Little lorikeet - Glossopsitta pusilla

Plumage is predominantly green with varied markings that display all the colours of the spectrum; distinctive regional variations. Mostly feed upon pollen and nectar gathered from flowering eucalypts, banksias, paperbarks and grevilleas. Lorikeets are very agile and can perform accomplished acrobatic movements suspended from the outermost branches of trees and bushes using their brush-like tongues that are specialised for feeding on nectar.

Native Companion

(see entry for Brolga)


Australia has a long history and tradition relating to the number and variety of parrots that are native to its shores. In fact, one of the earliest representations on a world map by the German cartographer Mercator, in the late sixteenth century, included a world map that included a land (located near present-day Australia) that was called Terra Psittacorum - the Land of Parrots.

Early settlers often referred to Australia as 'Parrot Land' and there are numerous examples in the journals, and drawings, of colonial officials, artists, naturalists, and diarists of the fascination and interest that the parrots of Australia exerted upon European observers of the 'new continent'. Quite clearly the Macquaries were also keenly interested in Australian parrots, and they collected a large number of them to take back to England with them in 1822 as pets or as gifts for friends and patrons.

Wanga-Wanga Pigeon

(also spelt Wonga-Wonga)
Scientific name: Leucosarcia melanoleuca

The ground-feeding, grey and white pigeon of eastern mainland Australia. Its size and palatability made it a much sought-after delicacy for early settlers. Except in the breeding season, the wanga-wanga pigeon is solitary and sparsely distributed throughout its range. [Named derived from Darug or Dharuk language; modern usage refers to it as the 'wonga pigeon'].

A large, bluish grey pigeon, 42-45 cm long, distinguished from other species by the broad, white V on its chest and its white forehead. A shy, wary bird that inhabits areas with thick cover but relatively clear understorey, such as wet eucalypt forest, rainforest and scrub. It is predominantly a ground-dweller, fast and agile on its feet, seldom flying, although it roosts on branches and uses tall trees as nesting sites. Feeds on native seeds, fruits taken from the ground or reached from low bushes, and also on invertebrates. Its call is a loud, resonant, monotonous hoot. The bird is unusual among pigeons in that the male puts on a bowing display only occasionally - as a sign of aggression, and never in courtship.

The Australian National Dictionary: a Dictionary of Australianisms on Historical Principles. (Ed.) W.S. Ransome. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife. (Ed.) Janet Healey. Sydney, Reader's Digest, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Australian Animals: Birds. (Ed.) Terence R. Lindsey. Pymble, NSW, Angus & Robertson, 1992.
[The Australian Museum: National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife].

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