Tim Flannery, scientist – rockwarbler
I love this small, confiding bird because it’s a sort of a living fossil that links my home in Sydney with the mountains of New Guinea where I spent so much time. Origma solitaria lives only in the Sydney sandstone, within around 200km of the city, but genetic studies reveal that its nearest living relatives inhabit the mountains of New Guinea. This brave little bird has found refuge in the sandstone from epochal climatic shifts, ice ages, changed fire regimes and introduced predators, while all its ancestors that must have existed in other parts of our continent have vanished. As I watch it scamper around under my house on the Hawkesbury River I’m in awe. Its slaty grey and ochre matches the sandstone so perfectly, and it seems so friendly. I wonder whether the Eora people, who shared the sandstone shelters with it, had a special and protective relationship with this talkative and cheerful bird. A world without rockwarblers would hardly be worth living in. And yet, according to the Australian Bird Atlas, after persisting so long, it seems to be disappearing. Australia must find out why, and do something about it.
Thomas Keneally, novelist – rainbow lorikeet
In the end, I can’t go past the rainbow lorikeet. Its shrieks are, by contrast with its plumage, the very breath of larrikinism, and I have seen it outswoop and mock kookaburras as those less impulsive birds consider and assess something you have laid out for them. In behaviour they are the brightest, most improbably beautiful urchins and punks of the bird world, and wise, since their eggs are laid in sockets in decaying limbs which would not hold a predator. When these birds settle in a Norfolk pine around the harbour shore of Manly at dusk, their conversations are as strident and fascinating as the full-blast chat of a high-rise apartment in which every door is open and every opinion robust. For its red beak and arresting plumage it is called Trichoglossus haematodus.
Wendy Harmer, broadcaster – brush turkey
At dawn, sauntering as-bold-as-you-like across the road where the old Sydney Harbour Bridge tollbooths used to be, was that unmistakable black-feathered silhouette. As far as its gimlet eye could see, all was Brush Turkey Land.
Veni Vidi Vici.
Distribution? Wherever it reckons.
Population? From the brink of extinction in the 1930s to “FFS. Get Off My Lawn!”, the brush turkey is the ultimate Aussie survivor.
Celebrated as an Indigenous totem for millennia, the doughty brush turkey was also the saviour of poor families in the Great Depression. Many a barefoot billy lid was sent off to school on a Country Women’s Association recipe for brush turkey egg omelette. (80% yolk!)
Is there any bird that has sacrificed more for our Great Southern Land and been less celebrated?
The mighty megapode may have a head that looks like it hit every branch on the way down, but there is so much more to admire.
Sure, it may rip your nice little suburban garden to shreds; invade your designer kitchen and terrify your exotic backyard hens … But …
Prehistoric, resilient and giving exactly zero fucks, it’s surely Brush Turkey Time.
(Coming to a suburb near you!)
The older I get the more important birds become. They’re increasingly present in my consciousness to the degree that songs and sightings alter my mood and can change the day’s prospects.
Tim Winton, novelist – spotted harrier
I’m particularly smitten by the spotted harrier that swings by my place at each end of the day. I love the wafty, tilting glide it has when it’s hunting, how it stays aloft and deadly on the barest minimum of expended energy, ghosting over the spinifex, watching for some luckless creature – a hopping mouse or a quail – to give itself away. Glimpsing this graceful raptor will cap off a decent day or just take the sting out of a shocker. Watching it get a kill is a special treat. Once, near sunset, it dived into the scrub 15 metres from my deck and hauled a writhing rabbit into the sky – better than a goal after the siren!
Kevin Rudd, former PM – rainbow lorikeet
My favourite Australian bird, by a country mile, has to be the rainbow lorikeet. I know this doesn’t pass the “super-exotic” test. But I always remember as a young kid on a farm in rural Queensland being stunned by their brilliant colours.
But when I really developed an affection for these guys was when we were living in Norman Park in Brisbane, during my time as a member of parliament, leader of the opposition, foreign minister and then prime minister. We had a house, a turn-of-the-century Queenslander with wraparound verandas, with a garden which boasted more than 100 different trees. Not bad on what we called a 32-perch block. The house was always many degrees cooler than the street because of the dense foliage overhead.
Many of the trees were palm trees. And the rainbow lorikeets just loved them, pulling away and pecking away at the dense fibres of these trees, as well as, of course, the juicy bits – the seeds.
I have great memories of as a family, including my mum, sitting around an outdoor table under these trees as a great cluster of lorikeets went to town on the leaves above. Truly a spectacle of colour in motion.
Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia editor – gang-gang cockatoo
I know it’s anthropomorphism, but I reckon gang-gang cockatoos have attitude. They often hang in trees near the taxi rank outside Parliament House. They don’t flap around or squawk or make a big fuss like other cockatoos, although when they do it’s a raspy call. Sometimes they sound like they are growling.
But usually I was first aware they were there when I heard the steady crunching of them cracking and eating red berries. They have a squat grey body and mussed-up bright red feathers on their heads and they remained completely unperturbed when I peered at them quite closely. I imagined them like a mohawked punk from the 70s, meeting my gaze and saying, “So what are you looking at?”
I’d often wait there in the cool Canberra evenings, staring it out with the gang-gangs.
Anton Enus, journalist – Australian white ibis
I imagine them as politician operatives – white, balding, leather-faced – strutting like Trumpian heavies. Or as leering Kings Cross “identities” up to their eyeballs in trash. Either way, they’re fascinating to watch. The ibis. With beaks like built-in daggers, they should be more menacing. Instead, they’re funny creatures, ungainly aloft and slothfully slow on the ground.
They remind me of the ones I knew growing up in South Africa. There were two kinds: the sacred ibis immortalised by the ancient Egyptians, and the hadeda, with much prettier, darker plumage and iridescent wings in flight. (Ha-de-da mimics their distinctive call.)
But most of all they’re my favourite bird because they bring joy to my terrier, Rosie. She causes mayhem when she launches a charge. And when inevitably she can’t catch them, she does the next best thing, which is to roll in their poo. Monstrously disgusting for humans, sheer delight for dogs.
Adam Liaw, cook and writer – rainbow lorikeet
The rainbow lorikeet is the bird Australia wants to be. Easygoing, they never make a fuss. They congregate at twilight for a quick chat and a drink – the bird equivalent of a knock-off beer at the pub in trees every night around the country.
They’re friendly. The ones at my house will pop down to the bird feeder whether you’re there or not and even feed from your hand.
Loyal, too. My dad once found a baby lorikeet that had fallen from its nest. He nursed it by hand for days and it became his closest companion for years. Jack sat on my dad’s shoulder in the car or while wandering around the house or the shops. People said he looked like a modern-day pirate but it was really just a bloke and his best mate, a bird.
The rainbow lorikeet is the bird Australia wants to be – and yet people still vote for that arsehole, the magpie.
Simon Hill, football commentator – seagull
One of the most alarming things I found upon moving to Australia was the sheer noise and aggression of the wildlife, including the birds.
The sulphur-crested cockatoos which nest in the trees close to my home in the inner west of Sydney screech their calls so loud it sometimes feels like my windows will shatter. For someone used to the diminutive size and gentle tweeting of the English robin or sparrow, it was quite a shock.
But, being a football man, I’ll plump for the good old-fashioned seagull, and in particular, the Melbourne variety.
Any A-League fan will tell you they are a fixture (more an infestation, actually) at games involving Victory or City, especially at AAMI Park. We even had a near-fatality during a match there a few years ago when a ball struck one, but the shovel-like hands of goalkeeper Danny Vukovic spared his life as he shepherded him to the touchline.