Additional Bird Information
There are almost 10,000 species of birds in the world (Perrins 2003). They are the most numerous of the terrestrial vertebrates, and in many ways the most successful, for they are found in basically every ecosystem all over the planet, from the desert to the Polar Regions. They are noticeable not just because they are diverse and widespread, but also because they are often colourful, noisy and mainly daytime active, therefore making them the most obvious animals in any particular region. In the Australian tropical rainforest where wildlife can be difficult to detect, birds are often the only relief from the monotony of green.
As a natural group, the birds are defined by a suite of obvious features that even the most casual observer would notice.
Like mammals, birds are endothermic (warm-blooded). This makes them fairly active, but also requires steady intake of food. Many species are very sociable animals, such as the colony inhabiting Metallic Starlings. They can also be very resourceful and intelligent, with some species showing what were once considered human traits, including tool use and artistic creativity, such as the bowerbirds and their bower creations.
Birds of Australia
Of the over 9000 species of birds in the world (Forshaw 1998a), Australia has over 750 species recorded living on or visiting its shores. Some of the species of the tropical rainforest are regular visitors from New Guinea or Asia, arriving here in the summer to breed, such as many of the cuckoos, the metallic starlings or the Pied Imperial Pigeons. Genetic testing over the last few decades has revealed that most Australasian birds are not at all closely related to those overseas, even though they may superficially resemble them. And so within the Australian tropical rainforest, we have robins that are not robins, warblers that are not warblers, and cuckoo-shrikes that are not cuckoos or shrikes.
For many people, birds and tropical rainforests are synonymous. And it is certainly no different in the case of the rainforests of Australia. The tropical rainforests of Australia are certainly one of the most exciting ecosystems for bird-watching in Australia, with many spectacular, rare and endemic species. In Australia, the tiny proportion of rainforest on the continent may be associated with up to half of the country’s resident species. Bird-watching in the Atherton Tablelands in North-eastern Australia is easily some of the best on the continent. Most of the larger more obvious animals seen by visitors in the daytime are going to be birds, and the biggest native land animal in the tropical rainforest of Australasia is itself a bird.
However, the birds may not jump out at the more causal visitors. While keen birders find the forests teeming with new species, many more naïve visitors are disappointed. Many first timers to the rainforest, casual visitors and non-naturalists ask the question 'where are all the birds?' They are not always obvious to the novice, and finding them requires some patience and skill. Besides patience, bird-watching in this ecosystem requires the ability to deal with high humidity, mud, rain and pests, such as leeches. The habitat can be dark and thick. Wet weather gear is important, and because the high rainfall and high humidity make raincoats and even gortex gear useless, an umbrella is indispensable for protecting both the birdwatcher, and the field guide and binoculars from getting drenched. Experienced birdwatchers get used to juggling an umbrella and binoculars. The binoculars themselves and other optical gear, such as camera, need to have fairly low light capabilities.
However, not all bird-watching in the tropical rainforest has to be uncomfortable and as challenging as this last paragraph suggests. In fact, some of the best birding can be done from the comfortable confines of verandas of rainforest lodges and balconies of hotels. As much of the life of rainforest lives in the canopy it is important to access this part of the forest. Getting this high up is of course impractical, but on the edge of the rainforest, the canopy effectively comes down to the ground. Thus the edge of the rainforest, along roads and in clearings provides great bird-watching opportunities. In many parts of the tropical rainforest of north-eastern Australia, such as at lodges like Chambers Lodge and Possum Valley, where there is no hunting of wildlife and minimal disturbance, birds become used to humans and even rare and elusive species become easier to see.