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Rottnest Island

Birds of Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island is a haven for birds and thus a popular destination for bird watching.

Rottnest Island’s wetlands and coastal areas provide significant food resources and breeding habitat for a multitude of shorebird species.  Up to 50 shorebird species are recorded by BirdLife Australia at Rottnest on a bi-annual basis, with itinerant species regularly observed. Shorebirds around Rottnest Island include the pied cormorant, osprey, pied oystercatcher, silver gulls, crested tern, fairy tern, caspian tern, rock parrot and eastern reef egret.

Rottnest Island supports several of the southern-most breeding colonies of wedge-tailed shearwaters. Wedge-tailed shearwaters can live for up to 30 years, are monogamous (pair for life), and breed in burrows they have excavated. The breeding pairs will usually return to the same breeding burrow year after year where they lay a single egg. The wedge-tailed shearwater lands on the Island to breed in colonies of burrows at Cape Vlamingh and Radar Reef.

The eastern osprey is a medium-size raptor that inhabits most coastal areas and off-shore islands in Australia. The osprey remains with the same mate for life and their nests, known as stacks, are some of the largest and most durable natural structures in Australia. Some stacks on the island are known to be in excess of 70 years old. The birds are faithful to their nesting sites, using the same nest for many years and adding a little more each time they return, one such stack can be seen at Salmon Point.

About ten percent of the eastern end of Rottnest Island is made up of salt lakes, containing brine shrimp. Brine shrimp support a large number of birds such as the red-necked avocet, banded stilts, ruddy turnstone, curlew sandpiper, red-capped dotterel, Australian shelduck, red-necked stint, grey plover, white-fronted chat, caspian terns and crested terns. Some of these species such as the red-necked stint (which weighs only 30 grams), ruddy turnstone and curlew sandpiper are trans-equatorial migrants that travel all the way from north-eastern Siberia and Alaska in the Arctic Circle to feed on the brine shrimp during summer.

The brackish swamps are home to the black duck and grey teal duck.

A combination of habitat clearing on the Swan Coastal Plain and the introduction of feral predators such as foxes and cats have caused significant declines in mainland bushbird populations since European colonisation.  Rottnest Island’s woodland, inland heath and Acacia rostellifera communities provide key habitat for the 43 species of bushbird regularly surveyed on Rottnest, including the tree martin, welcome swallow, silvereye, spotted turtledove, laughing turtledove, rainbow bee-eater, fan-tailed cuckoo, red-capped robin, golden whistler, western warbler, and singing honey -eater.

Woodland habitat is especially important for the Golden Whistler and Red-capped Robin. The population of both these species has declined on the Swan Coastal Plain, however surveys on the Island have indicated an increase in population size and colonisation of suitable reforested sites since 2009. The red-capped robin is often spotted in the woodland areas of Watson’s Glade at Parker Point and owes its name to the bright red plumage that the male bares on the crown of his head.

The turquoise-coloured sacred kingfisher makes its nest by excavating a burrow in tree branches and can be spotted around the Thomson Bay, Bickley and Kingstown areas. The rainbow bee-eater is a strikingly colourful bird that, as it name suggests, feeds primarily on bees and wasps by catching the flying insects on the wing and rubbing them against a perch to remove the strings and venom before swallowing.

The Rock Parrot forages on the ground for seeds and vegetation, and nests in limestone rock crevices. It was regarded as common on Rottnest from 1905 to 1929 but was uncommon by 1965 due to capture of juvenile birds for sale on the mainland. This population has continued to decline (even with the removal of cats from the Island in 2002) which may indicate that it is potentially no longer viable on the Island (BirdLife Australia, 2011). Research into Rock Parrot population size is currently being undertaken by DPaW and RIA, with several individuals already tagged by DPaW.

Birds commonly found around the settlement area include the silver gull, Australian raven, and the banded plover (or lapwing). The Indian peafowl, an introduced species released onto the Island in about 1915, can also be seen, with up to 5 males being kept on the island and any one time. Australian pelicans are regularly seen around the jetty at Thomson Bay.


Get Involved with Research!

Rock Parrot Research

Research is currently being undertaken to determine the population size of Rock Parrots on Rottnest Island. This small parrot occurs on the rocky coastline and some islands of south and west Australia. Rock Parrots were common on Rottnest Island prior to the 1940s but the population was drastically reduced through predation by cats and by the removal of young birds in the 1940s and 1950s for the local bird keeping community.

Public support and sightings are needed for the success of this project and any feedback would be greatly appreciated to help conserve this species on the Island. 

Download the Rock Parrot Research Flyer for more information.

Download map of signficant Rock Parrot feeding habitat.