Like me, most visitors to Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory probably don’t come purely for the bird life. But it’s impossible not to be awed by the park’s proliferation of feathered friends, from a tiny, brightly-plumed azure kingfisher spotted beside a billabong to the sheer mass of magpie geese silhouetted against a burnt orange sky at dusk (it’s estimated more than three million geese visit the park). With the range of habitats including grasslands, woodlands and wetlands the variety of birds is astounding.
About one-third of Australia’s total bird species can be found in Kakadu; that’s around 280 different breeds, from itty-bitty rainbow bee eaters to giant jabirus. There are unusual Jesus birds, or comb-crested jacanas, with legs and feet seemingly absurdly out of proportion, that enable them to saunter over lily pads or appear to ‘walk on water’.
There are birds of prey too, like the white-bellied sea eagle perching in trees around Yellow Water. With a wingspan of more than two metres, it’s Australia’s second-largest bird of prey.
I love the plumed whistling ducks, whose flanks include a contrasting tuft of askew-looking feathers, as though they’ve been borrowed from another bird and jammed randomly in place. They sleep standing on one leg with their heads tucked under their wings.
If you’re travelling through Kakadu, don’t underestimate the time you will spend bird watching. It can be endlessly fascinating. From a hide at Mamukala Wetlands you can watch magpie geese dive headfirst for bulbs leaving their bottoms bobbing in the air. At Anbangbang Billabong elegant white egrets prove mesmersing as they stalk through the still waters. And a cruise on Yellow Waters offers up more birds than you can count. Guides love the thrill of pointing out species you may never have seen before.
Even if you can’t make Bird Week, be prepared for birds to make a big impression on any trip to Kakadu.
Kakadu Bird Week 2019 runs from 28th September to 5th October. You can find out more here and download this year’s Bird Week Program here. There is a huge range of activities from bird photography workshops to guided bird watching walks, much of it free.
For more about the bird life you can read my story Flock to Kakadu, which ran in Escape a few years ago, and my blog post on a previous bird week. If you are heading to the national park here is my Quick Guide to Kakadu, also published in Escape.
Disclaimer: I visited Kakadu National Park as a guest of Tourism NT.