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Cairns is a city of about 140,000 people situated in the far north of Queensland in an area known as the Wet Tropics. It is one of the most popular destinations in Australia for visiting birders from all over the world due to the diversity of the local birdlife and several localised endemic species. A host of other wildlife can also be found in the region. Cairns has a tropical climate with the wet season falling in the summer months from about December to April. Whilst the height of the tourist season is in the drier winter months, great birding can be had at any time of the year. Cairns has a number of important sites within the city limits where one can see a variety of birds. Also the city is used as a base from which birders can explore the surrounding region and its numerous birding locations.
See 'Areas of Interest' (below) for further information on good birding sites in Cairns as well as links to other articles on sites in the surrounding area.
Typical urban birds in Cairns include the following: Straw-necked Ibis, Australian White Ibis, Black Kite, Brown Goshawk, Australian Hobby, Buff-banded Rail, Bush Stone Curlew, Masked Lapwing, Spotted Turtle-Dove, Peaceful Dove, Pied Imperial-Pigeon (mostly in summer), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Double-eyed Fig Parrot, Little Bronze-Cuckoo, Australian Swiftlet, Laughing Kookaburra, Sacred Kingfisher (mostly in winter), Rainbow Bee-eater, Helmeted Friarbird, Yellow Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, White-bellied Cuckooshrike, Varied Triller, Australasian Figbird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Black Butcherbird, Magpie Lark, Spangled Drongo, Scaly-breasted Munia, Olive-backed Sunbird, Mistletoebird, Welcome Swallow, Metallic Starling, and Common Myna. In addition there are a number of other species that can be seen at more specific locations around the city:
Open grassy areas should be checked for Australian Pipit and Horsfield's Bushlark. Areas of longer grass, scrub and the edges of canefields should be checked for Crimson Finch, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Tawny Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola and Brown Quail.
A number of rarities and uncommon visiting species have been recorded in Cairns over the years. Rarities in recent years have included Asian Dowitcher, Common Redshank, and Laughing Gull on the Esplanade.
Here is a selection of some recent records of uncommon species:
Red-backed Kingfisher Kamerunga 7/7/15; Fan-tailed Cuckoo Centennial Lakes 5/7/15; Red-backed Kingfisher road to Machan's Beach 16/5/15; Australian Pratincole Turf Farm, Edmonton 2/5/15; Rufous Whistler Centennial Lakes 3/5/15; Spotted Whistling Duck Cairns Cemetery 24/3/15; Shining Flycatcher Centennial Lakes 10/3/15; Spotted Whistling Duck Centennial Lakes 16/2/15; Little Corella Yorkey's Knob 21/12/14; Roseate Tern Barron River mouth, Redden Island 6/11/14; White-winged Triller Centennial Lakes 6/11/14; Ruff Esplanade 6/11/14; Banded Lapwing Northern Beach Suburbs 1/11/14; Barn Swallow Yorkey's Knob 5/11/14; White-throated Gerygone Redden Island 5/10/14; Spotless Crake Centennial Lakes 24/5/14.
Birds you can see here include:
Mammals: Spectacled Flying Foxes can commonly be seen roosting in the city centre near the public library and over the city at dusk despite the seemingly relentless officially sanctioned attempts to get them to abandon this colony. Long-nosed Bandicoots may occasionally be seen crossing roads at night. Agile Wallabies are commonly seen, often in large numbers in large areas of open ground between housing developments, especially near the northern beach suburbs. Striped Possum can be seen at night along the boardwalk at Centennial Lakes. This species also occurs in the northern beach suburbs. Echidna can occasionally be seen mostly in areas of forest. Other mammals that occur in Cairns include White-tailed Rat, Bush Rat, Northern Quoll, Northern Free-tailed Bat, Northern Mastiff Bat, and Musky Rat Kangaroo.
Reptiles: A number of species of reptiles can be found in Cairns itself. These include Coastal Taipan, Red-bellied Black Snake, Brown Tree Snake, Green Tree Snake, Amethystine Python, Olive Python, Boyd's Forest Dragon, Lace Monitor, introduced Asian House Gecko, Mourning Gecko, Dubious Dtella, Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko and numerous species of Skink including Pink-tongued Skink and Rainbow Skink. Krefft's Tortoise is easily observed at Centennial Lakes. Saltwater Crocodile are common in the mangroves around Cairns, and occasionally reported in creeks and other water bodies in the city itself.
Amphibians: A number of frog species occur within the city. These include Green Tree Frog, White-lipped Tree Frog, Graceful Tree Frog, Striped Marsh Frog, Northern Sedge Frog, Eastern Sedge Frog, Little Red Tree Frog, Northern Wood Frog, Ornate Burrowing Frog and introduced Cane Toads.
Areas of Interest
The Esplanade that makes up the Cairns waterfront is predominantly mudflats bordered by an extensive stand of mangroves at the northern end near the airport and numerous large trees in a park-like setting immediately inshore. On a rising tide, birders can see, often at close quarters, a variety of waders, terns and herons as well as many other species here and in the surrounding trees.
Species to look for here include Australian Pelican, White-faced Heron, Eastern Reef Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Striated Heron, Brahminy Kite, Osprey, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Red Knot, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper,Curlew Sandpiper, Pied Oystercatcher, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-capped Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Silver Gull, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern. Less commonly Grey Teal, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Beach Stone Curlew and Red-kneed Dotterel. Occasionally Wandering Tattler can be seen on the rocks near the heliport. A common and very vocal passerine on the Esplanade is Varied Honeyeater. The mangroves at the top of the Esplanade are the place to look for Bar-shouldered Dove, Pacific Kingfisher, and Mangrove Robin. From time to time there are reports of roosting Barking Owl and Rufous Owl here and elsewhere in the city wherever there are large trees.
After cyclones and strong onshore winds, other seabirds may drift inshore or even over the city including: Lesser Frigatebird, Greater Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern, Bridled Tern and Brown Noddy.
Centennial Lakes is located between Collins Avenue and Greenslopes Street immediately to the north-west of the Cairns Business District (CBD) in the suburb of Edge Hill. It consists of a Freshwater Lake and a Saltwater Lake, divided by a brackish creek fringed by mangroves. Surrounding the Lakes is the largest remaining area of palm and paperbark swamp left in Cairns. There is also an area of littoral rainforest, and much more extensive tropical rainforest immediately to the north of Collins Avenue. Part of the area also consists of exotic plants including large trees, maintained by the adjoining Botanical Gardens. There is an impressive variety of habitats in a small area here and one can expect to see a large variety of rainforest species as well as some mangrove specialities and a variety of waterbirds on the Lakes themselves.
Species to look for here include Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Australian Brush Turkey, Magpie Goose, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Radjah Shelduck, less commonly Grey Teal, Wandering Whistling Duck and other waterfowl; Australian Darter, Little Black Cormorant, Australian Pelican, occasionally Black-necked Stork, Pied Heron, White-necked Heron, and Great-billed Heron; White-faced Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Black Bittern, Royal Spoonbill, occasionally Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Pacific Baza, Grey Goshawk, Osprey, Red-necked Crake, Pale-vented Bush-hen, occasionally Dusky Moorhen, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, sometimes Superb Fruit Dove, Pacific Emerald Dove, Brush Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Pacific Koel, occasionally Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Papuan Frogmouth (has turned up at various roosting sites in the vicinity), Blue-winged Kookaburra, Pacific Kingfisher, occasionally Azure Kingfisher, Little Kingfisher, Dollarbird (on migration), Noisy Pitta (from the boardwalk in winter), Lovely Fairywren, occasionally Striated Pardalote, Large-billed Gerygone, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Dusky Honeyeater, Spectacled Monarch, Leaden Flycatcher, Grey Fantail (in winter), Barred Cuckooshrike (winter), Cicadabird, Olive-backed Oriole (winter), Yellow Oriole, Tree Martin, and Fairy Martin.
Redden Island is located immediately to the north of the airport and can be accessed by road through the suburb of Machan's Beach. Most of the island is a protected reserve which is surrounded by a fence. There are gates that give entry. Most of the reserve is fairly open with areas of littoral rainforest, paperbark woodland and mangroves. This is probably the most reliable site in Cairns for Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. Other species found here include Lovely Fairywren, Shining Flycatcher and Noisy Pitta. Further out towards the eastern end of the island is a large wader roost on a sandbar at the mouth of the Barron River. Various wader and tern species can be found here when the sandbar is exposed including species not typically found on the Esplanade including Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and occasionally Double-banded Plover. Check the edges of the mangroves of the Barron River itself for Beach Stone Curlew and Great-billed Heron.
Beyond Cairns. A number of excellent birding locations are accessible from Cairns, often in a day trip:
Michaelmas Cay. A coral sand island that lies 33km offshore from Cairns where one can observe a number of nesting seabirds at close quarters.
Atherton Tablelands. A region immediately to the interior of Cairns where one can observe a number of highland species, often not found in Cairns itself. There are a number of specific locations on the Tablelands recommended for birders to visit (for which follow the link).
Access and Facilities
Cairns has an airport with direct links to 18 international destinations and 30 domestic destinations. The city itself is geared for tourism and has a variety of accommodation from big hotel chains to backpackers and campsites to suit every budget. There are numerous cafes and restaurants in the CBD, along the Esplanade and in the main suburbs. Various tour operators are based in Cairns offering trips to the Atherton Tablelands, the Great Barrier Reef and numerous other locations in the region.