You will see more birds than any other type of animal in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. 178 species of bird have been recorded in the park including several rare species such as the scarlet-chested parrot, the striated grasswren and the grey honeyeater. Their songs and colours are part of the arid landscape.
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From top to bottom: Black kite (photo William Warby), Australian ringneck parrot (Port Lincoln) (photo Nick Rains), Emu (photo Wayne Lawler | EcoPix), Nankeen (Australian) kestrel (photo Lip Kee), (Mistletoebird (photo Lip Kee), Budgerigar
Survival in arid regions
Water dictates the survival of birds in the arid region. Many are either nomadic or migratory, and after periods of good rain will move into the park in great numbers. The need to drink usually keeps birds within flying distance of water. Insect eaters, the largest group, and carnivorous species supplement their water intake through moisture from food. To reduce water loss birds lose little moisture in their droppings, passing crystals with their faeces. In high temperatures small birds lose water rapidly through evaporation and most of it is lost from panting, not sweating, as birds have no sweat glands.
While some birds range over all habitats, others live in only one. Look for birds and listen carefully. Anangu identify and name birds by their calls, this way of naming birds is called mnemonic (memory device). Spend a little time saying the names and listening to the birds, and you will soon discover how practical this system is. Often Anangu call similar sounding species by the same general name.
Birds soar around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, or live among the plants growing at their bases. You will probably see at least one species of hawk. Species to look for include kirkinpa (brown falcon, Australian kestrel, peregrine falcon, Australian hobby, black-breasted kite), aralapalpalpa (crested pigeon), warutjilyarpa (black-faced cuckoo-shrike, grey-headed honeyeater), pititjaku-pititjaku (pied butcherbird), patupiri (fairy martin) and tjalpu-tjalpu (black-faced woodswallow). Kirkinpa, Australian kestrels hover or perch as they search for prey on the ground. Falcons soar higher and prey on birds, small mammals, reptiles and insects, killing by severing the neck with one powerful bite. Patupiri build bottle-shaped mud nests in the caves but you are more likely to see them in flight displaying their white rumps. Tjalpu-tjalpu glide for insects high on the cliff faces.
Tjanpi - spinifex
Tjanpi forms a very prickly, fine-needled hummock and spinifex plains is a common habitat within the park. There are two uncommon bird species to look for in tjanpi, the painted firetail and mirilyirilyi (dusky grass wren). Mirilyirilyi are one of the larger wrens and bounce over boulders with their tails cocked. When disturbed they dash away, running with their tails lowered. They are very shy but are known to appear momentarily, calling, singing and running about the rocks.
Puti - woodlands and shrublands
This habitat is common along most major roads in the park and consists of grevilleas, hakeas and desert oaks, all of which offer food and shelter for the following species patilpa (Port Lincoln ringneck), tjalpu-tjalpu, tjintir-tjintirpa (willy wagtail) piyar-piyarpa (galah), pititjaku-pititjaku (pied butcherbird), kurparu (Australian magpie), kalaya (emu), kaanka (little and Torresian crows) and kirkinpa (brown goshawk). Patilpa are often seen in desert oaks feeding on seeds. Pairs or flocks of tjalpu-tjalpu search on the wing for insects or perch waiting for insects to pass. You will see many in trees beside the road. Although they feed mainly on insects, you may see them taking nectar and pollen. They have divided tongues which enable them reach into the centre of flowers.
Puti wanari - mulga
Mulga is a common tree in the park and grows in stands. There are good stands around Uluru and next to the road to Kata Tjuta and you may find mirilyirilyi, mininy-mininypa (chestnut-rumped thornbill), tjintu-tjintu (inland thornbill), titirara (spiny-cheeked honeyeater), tjintir-tjintirpa, tjalpu-tjalpu, watu-watu (grey shrike-thrush), tjuun-tjuunpa (white-browed babbler) and warutjilyarpa. Tjukurpa tells how tjintir-tjintirpa hears faint sounds of singing coming from the northeast. Happily she realises that the ceremonies of the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby) people have started. As an expression of her pleasure, she smiles and forms ikari, a cave near Mutitjulu Waterhole at the base of Uluru. The Tjukurpa associated with nyii-nyii (zebra finch) tells of the travels of these bird ancestors and there is an inma (ceremony) for nyii-nyii which is an important part of ceremonial life.
Tali and pila - open grasslands and dune areas
Tali and pila are the two most widespread habitats and they are also the first areas to show the effect of drought. The dunes are particularly fragile so please always stay on marked tracks. You might see miititi (crimson chat), mirilyirilyi, kakalyalya (pink cockatoo), pirunkura (singing honeyeater), kirkinpa, and tjalpu-tjalpu. You may even be lucky enough to see the kiilykiilykari (budgerigar) here in it's natural habitat. The luunpa (red backed kingfisher) is a dry country kingfisher, and searches for grasshoppers and small reptiles.
The brilliant red rumps of miititi (crimson chats) are hard to miss. These insect eaters have virtually eliminated the need to drink and are amongst the most nomadic Australian birds which are known to cross deserts.
Karu - Creek beds and gullies
This Karu habitat is limited in the park. There are examples at the Valley of the Winds circuit walk and Walpa (Olga) Gorge. Birds occurring there include kiilykiilykari (budgerigar), nyii-nyii (zebra finch) and aralapalala (crested pigeon) which is also seen extensively elsewhere in the park including the Cultural Centre.
Most of these birds are seed eaters and must drink at least once a day. The presence and numbers of these birds depends on seed availability which in turn depends on rainfall. If water is readily available finches drink as often as hourly. This habit was exploited by Anangu and early European explorers who followed the birds to the drinking places.
Aliti - Victoria wattle country
This spiky aliti (wattle) is found mainly around the bases of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Tjitutinpa (chiming wedgebill) live there. Their songs are a descending chime of four to six notes, repeated over and over and clearly heard throughout the bird's range, however they are very difficult to see.