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Popular locations

The Parklands has a plethora of places for twitchers to spot birds. If you're new to the area or have just taken up birding as a hobby, these three locations are highly popular with amateur birdwatchers.

Centennial Park Duck Pond

The Duck Pond features more than 15 species of waterbirds. Learn more about the birds you might see from our Ranger Colin:

  • The Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa). This native duck is found throughout NSW, and is easily the most common waterbird in the Park. It has a beautiful shadow marking across the eye, which looks almost Egyptian. It also has a flash of green/blue colour on the wing. The duck feeds on the surface by up ending – appearing to stand on its head in the water. Males perform a spectacular courtship ritual, dipping their beak quickly into the water, thereby producing an arc of water ripples over its head. A distinctive whistle and grunt accompany the act. The name of this duck is slightly misleading though. The feathers are not black, but it was so-called because of the colour of its flesh when the settlers ate it.

  • The Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). It’s one of the few species that readily interbreeds with another species – that’s why it is illegal to dump Mallards, because they are diluting the strain. You can tell a cross-breed by the orange legs or blending of the feather colours.

  • Black Swans (Cygnus atratus). Displays predominantly black feathers. Often associated with Western Australia, the Black Swan is also native to NSW, and was an oddity to early explorers who were only familiar with white swans. Black Swans are one of the largest and most elegant of the waterbirds. Common behaviour to look for is the swans putting their putting heads underwater to reach for aquatic plants. You’ll also quite often see them use fairly aggressive behaviour towards each other. In particular, you’ll see young swans fleeing their parents across the water when they reach an independent stage. Mature Black Swans commonly travel in pairs and probably mate for life. Pairs greet each other with a gentle trumpeting sound. Females have shorter necks than males, and their eyes and bills are lighter in colour.

  • The Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra). Another regular visitor to the Duck Pond, especially during winter. A highly nomadic species, they have a worldwide distribution including Europe, Africa, India, Asia, New Guinea and Australia. Look for a black bird with a white face and beak and listen for quite a noisy bird making a sharp “kyik” or “kyok” sound. The Eurasian Coot has unusual ‘semi-webbed’ feet – they have separate webbing that goes around each toe rather than from toe-to-toe. During breeding season you see them using their remarkable toes as they chase each other across the water.

  • Advanced birdwatchers should look out for the Black-fronted Dotterel(Charadrius melanops), on the Duck Pond’s southern shores. Also known as the Black-fronted Plover or Sandpiper, this pint-sized bird is predominantly mottled brown with a black band across the forehead below a white eyebrow, and a bold black Y on its white breast. They are found throughout Australia on small bodies of water, running around the edges of lakes and stopping to feed.

The six islands at the Duck Pond are an ideal place to look for nesting birds, especially cormorants – fishing birds with long and flexible necks, and quite long tails. Regular visitors to the Duck Pond include:

  • the Great Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), the largest of the cormorants, with a wing span of up to 1.5 metres

  • the Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) a small slender black cormorant with a dark bill and dark facial skin

  • the Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax various) the largest of the white-breasted black cormorants

  • the Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos), the smallest of the Australian cormorants and also black and white in colour. Cormorants have got a hook on the end of their top bill that helps them to catch fish. Their beak is incredibly sharp. The cormorants mainly nest on the middle islands.

  • A White-Breasted Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) has also been seen frequenting the Duck Pond. This large white eagle with grey-brown wings has a wingspan of up to 2 metres. The immature bird has darker feathers and a mottled appearance. They soar in majestic circles and are said to resemble a huge butterfly during flight.

  • Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) are also known to visit the Duck Pond’s shallow sand island. While you will often see one or two birds – usually on a stopover on their way to the coast or further inland – they visit the Park in large flocks during times of drought.

Centennial Park – Randwick Pond

As part of the Botany Wetlands, Randwick Pond provides important habitat for water birds and aquatic life. Birds you might see here include:

  • Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopica) dominate the Pond’s northern island. Commonly associated with ancient Egypt (they symbolised Thoth, the God of Wisdom), ibis are found throughout Africa and south-east Asia. Ibis adapt extremely well to city life. They are widely viewed as a pest, due to the fact that they can out compete all other native birds on their nesting sites and damage vegetation by sheer weight of numbers and their large nests. Ibis migrate over large distances and you can see them flying west and returning each day in a v-formation. They have curved, slender bills that are designed for probing into shallow water, mud or grass, but are equally efficient when it comes to fishing in rubbish bins or making a nuisance of themselves around picnickers. The sad fact is that they are expanding into more areas of Australia because their natural inland habitat is being progressively degraded by agriculture

  • The lush reed beds in Randwick Pond, especially on the western shore, provide ideal habitat for the Eastern Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). Closely related to the coot, this is one of a range of native-hens you’ll see in the Park. The bird is also known as the Australian Purple Swamphen due to its rich purple-blue head and body, set off by black upperparts and long red legs. Swamphens are fairly opportunistic – they’ve been known to eat geese eggs and raid pee wee nests – but they’re mainly vegetarians. They live in groups with a social hierarchy of up to ten birds

  • A close relative is the Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa). They’re slow-moving, funny things. They nest on Randwick Pond and you quite often see them flicking their tails to reveal a white rump. During breeding season the skin on their forehead turns from orange to red. Common to Sydney and NSW, they are also found in Indonesia and New Guinea. They look quite similar to the Eurasian Coot, except their beak is a reddish colour instead of white. Moorhens are one of a few species that are polyandrous – that is, they set up a breeding relationship of one female with up to three males

  • Randwick Pond is also the best place to look for the Musk Duck (Biziura lobata), a species found only in Australia, named after the musky smell given off by males. The male also has a lobe of loose black skin underneath its bill. The male duck conducts a wacky courtship display, curling its tail over its back and fanning it out like a peacock, kicking the water with its feet, and making a high-pitched whistle – ‘peeew’ – which is totally unlike a duck. Musk ducks are extremely good swimmers and underwater hunters. They sit incredibly low in the water compared to the normal posture of a duck – probably because they are more designed for underwater than above water work

  • Also look for the Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata) or Wood Duck. This small, dainty bird looks and acts more like a goose than a duck. The male has a dark brown head and the female has similar eye markings to the Pacific Black Duck. The shape of their head is totally different to most ducks, and they don’t have a long bill, Colin says “you very often see them on the land grazing."

Centennial Park Lily Pond

The small, sandstone-edged Lily Pond, just north of the Duck Pond, features a central island – a doughnut-shaped area of papyrus with a mud flat centre – serves as a waterbird refuge and nesting habitat. Unlike the other ponds in the Parklands that are fed by stormwater, the Lily Pond is fed by a natural, underground spring in Lachlan Swamp.

  • At the Lily Pond, listen for the Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) – an outstanding Australian native songbird that makes its nest in the papyrus during spring. This brown, plain little bird is hard to see – you definitely need binoculars – but you may spot it in the stands of papyrus. Listen for the call first, look second. This bird makes one of the best songs in the Park.