New Guinea: Island of Birds

The main reason I became interested geology and palaeontology was a fascination with life on Earth. I wanted to know how the Earth worked and how life evolved on this planet. As a geologist I am lucky enough to visit some beautiful places as part of my job, one of the benefits of this is being able to see some truly wonderful wildlife.

In 2011 and 2013 I visited New Guinea, the second largest island on Earth.  It is a remarkable place as there are virtually no endemic large land predators. The only large land predators are species of crocodiles that are found in rivers and shoreline (even open marine) environments while in the highlands lives the very rare New Guinea Singing Dog. This is in contrast to the rest of Southeast Asia where there are several species of big cat and in Australia where there are marsupial and placental mammalian predators.  In New Guinea, birds rule. Birds of prey are the largest and most common predator in New Guinea, and there is an extraordinary biodiversity of birds of all types including approximately 320 endemic species. A handy resource for bird identification is Pratt and Beehler’s ‘Birds of New Guinea: 2nd Edition’.


In this post I have collated some pictures of birds I encountered in New Guinea. I have taken the following pictures using a 14 MP Fujifilm Finepix S4500 with 30x (Wide 24mm) zoom. It’s not great quality but the zoom is pretty good and the camera is robust enough to handle the rigours of fieldwork and intense tropical rainfall.

Yellow-faced Myna (Mino dumontii) locally known as ‘Beo’ have bright coloured yellow eye rings and are very vocal birds. These examples were observed in the wild, the last photograph is a captive bird.

Striated heron (Butorides striata papuensis) are common along the coast.

Blyth’s Hornbill (Rhyticeros plicatus) are one of my favourite Papuan birds. They are known locally as ‘Burung Tahun’ translated as the ‘Knowing Bird’ because they are believed to be incredibly wise. These are huge birds and you can hear them approaching by the loud ‘whoompf-whoompf’ sound of their heavy wing beats as they fly between rainforest canopies.

The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), known locally as ‘Kasuari’, is the largest bird in New Guinea. It is also extremely dangerous and can easily disembowel a human with its powerful legs and sharp claws. You can appreciate the Cassowary’s non-avian dinosaur ancestry by looking at their feet.


I’m not sure what these are but they have very long forked tails.


Pheasant pigeon (Otidiphaps nobilis)

Gurney’s eagle (Aquila gurneyi) is a medium sized, stocky raptor.

Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis), female – left, male – right


White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus)


Greater Black Coucal (Centropus menbeki)?


Large basket-like nests.


Egret (Ardea sp.)

The Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus), known locally as ‘Elang Laut’ or the ‘Sea Eagle’, is a common raptor found along the coast.

Leucistic Brahminy Kite? Known locally as ‘Elang Putih’ or the ‘White Eagle’.


Frigatebird, probably a Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel), are huge birds and long distance travellers. They are conspicuous by their powerful tapered wings and forked tail.


The New Guinea Harpy Eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae) is the largest raptor on the island, capable of preying on large tree kangaroos.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), known locally as ‘Kakatua’, are very noisy and gregarious birds. Often found in large groups and tend to follow you around while screeching loudly.


This is a captive Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus), known locally as ‘Kakatua Raja’ the ‘King Cockatoo’.

Rufous-bellied Kookaburra (Dacelo gaudichaud) has a powerful bill for catching large insects and sit patiently on exposed branches waiting for insects to fly by.


Singing Starling (Aplonis cantoroides) with startling blood red iris.

Lesser Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea minor) male (top) and female (below). These are captive examples, however they have a beautiful and distinctive song that can be heard carried through the forest for many miles. Birds of Paradise are known locally as ‘Cenderawasih’ in West Papua and lend their name to the embayment, ‘Cenderawasih Bay’, surrounding the Bird’s Head and Bird’s Neck in western New Guinea.

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) – left, and Black-capped Lory (Lorius lory) – right


A captive Brown Lory (Calcopsitta duivenbodei), known locally as ‘Nuri coklat’.


Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria), known locally as ‘Mambruk’.

Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)

I will upload more pictures of birds from Jamaica in a following post. I will also post some images of reptiles and spiders from New Guinea at a later date.


Pratt, T.K. and Beehler, B.M., 2014. Birds of New Guinea. Princeton University Press.

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