Budgerigars are the number one caged bird in the world as well as being the quintessential Australian bird in the wild.

Story Sarah Harris

The horizon was a stark split between the signature red soil of the Pilbara, and brilliant blue when smoke obscured the view through the windscreen of Mark Carter’s 4WD. “I remember thinking, ‘It’s a funny time of year for a bushfire’,” Mark says. “There had just been a cyclone and usually a fire can’t get leverage in those conditions. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realised it was budgies – that’s how many there were. It looked like smoke from a giant wildfire.”

As a zoologist specialising in outback ecology, Mark has witnessed many a wonder, but he rates the murmuration of budgerigars as the most quintessentially Australian experience.

“For me, those big budgie events are the peak of life in the outback,” he says. “They always result from a boom season where there has been plenty of rain, plenty of resources, the right pattern of wet and dry to boost numbers. So, when that happens it is almost like an expression of joy in the landscape. 

“When the birds mass at a waterhole, the experience is something like a green tornado – a deafening swoosh of upwards of 50,000 pairs of beating wings united in a single purpose.

“It is incredible how the energy from grass powers this big natural phenomenon that cascades through the food chain. The magnificence of nature is really in your face. No-one can be left cold by it.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #132

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2020