Jonathan Jones: What We Can Learn From Birds

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Over the coming weeks artist Jonathan Jones will be writing a series of guest posts on all things native Australian birds, touching on their importance, the issues they face and what we can learn from them. Jones' upcoming artwork for the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art requires thousands of native Australian bird feathers, which he needs your help to find.


A key part of collecting feathers is the opportunity to get out into local parks and open spaces, and to learn more about the birds in your neighbourhood and what they can tell you about your environment. There are a lot of fantastic sources of information. One website I use to help identify birds is Bird in Backyards.

Let’s start with the basics. In Australia there are more than 800 bird species. Over 370 species are endemic to Australia, which means they occur here and nowhere else. Some endemic Australian birds include the highly elusive and endangered night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis), the well-known crested pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) and our national symbol the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae).

Habitat destruction and introduced predators mean that we have lost over 24 bird species since colonisation, and today more than 100 bird species are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Some scientists say 1 in 5 Australian birds are in trouble. Birds play a vital part in the world and we need to look after them. Habitats must be protected—a plus for both the birds and us—particularly when planning new urban areas. Parks should be designated for birds and people alike, wildlife corridors should be in place, and we can encourage birds in our garden with the right plants. 

Image 1: The highly elusive and endangered night parrot. Photo via ABC News, supplied by Steve Murphy

Image 2: The well-known crested pigeon. Photo via BirdLife Australia

Image 3: The emu, our national symbol. Photo by Peter Morris, via Bush Heritage Australia