Migratory waders and other birds in Sydney Olympic Park

Bicentennial Park in western Sydney is one of the best bird-watching spots in Sydney – over 200 species of birds have been recorded here. Part of the Sydney Olympic Park, it lies on the shore of Homebush Bay and comprises 40 hectares of mangroves, woodland and grassy lawns.

The numerous ponds and creeks in the park provide habitat for an impressive array of waterbird species and the forested areas are home to an equally impressive variety of forest birds. The park also provides important habitat for migratory shorebirds. These habitats are supported by technology and man-made interventions to provide migrating birds with much-needed breeding and feeding refuge.

To see the incredible diversity of birds in Sydney Olympic Park, check out the Waterbird Refuge, Coastal marsh, Badu Mangroves and the forested parts of the park. You will want to bring a pair of binoculars if you want to see the waterbirds from the hide at the Waterbird Refuge. And if you need some tips on selecting a pair of binoculars, here is a handy guide to the best binoculars options.

I visit the park a few times each season and each time I find new species of birds that I haven’t encountered before. Here is the list of some of the most interesting birds in Sydney Olympic Park.

Waterbird Refuge Pond

One of the best areas to see birds in Sydney Olympic Park is the Waterbird Refuge. According to the signage in the park, the water level in the pond is regulated by the solar-powered gate, which opens twice a day to simulate the ebb and flow of the tide. This process, known as tidal flushing mimics the tide so that exposed mudflats provide foraging habitat at low tide, and shallow water and man-made islands provide roosting sites at high tide.

The gate settings are changed seasonally. These seasonal changes in water height are required for nutrient inflow and can be used to set boundaries between different habitats.

Migratory Waders

Migratory shorebirds inhabit the intertidal zone of coastal beaches, wetlands and estuaries. They feed at low tide on marine worms, crustaceans and other invertebrates. At high tide, they roost near the water’s edge, close to their feeding sites. The Waterbird Refuge provides some of the most important remaining habitats for these species in the Sydney area.

More than 15 migratory shorebird species have been recorded at Sydney Olympic Park. They start to arrive in Australia in September and remain until April. The most common species at the park are the Bar-tailed Godwit and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. During the summer months they can be observed at the Waterbird Refuge in large flocks of up to 500 birds. Other migratory birds that visit the Waterbird Refuge are Red-necked stint, Curlew sandpiper, Japanese snipe.


The Waterbird refuge is an important habitat for waterbirds. Waterbirds such as ducks, stilts, spoonbills and cormorants are commonly seen in large numbers at the wetland. These birds use different parts of the water body. Some dive for fish, some dabble in the shallow water, others skim the water surface for invertebrates. The wetland also provides a drought refuge for inland waterbirds such as Red-necked avocets, Musk ducks and Pink-eared ducks.

Birds of the Shallows

The shallow water around the edges of the Waterbird Refuge provides feeding habitat for many waterbirds. Most of these birds have unique adaptations for wading in the water and catching their food. May have long legs and long or curved beaks.

The common species observed in the shallows are Black-winged stilt, Black-fronted dotterel, White-faced heron, Great Egret, Red-kneed Dotterel, Royal spoonbill, Glossy ibis, Straw-neck ibis and Masked lapwing. In dry years, large flocks of Red-necked avocets congregate in large flocks at the Waterbird Refuge.

Black-winged stilt in Sydney Olympic Park
Black-winged stilt
Birds in Sydney Olympic Park - Red-necked Avocet
Red-necked Avocet

Birds of the Open Water

The deeper water of the more open parts of the Waterbird Refuge provides habitat for waterbirds like grebes that dive for their food or swans that use their long necks to forage for food on the bottom.

Some of the more common birds of the open water are Welcome Swallow, Silver Gull, Eurasian Coot, Dusky Moorhen, Australasian grebe, Australian pelican and Black swan.

Birds of Sydney Olympic Park - Black swan on the nest
Black swan on the nest

The birds move around the pond throughout the day, coming closer to shore at times and then retreating to the safety of the open water. It is best to visit the pond a couple of times during your visit to see different birds doing different things.

Divers and Dabblers

Most ducks are suzzling feeders – they strain their food from the water and the mud. At the Waterbird Refuge, divers and dabblers are represented by Grey teal, Chestnut teal, Pacific black duck, Hardhead and Pink-eared duck

One of my favourite birds in Australia is Kingfisher, and the Waterbird Refuge is a good place for Sacred Kingfishers. They can be seen quite easily in the trees overhanging the pond.

Sacred Kingfisher
Sacred kingfisher

Bird hide at Waterbird Refuge

The bird hide at Waterbird Refuge provides a wide view of the mudflats and the open water. You will need your binoculars to see the waders from the hide.

The bird hide is a surprisingly good spot for Superb fairy-wrens. These colourful little birds like to land on the bushes right in front of the hide, chatting incessantly as they flutter about.

The trees around the bird hide is also a good spot for Golden whistlers and red-browed finches.

Shipwreck viewing platform

Behind the bird hide, there is a trail leading to the Shipwreck viewing platform. Bicentennial Park is well known for its many shipwrecks. For the birders though, the viewing platform is a good spot for seeing Australasian darters. There are usually a few individuals sitting on the wooden remnants of a shipyard, sun- drying their feathers.

Woodland birds

The woodlands throughout the park are home to a wide variety of species as well. There are Red-browed finches, Double-barred finches, Spotted pardalote, Silvereye, Golden whistler, Grey fantail, Yellow thornbill, Red wattlebird, Crested pigeon, Turtledove, Australian raven and other common species.

There are a few species of parrots in the park: Rainbow lorikeets, Red-rumped parrots and, of course, Sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Birds of prey

Harder to spot are the birds of prey. The park is home to quite a few raptor species, including White-bellied Sea eagles, Black-shouldered kites and Nankeen kestrels. The smaller raptors can sometimes be seen hovering over the ponds or frozen in the sky as they scan for a potential meal.

Australian raven in Sydney Olympic Park
Australian raven

One morning I came across a Black-shouldered kite that kept returning to the same perch on top of a dead tree. It would fly off for a few minutes and return carrying a rat in its talons. Consuming the rats proved to be a delicate balancing act, as the thin branches of the tree didn’t offer that much stability.

Black-shouldered kite
Black-shouldered kite

Visiting Sydney Olympic Park

Take the City-West link Rd (A4) from the city until you reach Homebush Drive. Take the right turn to Homebush Drive and then left onto Australia Avenue. Parking inside the park is available for a flat rate of $25.

If you are coming on public transport, take the train to Concord West Station and then follow Victoria Avenue to the park.

Best spots to see birds in Sydney Olympic Park

In Bicentennial Park, a good bird watching area starts where the road turns towards Badu Mangroves from the Educational Center. The floating Mangrove Broadwalk is good for checking out the mangrove ecosystem. You’ll see plenty of Estuarine crabs, and if you are lucky, a Sacred kingfisher.

Next up is a patch of Coastal Saltmarsh – an endangered ecological community protected in the park. The saltmarsh is good for waders and the surrounding trees usually have some woodland birds.

The best spot, however, is the Waterbird Refuge. This is where all the waders and the waterbirds are. The forested areas around the bird hide are good for woodland birds.

More on Nature Adventures in Sydney

9 thoughts on “Migratory waders and other birds in Sydney Olympic Park”

  1. Thanks for the awesome tips and photos. I’m on my 3rd visit. I have 2 great shots in the bag… it’s September and looking forward to seeing our Russian friends appear.
    I’m surprised and elated that such diverse and beautiful birds would come to a big city, it’s an understatement to say this is unexpected!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Robert. It is indeed time for our Russian friends to appear. You inspired me to visit the park again to see who I can find!

  2. Hi Margarita,

    Great article! I’ve been spotting the Kite recently but have been struggling to get close enough for a decent image, do you remember where exactly the dead tree you referred was?? I have a location in mind but just wondering if was the same.

    Thank you

    • Hi Seamus,

      It was near the bird hide at the Waterbird Refuge. If you look out from the hide in the direction of Badu mangroves, it is the first patch of trees at the water’s edge past an area of coastal marsh. The kite would hunt over the marsh areas and then return to that tree with its prey. If you look at the map in this post, it’s the cell P11. Hope it helps!

      • Hi Anthony, I am not sure which specific shot you are referring to, but mostly I use 80-400mm lens on a cropped sensor camera (Nikon D50)

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.