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Carlton Gardens
Photograph: Josie Withers/Visit Victoria

Birds and trees to spot on your next walk around Melbourne

If you're going for a walk around the streets of Melbourne, keep an eagle eye out for these plants and birds

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Written by
Cassidy Knowlton
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Going for a stroll around your suburb with your kids, your dog or just by yourself to get some air? Keep your head up and your eyes sharp – Melbourne has an incredible diversity of plant and animal species. 

We asked Charlie Carroll, manager of arboriculture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, what kinds of trees are at home along Melbourne's streets. Hardy ones, he said. "A street is like a torture chamber for a tree – you’ve got kerbs, you’ve got powerlines, all kinds of things – so if they can survive there, they are pretty robust."

Online resources like council websites can help you identify what trees you're looking at (the City of Melbourne even has a tree-by-tree description on its Urban Forest website, and the City of Yarra has an excellent overview of its tree population in its Urban Forest Strategy document).

If you see a tree or plant you can't identify, the Royal Botanic Gardens is there to help. "Send the gardens an email with a picture of your tree or leaf and we’ll try to identify it for you," says Carroll. "Sometimes if we don’t know we’ll send it off to the Herbarium to help."

And yes, Carroll does concede it's certainly easier to ID trees in the RBG itself, where helpful signs denote the common and scientific names of species.

But what about livelier natural phenomena you might spot in your suburbs? Scientist Michael Livingston co-authored a children's book on Melbourne's birdlife, called, appropriately enough, Melbirds. Livingston and wife Cindy Hauser, the book's co-author, have made the book available for free as a PDF. It's a great place to start if you want to identify some of the birds that visit our suburban streets.

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Livingston says walking in the early morning or evening will yield the best avian results.

"The best times to go out looking for birds are early in the morning and late in the day, although in wintertime birds will tend to be more active all day (in the heat of summer, they mostly hide out in the middle of the day like the rest of us). If you're looking for particularly shy birds, then getting out before the parks fill up with people and dogs can be worth the effort, but you'll still see plenty if you fancy a bit of a sleep in."

He says to find birds, trust your ears, not your eyes. 

"The best thing to do is to be a bit quiet and pay attention. More than half the time I think I hear birds before I see them, so tuning your ears into the sounds around you is really helpful – you'll quickly start to pick out the burbling of the magpies from the pee-wee of the magpie larks."

His own favourite birds to spot? "I never tire of seeing flocks of galahs. They're very common around Melbourne, but they're such playful, ridiculous creatures – like three scoops of ice cream in bird form. They make me smile every time I see them."

Look out for these trees

London plane tree
Photograph: Flickr/Creative Commons

London plane tree

The London plane tree, as its name suggests, is planted extensively through London and other major cities in Europe. It is very tolerant of pollution, not enough root space and other tortures Charlie Carroll of the Royal Botanic Gardens described. For that reason, and because it provides a lot of shade, it is planted extensively in Melbourne.

English elm
Photograph: Flickr/Creative Commons

English elm

Like the London plane, English elms were brought to Australia by English settlers. The species is one of the oldest foreign trees found in Victoria, with an English elm planted in 1846 in the Royal Botanic Gardens still standing. 

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Paperbark
Photograph: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Paperbark

A native tree, paperbarks are found along the east coast of Australia from Far North Queensland to Byron Bay, but they were introduced to Melbourne. They are also known as tea trees, but we like the name they go by in the United States: punk tree.

Queensland brushbox
Photograph: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Queensland brushbox

Like the paperbark, the Queensland brushbox is native to, well, Queensland, as well as NSW. It was planted in Melbourne to provide shade, and unlike gum trees, it's unlikely to shed limbs. Phew. 

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White cedar
Photograph: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

White cedar

Don't be tempted by the pretty yellow berries this tree produces; they are quite poisonous. But keep your eyes peeled for this deciduous tree, which is often planted on nature strips. 

Check out some fine feathered friends

Sulphur-crested cockatoo
Photograph: Michael Livingston

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

A mainstay of Melbourne's suburbs, the sulphur-crested cockie is found all over coastal Australia. They often eat together on the ground in large groups – birds of a feather really do flock together. 

Galah
Photograph: Michael Livingston

Galah

It's no wonder these are Livingston's favourite. The pink-and-grey birds do look like scoops of ice cream in bird form. Ridiculous, maybe, but certainly pretty – and galahs mate for life.

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Rainbow lorikeet
Photograph: Michael Livingston

Rainbow lorikeet

We dare you to try to find a more colourful companion on your walk. Rainbow lorikeets look like they came straight out of a Disney film, but they're actually indigenous to the entire east coast of Australia. In WA they're considered a pest – perhaps the prettiest in the state.

Musk lorikeet
Photograph: Michael Livingston

Musk lorikeet

Like their rainbow cousins, musk lorikeets are also a species of small parrot, and they are found throughout southeastern Australia. We think their Latin name, Glossopsitta concinna, is particularly apt – concinna comes from the Latin for 'elegant'.

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Little pied cormorant
Photograph: Michael Livingston

Little pied cormorant

Melburnians who live near the coast should keep an eye out for these water birds, which can be found near lakes, swamps, the bay and the ocean. They feed on the bottom of bodies of water, so you can find them popping up out of the water before they swallow their food. 

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