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Common/English name
Latin name
Information on how and why this animal is significant to the Wagiman people, their culture and the environment.
Dromaius novaehollandiae
In the past large groups of emus were fairly common, now large groups are rarely seen, though single emus or pairs are still seen.
The flesh can be eaten and is very tasty. It is cooked in a large ground oven, the guts are taken out and hot stones are placed inside. Paperbark leaves were also used to flavour the meat. The eggs can also be cooked and eaten. In the past they were hunted with spears.
Generally the hunter would hide near a waterhole, track or in a black plum tree and spear the emu as it came in. Mud was smeared over the hunter to cover up his smell.
Jungle Fowl, Orange-footed Scrubfowl 
Megapodius reinwardt

This bird makes a large nest of dirt and leaves and lays eggs in it. The eggs are large and can be dug out, cooked and eaten; they are very tasty. The adult bird can also be cooked and the flesh eaten. It is generally found near rivers in dense vegetation. It calls with a loud noise at dawn and some times during the night.
JIRRIBIT - Call name
Brown Quail
Coturnix ypsilophora 

These small birds may be eaten, they are difficult to find and kill. They are often seen in grassy areas and never in burnt areas. One of the Wagiman names is based on the sound of the call ‘jirribit….jirribit…jirribit’.
JIRRIBIT - Call name
Turnix spp. 

These small quail have tasty flesh. It is difficult to catch them as they occur in grassy areas, are difficult to see and fly away very quickly when disturbed.
Peacock (Indian Peafowl) 
Pavo cristatus

This is an introduced bird, there is a small group that lives in the bush on the Daly River near the Claravale Crossing, they have been there since the 1980’s.
Pelecanus conspicillatus

In the past the flesh was cooked and eaten, a lot of meat can be obtained from one bird; they have not been eaten in recent times.

Jibiyu - Ducks and Geese

All ducks can be called Jibiyu and can be eaten; though some are small and difficult to catch.

Cormorants, diver-ducks, in general 
Phalacrocorax spp.

These birds are always seen near water, they mainly eat prawns, mussels and fish. They dive underwater a lot and often only their head is visible.
Darter, darter-duck or diver-duck 
Anhinga melanogaster

The diver-ducks have a skinny head, but otherwise are very similar to cormorants, above, they have the same Wagiman name.
Plumed or Grass Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna eytoni

Often seen in grassy areas near billabongs and swamps, as areas dry out they move to other areas where water can be found. They can occur in large numbers on water during the day, at night they move out to feed.
The flesh is tasty after roasting on hot coals and ashes.
Wandering or Water Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna arcuata

This whistling-duck is always seen near water and rarely leaves waterholes or billabongs. They often occur in very large noisy flocks on the water. The flesh is tasty after roasting on hot coals and ashes.
Burdekin Duck, Radjah Shelduck 
Tadorna radjah

The flesh is eaten after it is roasted on hot coals and ashes; it is very tasty. The Wagiman name also refers to roundness. Bappu is often seen around the edges of swamps looking for food in the shallow water.
Magpie Goose 
Anseranas semipalmata

The flesh is very tasty and they are highly sought after to eat. The flesh can be roasted in coals after the feathers have been singed off and the guts removed. Often the meat was flavoured with paperbark leaves dipped in water to moisten the meat and improve the flavour. Gotnon can often occur in large numbers and during the wet season they lay eggs in nests in swamp and floodplain areas. The eggs were an important food resource during the wet season in the past.
They were hunted in the past by swimming quietly underwater to where they were feeding and then staying underwater by breathing through a hollowed bamboo stem. As the Geese ducked their head under to feed they were grabbed by the neck and their neck wrung. They were pushed into a dakdakkin, kurrajong belt worn by the hunter and the hunter would continue catching and killing them. In recent times they have been hunted with shotguns and rifles.
Gotnon eats some of the small yams that grow in soft mud around swamps and billabongs, for example, walangga, the water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) and galanduk, the river yam (Triglochin dubium).

Herons and Egrets

Great-billed Heron
Ardea sumatrana

This large dark bird hides in thick bush near rivers and swamps, it is not often seen.
Rufous or Nankeen Night Heron
Nycticorax caledonicus

The Wagiman name is based on the call that this bird makes at night, it is often skulking around in dense vegetation and makes a series of croaks, rasps and buzzes.
White and grey Egrets
Ardea alba, Ardea ibis, Ardea garzetta

Beretjjen are any of the white or grey egrets, this includes the one that hangs around bullocks and horses eating insects and ticks.

Ibis, Spoonbills and Others

Straw-necked Ibis
Threskiornis spinicollis

The flesh can be roasted on hot coals or cooked in a ground oven and then eaten. Nimbarrguy is often seen poking its long beak into soft ground looking for food.
White Ibis
Threskiornis molucca

The flesh can be roasted on hot coals or cooked in a ground oven and then eaten. Nimbarrguy is often seen poking its long beak into soft ground looking for food.
Platalea spp.

The flesh can be roasted and then eaten; they have not been eaten much in recent times. Nangalan is recognised by its rounded beak that is swung through the water from side to side looking for food.
Jabiru, Black-necked Stork
Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus

Dirin is a large bird that is mainly seen around swamps, rivers and billabongs, they were eaten in the past.
Grus rubicunda

This bird is well known for its dancing during courtship. It may be eaten when meat is short but is not specifically hunted. The meat is quite good to eat.
Bornorron has special dreamtime stories and was an excellent didgeridu, ngaranin player in the dreamtime.
JAMUT -  Call name
Bush Turkey, Bustard
Ardeotis australis

In the past this bird was more common than it is now. Some Wagiman people think this could be related to fewer fires now than in the past.
The flesh is eaten after it has been cooked, and is considered excellent food. In the past it was hunted on the plains country with a spear or boomerang, buran. It is also hunted when it comes to a waterhole to drink.
The name jamut is sometimes used for jekban.
Jacana, Jesus-bird
Irediparra gallinacea

The Jacana is often seen walking on the leaves of waterlilies and other waterplants, this gives the appearance of walking on water and this is why it is often called the Jesus-bird.
WINDUK - Call name
Bush Thick-knee, Bush Stone-curlew
Burhinus grallarius

This bird has a special dreamtime story associated with its mournful call at night. During the day they stand quite still in dense vegetation.
Spur wing Plover (Masked Lapwing)
Vanellus miles

This bird lays its egg in open grassy areas. It is very aggressive when people walk near the nest and it swoops to attack, they have a small hook on the wing.
Red-kneed Dotterel
Erythrogonys cinctus

This small bird is often seen around the edges of swamps and billabongs, looking for food.

Hawks Eagles and Kites

In the past hawk hunting hides were built to attract kites and other raptors so that they could be caught, roasted and eaten. These hides consisted of a low semi-circle of stones to about 1 m high, and had sticks and branches laid over the top to conceal the hunter who crouched inside.

A small smoky fire was built and a stick with feathers or fur was twirled around in the smoke. This attracted the birds, which swooped in to catch the prey, they grabbed and quickly killed, ready to be cooked and eaten later.

Black-breasted Buzzard
Hamirostra melanosternon

This small diwana prefers to smash and eat the eggs of emus and bush turkeys, but they also hunt small mammals and lizards. They have the same Wagiman name as the Wedge-tailed eagle but are recognised as being different.
Fork-tailed Kite, Black Kite
Milvus migrans

This bird is often seen near fires where it hunts for lizards, grasshoppers and other small insects. It also carries burning sticks to grassy areas to start new fires to flush out more prey. They are very common in the dry season and are rarely seen in the wet season.
Whistling Kite
Haliastur sphenurus

This bird is often seen near fires where it hunts for lizards, grasshoppers and other small insects. It also carries burning sticks to grassy areas to start new fires to flush out more prey. They have a distinctive shrill whistle followed by four to six short ascending notes. They are seen all year round.
Wedge-tailed Eagle
Aquila audax

This large eagle can get very large and stands up to one metre high; they usually hunt small mammals including wallabies and young kangaroos. To kill the wallaby diwana flies high and drops the wallaby back to the ground. They also eat animals killed on the road and are often seen feeding on roadsides.
White-bellied Sea-eagle 
Haliaeetus leucogaster
This large, mainly white eagle hunts fish and turtles and is well known for its hunting skills. They are usually seen near coastal areas or major river systems where they hunt, they often perch on rocks or tall trees overlooking the water. They can also be called makmak, due to the sound of the call.
Falco cenchroides

This bird can hover in one place while looking for prey. It is often seen hunting above plains and other open areas looking for small mammals and lizards.
DIRDIT - Call name
Brown Goshawk, Chicken-hawk 
Accipiter fasciatus 

This raptor has long legs and often stalks prey with short flights near the ground, it often kills chickens in pens by walking in the pen and catching them with its powerful feet. Its call is dird…dird…dird.
DIRDIT - Call name
Collared Sparrowhawk, Chicken-hawk 
Accipiter cirrhocephalus 

This small raptor hunts from low branches in woodlands and forests, it often hunts other birds.
DIRDIT - Call name
Grey Goshawk 
Accipiter novaehollandiae 

A pale grey raptor that is an excellent hunter and a fast flyer, generally seen in densely wooded areas near large rivers.

Pigeons and Doves

All pigeons can be eaten, though the larger ones are considered better. In the past they were hunted with light spears made from Barragarl (Sesbania cannabina). Many of the names are based upon the sound of the call made by the bird.

Partridge Pigeon, Red-eye Pigeon 
Geophaps smithii
This pigeon has bright red colour around its eye, it is rarely seen in Wagiman country and mainly eats seeds from the ground.
Bar-shouldered Dove 
Geopelia humeralis

This dove gets quite big and they were eaten a lot in the past, the flesh is tender and tasty. The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon 
Petrophassa rufipennis

This pigeon mainly lives in rocky areas, it is not commonly seen.
Peaceful Dove 
Geopelia striata

This is a small dove and the Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Diamond Dove
Geopelia cuneata

This is a small dove and the Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Torres Strait Pigeon 
Ducula bicolor

This large mainly white pigeon likes to eat the fruit of jawarr (Carpentaria acuminata) and galbanyin (Terminalia microcarpa). The loud distinctive call can often be heard in jungles and thick vegetation near the Daly River.
The flesh can be eaten and is considered excellent food. It is cooked in a ground oven with paperbark leaves for flavouring.

Cockatoos and Parrots

The brightly coloured feathers of all species can be used for ceremonies or dances. They are attached to string with wax and used for specific ceremonies.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo 
Calyptorhynchus magnificus 

This large black bird has a distinctive raucous call, and the Wagiman Dirrak-Dirrak refers to this call. The flesh is good to eat; however, it is hard to spear this bird.
WERRKWERRK -  Call name
White Cockatoo, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo 
Cacatua galerita
The werrkwerrk name is based on the sound of the call.
Cacatua roseicapilla

The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Cacatua sanguinea

This bird used to be a woman, but turned into a bird in the dreamtime. They are often seen eating spear grass seeds in the late wet season, they also eat the gum from some plants.
Red-collared Lorikeet
Trichoglossus haematodus

This bird has special spiritual significance for Wagiman people. It has powerful stories associated with it which are of a sacred and secret nature.
Red-winged Parrot
Aprosmictus erythropterus

This bird often eats seeds from introduced plants and weeds. The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call weletj..weletj.
Hooded Parrot 
Psephotus dissimilis

This attractive bird makes a burrow and nest in termite mounds. The bright feathers are used in certain ceremonies. It is often referred to as the golden shouldered parrot.
Northern Rosella 
Platycercus venustus

This small rosella has the same name as the Hooded Parrot but is recognised as being different.
Nymphicus hollandicus

This small parrot is common in the Pine Creek area, they have a small crest and are good singers.
Melopsittacus undulatus

In the past there were large flocks of these birds. However, in recent times there have been very few seen in Wagiman country.
Channel-billed Cuckoo 
Scythrops novaehollandiae

This large bird has a loud raucous call, when it flies it looks like a cross.
Common Koel, Stormbird
Eudynamys scolopacea

This bird has a distinctive call, ‘jowok…jowok…jowok’, and when the call is heard it signals to Wagiman that the rain season will begin soon. This call is also a sign that jalabol, the black plum (Vitex glabrata) will have ripe fruit soon. The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Pheasant Coucal 
Centropus phasianinus

When this bird sings out with its distinctive call it is calling up the rain.

Owls and Nightjars

Tawny Frogmouth, Mopoke 
Podargus strigoides

This bird sits on the trunk and branches of trees and is very difficult to see. The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the soft, quiet calls.
Aegotheles cristatus and Caprimulgus spp.

This bird sits quietly during the day and is often seen flying at night. It has special significance and importance for Wagiman people.
Barking Owl 
Ninox connivens

The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call, ‘mukmuk…mukmuk…mukmuk’.
Southern Boobook 
Ninox novaeseelandiae

For some Wagiman this is a totem or dreaming, and it has special significance. In the dreaming this bird was a man, and he used to change his appearance by painting up with ochre.
Rufous Owl
Ninox rufa

This large owl is secretive and difficult to see, it is an excellent hunter. The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Barn Owl, Masked Owl 
Tyto alba, Tyto novaehollandiae

For some Wagiman this is a totem or dreaming, and it has special significance. In the dreaming this bird was a man, and he used to change his appearance by painting up with ochre.

Kingfishers and Others

Wagiman speakers have a term nordorrp, which has a similar but not identical meaning to the English term kingfisher. The English term kingfisher includes members of the family Alcedinidae which consists of two subfamilies – the kookaburras (Subfamily Daceloninae), and the true kingfishers (Subfamily Alcedinae) which includes a number of species, none of which is more than half the size of a kookaburra.

The Wagiman term nordorrp includes the true kingfishers, and the Rainbow Bee-eater (Family Meropidae), but does not include the Blue-winged kookaburra (Dacelo leachii). The rainbow bee-eater shares a number of characteristics with the true kingfishers. It is approximately the same size as the larger members of the true kingfisher family, it is brightly coloured, it nests in a burrow, and its beak is similar to theirs in being significantly long in relation to the overall body-size.

Forest Kingfisher 
Todiramphus macleayii

This small blue bird digs out a small burrow in termite mounds to lay its eggs in. They mainly eat insects and small lizards. The Wagiman name can also be pronounced binbajarri, binbirritjjin and babatjarri.
Azure Kingfisher
Alcedo azurea

Dindin is usually seen near creeks and rivers this small kingfishers eats fish and water insects mainly.
Little Kingfisher
Alcedo pusilla

This is the smallest kingfisher and it is also seen mainly around creeks and rivers where it eats small fish and water insects.
Red-backed Kingfisher
Todiramphus pyrrhopygia

This is a larger kingfisher and it is often seen in open forests and woodlands, they often sit very still on a branch looking for food. They mainly eat insects and small lizards.
Sacred Kingfisher
Halcyon sancta

This is a larger kingfisher and it is often seen in open forests and woodlands, they often sit very still on a branch looking for food. They mainly eat insects and small lizards.
Blue-winged Kookaburra 
Dacelo leachii
This bird hunts for snakes and lizards, then kills them and eats them; they also eat a lot of insects. When garramben sings out its loud garrwuk…garrwuk…call it sometimes means the police are tracking someone. The call is most commonly heard at dawn and dusk, often small groups sing it out together.
Rainbow Bee-eater 
Merops ornatus

This bird eats small insects and bees and is often seen around water swooping for insects.
Eurystomus orientalis

The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Red-backed Fairy-wren 
Malurus melanocephalus 

A small black bird with a red back, it has the same Wagiman name as some of the finches. It is often seen around pandanus near creeklines and rivers.
Pardalotus spp.

This small bird digs a burrow in banks of earth and lays its eggs in there.
Friarbirds or Leatherheads 
Philemon spp.

Jardawk prefers to eat nectar from flowers and is generally a very noisy bird, especially at dawn.

Honeyeaters and Others

White-throated Honeyeater
Melithreptus albogularis

This bird sings out when people approaching. It often warns prey of the approach of hunters.
White-gaped Honeyeater
Lichenostomus unicolor

This small brown honeyeater are noisy and cheeky, they are always looking for flowers and nectar.
Yellow-tinted Honeyeater
Lichenostomus flavescens

A small brown honeyeater with yellow on its face and wings, it is often seen in noisy groups.
Grey-crowned Babbler
Pomatostomus temporalis

Often seen in large noisy groups and referred to as the happy family bird. They are sometimes also called galwaying, due to the sound of the call they make; this is also the Aboriginal name of Joe Huddlestone, one of the authors.
Willy Wagtail 
Rhipidura leucophrys

The Wagiman name of this small bird is based on its call. This jindibirritj lives in the open country all over.
Grey Fantail, Northern Fantail
Rhipidura fuliginosa

The Wagiman name of this small bird is based on its call. This jindibirritj lives near the river.
Flycatchers (in general) 
Myiagra spp.
Peewee, Magpie-lark 
Grallina cyanoleuca 

Gulirritta often alerts game to the presence of a hunter and is considered a nuisance because of this. The Wagiman names are based on the sound of the call.
Spangled Drongo, rainbird 
Dicrurus bracteatus

The drongo is very simiar to the male Koel and has the same Wagiman name.
Chlamydera nuchalis

Jorih-Joritj builds a nest (bower) from sticks and then collects glass, steel and coloured objects to decorate the area. If a male finds another nest he wrecks it and steals the glass and metal.
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
Coracina papuensis

Often seen near fires looking for insects to catch, wilik has a habit of refolding its wings as it perches.
Woodswallows, general 
Artamus spp.

These small birds are often seen in tight groups sitting on branches and power lines in the cold weather time.
Pied Butcherbird 
Cracticus nigrogularis
This bird is recognised for its pleasant and varied songs.
Torresian Crow
Corvus orru

The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.
Singing Bushlark 
Mirafra javanica
Golden headed Cisticola
Cisticola exilis

The Wagiman name is based on the sound of the call.


Long-tailed Finch 
Poephila acuticauda
This small finch is noted for its long thin tail.
Double-barred finch 
Taeniopygia bichenovii 
Gouldian Finch 
Erythrura gouldiae
This finch was common on Wagiman country in the past; it was always seen coming in to drink at waterholes. However, it is rarely seen now.
Crimson Finch 
Neochmia phaeton 
This bright red finch is often seen near pandanus and creekline areas. It can also be called binbin, based on the sound of the call.
Star Finch 
Neochmia ruficauda 

This Finch has a red face and brown body, it was seen on Wagiman country in the past but it is not now.

This virtual version of the "Wagiman Plant and Animal Book" is based on a paper draft written and composed by:

Lulu Dalppalngali Martin (deceased), Lenny Gappuya Liddy (deceased),
Joe Galwaying Huddlestone(deceased), Lena Jololok Tomlinson (deceased),
Helen Yimorrotjba Liddy (deaceased), Clara Gumbirtbirtta McMahon (deceased), George Jabarlgarri Huddlestone, Mark Harvey and Glenn Wightman.

Harold Burns, Daphne Huddlestone, Theresa Muyiwey Banderson,
Maria Liddy, Kenny Liddy, G. Huddlestone number 2 (deceased) and
Paddy Benbo Huddlestone (deceased) also participated in field work associated with
the recording of Wagiman plant and animal knowledge from 1998-2005

© 2005 Wagiman people,
Wagiman Association Planning and Environment
Kybrook Farm PO Box 496
Pine Creek NT 0847, Australia

© July, 2017 by the Wagiman people of Pine Creek and Kybrook.

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