Choosing special birds in the Wet Tropics is perhaps an impossible challenge - there are so many. We could choose the most common that you are likely to see, or the rare or endemic or endangered species, or those with interesting habits. For the time-being, here are a few showy species which also fit some of the other categories above.
There are three riflebirds in Australia and all three are quite spectacular. Of course, they should be - they are in the bird of paradise family whose New Guinea members are arguably amongst the world's most admired birds.
Victoria's riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) is a reasonably common resident of the Wet Tropics rainforest and its raspy, single note call (ya-a-s-s-s) is unmistakable. A fruit eater (and therefore a seed disperser), the male riflebird is beautiful and bejewelled while the females have dull colours on the back and are pale with bars below. The males want the attention of as many females as possible and, if their iridescent green head and neck feathers and gilt-edged, velvet black body feathers aren't enough to do the trick, the mesmerising dance they do from a tall tree usually seals the deal. This is a famous bird that stretches its rounded black wings upward and sways his body from side to side, flicking each wing upwards in time to his swaying.
Another member of the bird of paradise family that resides in the Wet Tropics area is the golden bowerbird. Like the attention-seeking riflebird males, the bowerbird males also go to great lengths to attract many females each breeding season. Rather than glitzy feathers, these birds use their construction and decorating skills to impress. The golden bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana) is the only Australian member of a small group of bowerbirds, otherwise restricted to New Guinea, that build 'maypole' bowers. The bower is based around two tall towers that may be up to three metres high and one metre apart with a display pole perched between them. The completed structure is then adorned with flowers, lichen and berries. Males are so intent on 'being the best around' that they even go to the trouble of raiding other males' bowers to steal their decorations - sounds more like human behaviour than a bird's! The golden bowerbird only occurs in upland forests above about 900 metres.
The Wet Tropics area has several very beautiful fruit pigeons (or doves) and the largest is the wompoo pigeon (Ptilinopus magnificus). Wompoo pigeons are usually difficult to see in the canopy, despite their pretty colours, as most of the body is greenish. However, their distinctive calls are often heard carrying well through the forest understorey. Listen for the occasional lubbuck pooo ... A good time to catch sight of this important seed disperser is when the quandong fruits are falling. The blue, olive sized fruits are a favourite and numbers of wompoo pigeons will gather to feed in the airy branches. As one of the larger fruit doves, wompoo pigeons can disperse a wide range of rainforest seeds which may be too large for smaller fruit doves and other fleshy-fruit eaters. The wompoo pigeon only lays one egg.
The chowchilla or northern logrunner (Orthonyx spaldingii) is endemic to the Wet Tropics and a significant ancient songbird (see animal evolution). The former common name comes from the bird's early morning raucous call which sounds a little like 'chow-chowchilla'. The chowchilla is an insect eater, scratching through the leaf litter in groups. It lays a single egg in a stick and debris nest on the forest floor after the wet season has finished. A most unusual characteristic of this medium sized upland species (usually above 450 metres) is that the quills of its tail feathers end in a short spine.
Two common birds of the northern Australian forests are mound builders (also called megapodes for their big feet). Rather than lay eggs in a nest and be confined to sitting on them to incubate, these two species build huge mounds of material from the forest floor which create heat as they compost. Eggs from a few females are laid inside the mound which can often be more than several metres in diameter. The brush turkey (Alectura lathami) is the larger of two megapodes and the male tends its mound in a most unusual way: he digs a hole and sticks his head in! If it's too warm, he removes some of the material from the outside of the mound. If it's not warm enough, he piles more material onto the mound to increase the temperature. The brush turkey has become very familiar around some popular tourist spots and starts aggressively demanding food handouts.
The other megapode is the orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt), a smaller and less easily noticed bird. However, its maniacal calls and screams are hard not to notice and carry some distance. Both ground birds wander through the forest, scratching up the litter looking for fruits, berries, seeds and shoots. When alarmed, they will usually run off but, if necessary, they can fly clumsily into the trees.
One of the migratory species to the Australian tropical lowland forest is the buff-breasted or paradise kingfisher (Tanysiptera sylvia), distinctive for its streaming white central tail feathers. This colourful blue and buff bird arrives locally in November for breeding. Nests are tunnels excavated by the pair in active termite mounds growing on the rainforest floor. The young hatchlings develop quickly and fledge in only 24 days. The adult paradise kingfishers return to New Guinea in March but the fledgings follow afterwards. This poses the question: how do the youngsters know where to go if there are no adult birds to guide them?
Another important seed disperser is the gregarious and noisy metallic (or shining) starling (Aplonis metallica). These birds are colony nesters and create large pendulous, globular nests incorporating the branches of selected trees. The large, often emergent trees chosen are fully laden with the nests of hundreds of these lorikeet sized birds. Their high, shrieking voices and rapid, direct flight are also very similar to the lorikeets but they lack the bright colours, being oil-slick black with a vibrant red eye. Juveniles resemble adults except for their white streaked breast. The metallic starling prefers the coastal lowlands but can be seen in some middle altitudes.