Turtles & Birds
As a National Marine Park and situated in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area, Heron Island is an important habitat for many species. A variety of wildlife visit the island at different times of the year, depending on breeding, foraging and migratory movements.
As a visitor to Heron Island you may experience unforgettable encounters with the amazing wildlife that also shares the island. Our Naturalist Guides encourage you to learn about the flora and fauna of the island and witness activities such as nesting and hatching, during guided tours.
Heron Island is a significant nesting location for two vulnerable turtle species, the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Nesting season occurs from October to March each year, with hatchlings beginning to emerge in early January. Most nesting turtles will begin to come up on the beaches around the high tide of a night time, some turtles may still be on the beaches finishing the nesting process when the sun rises in the morning.
To minimise disturbance to these magnificent marine reptiles, there are strict guidelines in place for the viewing of nesting and hatching turtles. Please remember to follow these guidelines when you are on the beaches of Heron Island.
- Do not use lights or flash photography
- If you see a turtle on the beach, remain low and still. Turtles are very sensitive to movement
- Remain 10m away from the turtle
- Remain behind her line of sight
- Avoid walking in the high dune area as there are many nests below the sand
- Attend a Turtle Hints presentation which is conducted daily by our Naturalist Guides, and join a Guided Turtle Walk when available.
Through all but a few months, Heron Island is a breeding and nesting sanctuary for a huge variety of birds. The biggest populations are the Black Noddy Terns (Anous minutus), Wedgetailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) and Eastern Reef Egrets. In certain months, up to 100,000 birds flock to the island. The bird species can be grouped into the following populations:
- Black Noddy (between 70,000 to 120,000)
- Bridled Tern (approximately 50)
- Wedge-Tailed Shearwater (between 30,000 to 35,000)
Residents – These birds live on Heron Island all year round and breed on the island.
- Bar Shouldered Dove
- Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrike
- Buff Banded Rail
- Capricorn Silver Eye
- Eastern Reef Egret (formally known as a Reef Heron)
- Sacred Kingfisher
- Silver Gull
- White-Bellied Sea Eagle
These birds travel from far-away places like Siberia, Alaska, Northern Canada and Northern China. They do not breed on Heron Island but they spend the Spring and Summer on Heron to escape the cold winters of the Northern Hemisphere. It can take them anywhere from 9 days to 4 weeks to reach Heron Island.
- Bar Tailed Godwit
- Black Tailed Godwit
- Grey-Tailed Tattler
- Lesser Sand Plover (also known as the Mongolian Plover)
- Pacific Golden Plover
- Red-Necked Stint
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Wandering Tattler
Visitors – These birds visit the island and surrounding waters but do not nest on the island.
- Black-Napped Tern
- Brown Bobbie
- Channel-Billed Cuckoo (the world’s largest cuckoo)
- Great Crested Tern
- Great Frigatebird
- House Sparrows (the only introduced bird seen at Heron Island)
- Leaden Fly Catcher
- Lesser Crested Tern
- Lesser Frigatebird
- Little Black Cormorant
- Little Pied Cormorant
- Little Tern
- Roseate Tern (Roseate Terns nest on neighbouring Wilson Island but not Heron)
- Shining Bronze Cuckoo (the second smallest cuckoo in the world)
- Spangled DrongoVaried Triller
- White-Faced Heron
Depending on the time of your visit, you’ll see a variety of adult birds, and potentially witness as young birds emerge from their burrows.
Bird nesting holes are protected with covering boards, as the nests are often found in the middle of a trail or path. If you come across a covered or uncovered nesting hole, please do not tamper with the hole, which can disrupt the hatching process and disturb the nesting birds.
Please refer to our Nature Diary for a full month-by-month overview of turtle, bird and other wildlife seasons on the island.
Unlike many destination resorts where you’ll have to travel far from your accommodation in order to explore nature, Heron Island offers a relaxing retreat for both humans and natural wildlife. Explore some of the other island activities or book your stay now.