Turtles & Birds

A protected habitat for a stunning variety of wildlife

At Heron Island, you’ll sense early on that you are very much a guest of the natural environment. An amazing array of animal life can be discovered throughout the year, and you’re here to enjoy it, to learn from it, and to be a part of it.

Learn all about the Heron Island Circle of Life


Heron Island is a significant nesting location for two vulnerable turtle species, the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta).

In order to not disrupt their habitat or nesting habits, strict guidelines are in place for the viewing of nesting and hatching turtles, beginning each year around November. The little hatchlings look vulnerable because they are, especially when it comes to light. They use light horizons to navigate out to sea. If bright artificial light is present, they will get confused and may head toward it instead of the ocean. They can become lost inland and waste what little energy they have trying to find their way.

Turtles can be found simply by walking along Heron Beach one or two hours after the evening’s high tide. Look for the tracks in the sand where the turtle has come in from the sea. Follow these simple pointers to make sure both you and the turtles have a great experience:

  • Light can disturb and disorient the turtles, so minimize the use of torches and be sure to only use 3-volt low-impact torches. No flash photography, please.
  • When you see a turtle moving up or down the beach, stay still. Excessive movement can disturb her. Never walk in front of a turtle. Instead, walk behind her.
  • If the turtles feel threatened or disturbed, they will turn around and head back out to sea, and will not lay their eggs. Please keep a safe distance at all times.
  • If you come upon a turtle while digging, give her plenty of room. You may sit down quietly behind the turtle, at least 10 metres away. A girl needs her privacy. Once she has finished digging, wait at least 15 minutes, and then you may approach her from behind.
  • The turtles can be quite stressed and tired after their night’s work, so again, give her some room (10 metres) so as not to panic her.


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:

Breeding birds

  • 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

Migratory waders

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
  • Whimbrel

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.