Aboriginal Peoples and Birds in Australia

Historical and Cultural Relationships

April 2023
More details
  • Publisher
    CSIRO Publishing
  • Published
    11th April 2023
  • ISBN 9781486315970
  • Language English
  • Pages 344 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
  • Images 94 color photos, 7 b&w illustrations, 4 b&w photos

Australia is home to many distinctive species of birds, and Aboriginal peoples have developed close alliances with them over the millennia of their custodianship of this country. Aboriginal Peoples and Birds in Australia: Historical and Cultural Relationships provides a review of the broad physical, historical and cultural relationships that Aboriginal people have had with the Australian avifauna.

This book raises awareness of the alternative bodies of ornithological knowledge that reside outside of Western science. It describes the role of birds as totemic ancestors and spirit beings, and explores Aboriginal bird nomenclature, foraging techniques and the use of avian materials to make food, medicine and artefacts. Through a historical perspective, this book examines the gaps between knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples and Western science, to encourage greater collaboration and acknowledgment in the future.


  • Provides a historical review of the cultural roles of birds and their importance to Aboriginal peoples in Australia.
  • Explores Indigenous knowledge, to inform future research in ornithology, anthropology and ethnoscience.
  • Illustrated with photos taken by the author over 40 years of fieldwork.

Cultural Sensitivity

Readers are warned that there may be words, descriptions and terms used in this book that are culturally sensitive, and which might not normally be used in certain public or community contexts. While this information may not reflect current understanding, it is provided by the author in a historical context.

This publication may also contain quotations, terms and annotations that reflect the historical attitude of the original author or that of the period in which the item was written, and may be considered inappropriate today.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this publication may contain the names and images of people who have passed away.

"This book is a mist have for anyone with an interest in ethno-ornithology!"

The BirdBooker Report

Cultural sensitivity warning

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Birds as ancestors
Chapter 3: Birds as creators
Chapter 4: Birds and the spirit world
Chapter 5: Bird nomenclature
Chapter 6: Early hunting and gathering
Chapter 7: Birds working with people
Colour plates
Chapter 8: Food and medicine from birds
Chapter 9: Material culture
Chapter 10: Conclusion


Philip A. Clarke

Philip A. Clarke is a consultant anthropologist, working in native title and Aboriginal heritage. With an academic background in both science and anthropology, his research interests are focused on the ethnosciences, in particular Australian ethnobiology and ethnoastronomy. He is also the co-author of Aboriginal Biocultural Knowledge in South-eastern Australia.

Australian birds; Australian Aboriginal culture and history; environmental knowledge