Bird Island - a seabird refuge

Please do not land on this island between September and March.

Significant numbers of the state- and nationally-endangered Fairy Tern are now breeding on this island and it’s important to give them every chance of survival.

Find out how else you can help outside of these times.

At the northern end of the Outer Harbor breakwater a small but significant island has been forming.

Bird Island is such a new phenomenon that it is still technically defined as 'exposed sea floor'. The island started as a small sand spit when the Outer Harbor breakwater was built in 1906 and was consolidated with dredging deposits in the 1970s. It is made of coarse shell-grit, sand and clay extending for approximately 1600m.

The island has been stabilised by saltmarsh and other vegetation and is now a significant bird colony. It provides habitat for species of national and international significance. Many that use the island are listed on treaties Australia has signed with China, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

The island is: 

  • a significant roost and feeding site for migratory and non-migratory shorebirds
  • a breeding rookery for seabirds such as the endangered Fairy Tern
  • home to the state’s largest Australian Pelican colony outside the Coorong 
  • significant for non-migratory shorebirds such as Pied and Sooty oystercatchers and the Red-capped Plover, reflecting the value of the adjacent tidal flats for feeding.

The breakwater supports the largest known colony of Black-faced Cormorants, and is a haul-out for the threatened Australian Sea Lion. Silver Gulls and many waterbirds breed there, and resident shorebirds are also abundant.

Improving the biodiversity of Bird Island

The island is home to many species of birds including some rare and endangered species.

During summer the area is important for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds that breed in the northern hemisphere and travel over 11,000 kilometres to Gulf St Vincent to feed.

In 2014 the Bird Island Biodiversity Action Plan was developed to help maintain and improve the biodiversity values and functions of the island. The plan identified introduced rats as a key threat to bird populations, along with dogs brought by boat or kayak. Other threats include fox predation, human disturbance and pest plants.

To help conserve and expand the island’s biodiversity a rat control program is underway, along with ongoing weed control and revegetation programs. A bird monitoring program has been instigated to gauge the effectiveness of these activities, it is already showing positive changes to the island’s bird numbers.

As the area is internationally significant for its birdlife, the state government has committed to establishing an Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary.

What you can do

Leave your dog at home! Do not bring it onto the island.

Bringing dogs onto the island will cause deaths of chicks and eggs through disturbance and the panicking of birds such as pelicans. Even leashed dogs will cause disturbance on this important seabird island.

Keep away from a seabird breeding colony or areas where large numbers of shorebirds are roosting.

If nesting birds are disturbed it can result in eggs or chicks being crushed by panicked birds or leaving them at risk of predation or overheating from exposure to the sun.

Avoid the area just above the high tide mark on beaches between September and March, as this is favoured nesting habitat for Red-capped Plovers, Oystercatchers and Terns.

When birds behave erratically, fly in circles, squawk or perform a ‘broken wing display’ they are feeling threatened. Please just move on if you see this behaviour.

Avoid landing at popular roosting sites such as sand spits and mudbanks.

Managing Bird Island

Bird Island and the breakwater at Outer Harbor and the waters surrounding them form part of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary which is also a Specially Protected Area under the Harbors and Navigation Act 1993.

The southern part of the island is under the long-term control of Flinders Ports and the northern area is managed by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. 

Natural Resources AMLR entered into a Memorandum of Understanding between the port manager (Flinders Ports) and state agencies to help with the conservation management of the island.


Fairy Tern monitoring on Bird Island, 2018-19 breeding season report

Census of breeding birds – December 2016

Bird Island Biodiversity Action Plan

Related links

Lead agency

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges


Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure; Flinders Ports


More information

  • Seascapes Coordinator
    (+61 8) 8273 9116
Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges