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A Report from

Christmas Island (Australia) 03 – 06 June 2005,

Gary and Marlene Babic


This report covers a short visit to a wonderful location, Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Christmas Island holds several endemic species and subspecies, and most are easy to locate, but the logistics can be formidable. In this report I will try to outline some of the issues that need to be addressed for visiting this location.


The first issue to consider when visiting Christmas Island is access. At present, there is one flight weekly from Denpasar (Bali) to Christmas Island, and two flights per week from Perth. The flight from Denpasar had been from Jakarta until early 2005; Jakarta would be more convenient because many flights to Bali go via Jakarta anyway, and Jakarta is much closer to Christmas Island. The flight from Bali is operated by Austasia Airlines, and the flight times and dates sometimes change. The flight from Perth is run by National Jet. The latest flight info is posted on the Christmas Island web site.

Because of a recent flight change by Austasia, we were able to arrive from Bali on a Friday and depart to Perth on a Monday, giving us three days and nights on Christmas Island. One more day would be ideal but the timing is dictated by the available flights. Most tourists come for a week, coming and going from the same location.

Upon arrival on Christmas Island, the next concern is transportation. The island is small but there is no public transport. There are two companies that rent cars as well as a taxi company. Because of the need to access some 4WD locations, we elected to rent a 4WD vehicle. This went smoothly but the only fuel station has limited hours.

There are several places to stay on Christmas Island, and most are in the same general location called The Settlement. The hotel we used, the Sunset, was new and excellent and is highly recommended.      

A potential issue is local currency. As this is an Australian territory, the money is Australian dollars. If coming from Perth, it is likely you would have some, but that may not be so if coming in from Bali as we did. There are no ATMs on Christmas Island, and only the bank can exchange foreign currency. The bank is open from 9AM to 4PM Monday through Friday, so we arrived too late to go to it. Fortunately, we had some Australian currency and the owner of the hotel lent us some more to cover some local costs. The grocery store, dive shop, and restaurants honored credit cards.  The only fuel station in town is closed on Sundays and does not accept credit cards. Mobile phones worked in limited areas.

Christmas Island is mostly known as a diving/snorkeling and fishing location, but it is not really tourist-oriented. Except for restaurants, stores close by 5 or 6PM, most are closed on Saturdays and all are closed on Sundays. The Christmas Island tourist office has an excellent and comprehensive web site. I recommend reviewing this site and making copies of many of the web pages, which turn out to be very useful once there.

Deciding when to visit is another issue. A useful feature of the Christmas Island web site is a schedule of the breeding times of the key birds (see below). Another consideration is that the mass migration of red crabs, which has been called a “must-see” natural wonder, takes place in November or December; the “down side” of this is that many roads are closed during this period to allow the migration and some birding sites may be inaccessible. For birders also interested in diving, another consideration would be when whale sharks and humpback whales migrate.

The star birding attraction of Christmas Island is Abbott’s Booby, which only breeds there, but other sought-after birds are readily seen: Christmas Island and Greater Frigatebird, Red-footed Booby, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds (the latter also present in a golden race locally referred to as “golden bosun”, Brown Booby, Common Noddy, the endemic white-eye and imperial pigeon, and the endemic races of Island Thrush, Glossy Swiftlet and Emerald Dove. Of the local birds, we did not see the Christmas Island Hawk-owl or the Christmas Island race of Brown Goshawk. We heard the owl on two nights. It did not respond to a tape of its own call but another night’s try could have been successful. We understood that the goshawk could be seen along the 4WD tracks near the center of the island but we did not see any despite a lot of searching. The other birds could readily be seen in a single day.        


Day 1, Friday

Our flight from Bali arrived on Christmas Island at 3PM. The Austasia flight is a charter which is actually operated by Garuda. Upon arrival, we located a representative of Soong’s car rental and picked up our 4WD Honda CRV. Things are very casual on Christmas Island, because they know you cannot leave! For example, we simply picked up the car keys and drove off without even leaving a credit card slip. The tiny shop in the airport did not have any maps, nor did the car rental person, so we simply followed signs to The Settlement, the main part of the only town on the island. By chance we found and stopped at the Parks Australia / CALM office and were able to purchase a map there. It was also coincidentally feeding time (4:30PM) when the staff feeds some of the rehabilitated injured birds. Consequently we had our first close-up views of many of the frigatebirds and tropicbirds. Once we had the map, we drove to the only supermarket in town, which closes at 6PM, to stock up on supplies, and then to our hotel.       

The only other place we saw a street map was at the Tourist Information Center, which was closed when we went by on Friday and which was also closed on Saturday. Without the map, it would have been impossible to find the various birding locations. After checking into the hotel, we enjoyed the view of tropicbirds flying past the porch.

Day 2, Saturday.

At dawn, many birds were flying past our porch: frigatebirds, tropicbirds, boobies and Common Noddy. We drove to the LB4 lookout, which is a breeding area for Abbott’s Boobies. We soon saw several, including a few on nests atop the surrounding trees. There were also Red-footed Boobies and various frigatebirds here. Christmas Island White-eyes were also common, and we saw a few perched Christmas Island Imperial Pigeons along the roadside. With the key Abbott’s Booby sighted well, we drove back to the town and to Territory Park behind the CALM HQ. We had hoped to talk to someone at the CALM office about a site for the goshawk and owls but the office was closed on Saturday. Territory Park had very approachable white-eyes, imperial pigeons, and our first Christmas Island Thrush. From the viewpoint over Flying Fish Cove we had close-up views of the various tropicbirds near nests. We then drove to Lily Beach (note: the road from the golf course to Lily Beach was closed, so the only access road was from the airport area). At Lily Beach we had close-ups of Red-footed Boobies and various frigatebirds on nests. Red crabs were everywhere and impossible to avoid on the roads.

In the afternoon, we picked up some snorkeling equipment and snorkeled at Flying Fish Cove. The snorkeling was excellent and very close to shore. At 4PM we returned to the CALM office and met Max, the resident birding expert, who suggested the golf course for the owl and anywhere in the center of the island for the goshawk. We drove to the golf course and walked to the edge of the forest directly behind the golf course. We had a tape of the Christmas Island Hawk-owl call from a web site ( so we knew what to listen for. Just after dusk we heard the call deep in the trees. We taped the call and tried to draw the owl closer but it did not budge. The call is very far-ranging so it is likely we were outside the owl’s territory. We made a short trip into the forest but were unsuccessful. The bird appears to stop calling within a hour so it is important to find it quickly.       

Day 3, Sunday

Having seen all the species but the owl and goshawk, we concentrated on the goshawk during the day and also did some sightseeing. We drove on all the paved roads and several 4WD tracks in the center of the island and west to Martin Point. We also visited The Blowholes, which is definitely worth a visit. This covers a wide range of habitat but no goshawk. There were lots of emerald doves along the tracks.

Afternoon snorkeling again, and then back to the golf course for the owl at dusk. The owl was again heard at the same point, directly behind the clubhouse parking lot deep in the forest, but again did not move in reply to the tape. The forest was alive with the sound of moving crabs, adding to an eerie feeling. Max had mentioned that an owl is sometimes heard in the Drumsite housing area across the main road form the CALM HQ, but we did not hear any when we went there, ending our quest for the owl. 

Day 4, Monday

We made an early morning drive to Dolly Beach, the one area we had not yet visited, to look for the goshawk but were again unsuccessful before going to the airport for the afternoon flight to Perth. This flight stopped briefly at Cocos but there were essentially no birds seen there.

Bird List

The Australian bird books do not cover Christmas island endemics specifically, but most birds such as the boobies, frigatebirds, etc., are in them. The white-eye, imperial pigeon, emerald dove and thrush are obvious. Information on the owl, including photos and calls, is found on the web site noted above. Most of the birds were found easily and were very approachable.  The general information given below is taken from the Christmas Island web site, with our comments in bold along with a few photos we took.

Abbott’s Booby Papasula abbotti:  This bird was readily seen on nests at LB4 lookout and often flying over the island. Easily identified by the black tail and wing markings.
Abbotts.gif (49291 bytes)

Rarest of all boobies, this large bird nests precariously on the lateral branches of emergent trees on the Christmas Island plateau. Its long slender wings and gliding flight resemble an albatross. The black tail, black topped wings and larger size distinguish it from the more common Red-footed Booby. Most of its breeding habitat is protected in the Christmas Island National Park. Park authorities have a rainforest rehabilitation program funded by the mining royalties from Christmas Island Phosphates. This project revegetates areas where nesting areas have been affected by the wind turbulence resulting from land clearing.

Red-footed Booby Sula sula rubripes: This bird was nesting at Lily Beach. Excellent views possible. 

This locally common booby nests in the trees of the lower shore terraces. Its white tail and red feet distinguish it from the rare Abbott’s Booby

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster plotus: This bird was often seen flying close to shore. It also was nesting at Dolly Beach (photo below).  

A common tropical booby, nesting on the ground amongst pinnacles and inland cliff edges. Chocolate brown plumage with white breast and powder blue beak and feet.

Great Frigatebird Fregata minor : This bird was seen everywhere on Christmas Island. It was surprisingly difficult to separate them from the less common Christmas Island frigatebirds.

This large black bird is widely distributed in the tropics and is easily identified as a frigatebird by the angular wings and deeply forked tail. Females have a white chin and breast and males are all black. Males  display an inflated red throat sac during courting. Frigatebirds feed by harassing boobies and other seabirds with fish, forcing them to drop their catch.  This aggressive behavior presumably gave rise to the naming of Frigatebirds after the early frigate war ships.

Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi; It took a while to be able to pick these birds out from the more common Greater Frigatebirds. The flocks at the golf course appear to have the highest concentration of Christmas Island Frigatebirds.

The world’s rarest frigatebird nesting only on Christmas Island. Slightly larger than the Greater Frigatebird with a length up to 100cm and distinguishable by the white collar of the female and white belly of the male. All males can inflate their dramatic red throat pouch during the breeding season from December to June

Silver Bosun or Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda westralis: Common especially near The Settlement and nesting at Flying Fish Cove.

This medium sized white bird with its black eye marking and elegant long red tail streamers is common along the coastal cliff. Groups of up to twenty birds can be seen in spectacular aerial displays off the sea cliffs. Birds nest on the ground under coastal bushes or on cliff ledges.

Golden Bosun or White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus fulvus: Although the golden version is the pride of the Christmas Islands, both the golden and white versions occur widely and were nesting near Flying Fish Cove.

A golden population of the widely distributed White-tailed Tropicbird, the Golden Bosun, is unique to Christmas Island. A smaller bird than the Silver Bosun, it is distinguished by prominent black bars on the upper wing, a golden tinge to the plumage and golden tail streamers.

The Golden Bosun’s undulating flight and delicate looks give it a special place in the hearts of island residents. Commonly seen around the settled areas near Flying Fish Cove and flying over the rainforest canopy.

Brown (Common) Noddy Anous stolidus pileatus: Often seen flying low close to shore and nesting at Lily Beach. Looks tiny compared to the other shorebirds. 

The Brown Noddy is a common tropical seabird nesting on the seacliffs and shore terrace trees, though not as common as the Red-footed Booby on Christmas Island. Sooty brown with a bright white cap and lower eyelid fading to grey on the nape of the neck. These small birds are found on the cliffs overlooking many of Christmas Islands small beaches

Land Birds

Christmas Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus erythropleurus: Found in populated areas and very approachable. The photo was taken as this bird attacked its shadow in our car window. Looks similar to an American Robin.

Common throughout gardens and settled areas as well as through the forest, this unassuming little bird with the dusting of orange on its belly and yellow bill has a wonderful inquisitive nature and beautiful burbling song. Although not as spectacular as some of the other island birds, it is certainly full of character. Its confident nature and the open plan of many buildings mean it is a frequent visitor to many homes, perching on window sills and nesting in the eaves. Endemic to Christmas Island.

Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon Ducula whartoni: Often seen on bare branches along the roads. Looks better than in this photo taken at Territory Park.

The eerie, soft booming call of this large endemic bird in the rainforest alerts you to its presence. Common in the canopy of the rainforest, it is a fruit eater and may be seen feeding on the Japanese Cherry, introduced for rainforest rehabilitation purposes.

Christmas Island
Emerald Dove or Green-winged Pigeon Chalcophaps indica natalis: Very common on interior trails. Mainly seen on the forest floor and lawns in settled areas, this pretty iridescent bird brings the familiar cooing of a dove to this remote outpost island. This particular subspecies is endemic to Christmas Island. 

Christmas Island Hawk Owl Ninox natalis: We did not see this bird, although we heard it at the golf course on two nights. Refer to the text for the web site that gives a lot of details on this bird.  

This shy bird can be heard along the golf course road and on the fringes of the Settlement area at night, but takes a little effort to see. About the size of a  common pigeon but with a barred breast, it can be found by using a good torch and pursuing its unmistakable boo-book call.

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Christmas Island Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus natali: Another bird we missed. It is supposedly found along roadsides in the interior of the island.

An endemic subspecies of the Brown Goshawk, this is the largest raptor on the island and distinguished from the smaller Australasian Kestrel by its barred chest and relatively long legs. Seen mostly in the forested areas, goshawks are sometimes curious enough to tolerate very close approaches.

Australian Kestrel (previously Nankeen Kestrel) Falco cenchroides: Seen in almost any open field.

This small raptor is commonly seen on lamp-posts and vantage points beside roads in open areas. 

Christmas Island White-eye Zosterops natalis. Common and lively. We took this photo in Territory Park. Spends time foraging on the ground.

Similar to white-eyes or silver-eyes elsewhere, Christmas Island has its own species seen in small foraging flocks.

Christmas Island Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta natalis: Very common

A small black swiftlet usually seen in flight chasing insects.

Christmas Island is also host to many visiting and vagrant birds as well as a few introduced species. We saw several White-faced Herons but little else.


Hotel: we stayed at The Sunset, tel: 61-8- 9164-7500. Highly recommended. Great location, new hotel, friendly and helpful staff.

Transportation: we used Soong’s Car Rental, tel and fax: 61-8-9164-8191. Obviously there is a limited supply of cars so reservations are essential. The other car rental agency is Fool Moon, tel: 61-8-9164-7586,fax 9164-8822. There is also a taxi service, Island Taxis, tel: 61-43-921-5644, mobile: 61-43-921-5644.

Air: Austasia Airlines:; National Jet:

Snorkeling gear and general advice: Dive Christmas Island, Marcus Cathrian, tel and fax: 61-8-9164-8090. e-mail:; Marcus was very helpful on snorkeling , diving, and knew a lot about birds too. We also rented a high-power flashlight (torch) from him for the owling.

The web site of the Christmas Island Tourism Association is excellent. They also have an office in town, with Internet facilities, but the hours were erratic. Tel: 61-8-9164-8382; fax: 61-8-9164-8080; e-mail:; web:  They can assist with lodging, transportation, etc.

There are a few restaurants in town, but the hours are limited. The Golden Bosun bar/restaurant had good food and longer hours than most restaurants.  


Calendar for Bird Breeding on Christmas Island













Breeding season for Christmas

& Great Frigatebirds





Brown Boobies nest year round




Abbott’s Booby nesting



Abbott’s chicks on nests year round as breeding is biennial




Red-foots nesting




Silver Bosuns








Golden Bosuns nest year round




Brown Noddies nesting




CI Imperial Pigeon








CI Emerald Dove









CI Thrush








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