The Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) is one of the most common birds in the Sydney area, and can be seen in forests all along the east coast of Australia. It is a mid-sized predator and scavenger, vaguely similar to the Australian Magpie, but a little larger and darker in colour. Although they are normally very gregarious and congregate in flocks in cities for much of the year, they return in spring as isolated pairs to the tall forests in the Great Dividing Range to breed.
They are extremely easy to spot, not least because of their call: a loud, clear warble of "curra-wong! curra-wong! curra-wong!", often sung while flying, occasionally punctuated with a piercing, descending whistle in the evening. Their other main vocalisation is a loud clacking noise often made while squabbling with other birds. Their flight is also extremely distinctive, and a pleasure to watch: it is very efficient-looking rolling motion. First comes a few quick flaps of their rounded, forward-sweeping wings to gain height. Then the wings are pulled back and the resulting torpedo-shaped projectile describes a lovely, long, slow parabolic arc. As they pick up speed on the downward slope of the arc, the wings snap open again for half a second, just enough to suck them back up for another arc. It's as close to a practical perpetual motion device as I've ever seen, especially with a little help from the wind.
They are also extremely imposing in appearance: sleek and fat, about 45cm long including a long, fan-shaped tail, and almost entirely a rich and glossy black. The white patternings depend on region, but the Sydney versions have a white rump, as well as a white bar along the centre of their wing primaries and a white tip to their tail. The markings are most noticeable in flight. Their legs are long for a perching bird, and their feet black. Their 5cm, heavy, daggerlike beak is also a shiny black. Their only coloured ornamentation is the iris of their eye, which is a brilliant yellow.
They are highly omnivorous, eating baby birds, eggs, fruit, insects and carrion.
There is another relatively common variety of currawong, the Black Currawong (Strepera fuliginosa) of Tasmania. It is very similar in appearance to the Pied Currawong, although a little larger (50cm long) and with white restricted to the very tip of the tail. Their black plumage is also more reflective, giving them a greyish sheen in bright sunlight. It is a very common sight in the mountains of central Tasmania, swooping in pairs among the trees along such great trails as the Overland Track. Its main feature which distinguishes it from the more northern varieties is its astonishing voice: a loud and brazen trumpeting, a little raucous, but brimming with verve and enthusiasm.