More than 300 bird species have been recorded in the Pilbara, including seabirds and occasional vagrants. Two subspecies are near-endemic to the Pilbara – the Pilbara grasswren and the Pilbara collared kingfisher. The relatively high diversity of birds in the Pilbara reflects the variety of habitats and proximity to tropical, arid and subhumid regions. But, reflecting the harsh and changeable conditions of the Pilbara, fewer than half the recorded species are residents. Many are nomads, moving in when conditions are favourable or when conditions elsewhere are worse.
Important bird habitats include the islands, coastal habitats such as mangroves, major watercourses with fringing red gum forests, and the central uplands, which support several species rare elsewhere. Some changes in the Pilbara have benefited birds. Sewage ponds are used by shorebirds, ducks, rails and dotterels, and the intake area of the Port Hedland Saltworks has become important for migratory shorebirds, with more Asiatic dowitchers, broad-billed sandpipers and Mongolian sand plovers recorded in a single saltworks pond than from the entire Eighty Mile Beach.
Thirteen species recorded in the Pilbara are listed as threatened at a state or national level and another 5 as priority species in Western Australia. Seven are shorebirds threatened mainly by habitat destruction on their migratory path to breed in the northern hemisphere. Threats in the Pilbara include the impacts of grazing by introduced herbivores, adverse fire regimes, invasive shrubs and grasses and, in some places, mining infrastructure. The Pilbara is particularly important for one of Australia’s most threatened and iconic birds – the recently rediscovered night parrot.