Kangaroo and Wallaby Viewing Tips

Kangaroo and Wallaby Viewing Tips


Kangaroos and larger wallabies are the easiest macropods to find in the wild. In National Parks and conservation areas you may find them feeding in groups in open grassy areas adjacent to forests and woodland areas, in the early morning and late afternoon.

Tree-kangaroos are difficult to find because they feed at night, high in the rainforest trees. The best way to find most nocturnal animals is to look along the beam of a 30 watt spotlight or a strong torch until you see their eyeshine. Once you have found an animal it will be disturbed by your light, so it is best to cover the light with a red filter, such as red cellophane. Tree kangaroos lack eyeshine, and their eyes are especially sensitive so if you do find one, double your filter and keep disturbance to a minimum.

Musky Rat-kangaroos and pademelons may be found close to the edge of the rainforest. During the day they can often be seen (and heard) racing away into the rainforest. Pademelons may be seen at dusk moving away from the rainforest to feed in adjacent grasslands.

How can you tell a kangaroo from a wallaby?

There is no real difference between kangaroos and wallabies other than size. Wallabies are smaller than kangaroos, and do not weigh more than about 20 kg. If you are serious about identifying individual macropod species, take along a field guide to Australian mammals.

How can you tell males from females?

Older males are easy to identify because they are much larger than females, and have well-developed forearm muscles.

Females can be easy to identify if they have a large joey because the joey will make an obvious bulge in the pouch and often its head, arms or legs will poke out.

Young females, females without a joey, or females with a very small joey in the pouch are difficult to distinguish from young males. To be absolutely sure you need to look at the abdomen; females have a pouch opening, while males have a scrotum.


How do kangaroos choose food?

Feeding is the most common activity, and kangaroos can be can be quite fussy when choosing which particular food to eat. Watch how they select, bite off and then chew a fresh blade of green grass. They may use their forearms to push aside less appealing food, such as tough woody plants, and often hold selected food items in their forepaws as they eat.

How do kangaroos chew their food?

Kangaroos chew food very finely as they eat, but sometime you may see kangaroos stand up, pump their forearms and regurgitate a ball of plant material, making a coughing sound as they do so. This is known as ‘merycism’ and allows kangaroos to chew their food again, which helps with digestion.

Courtship and Mating

How do females choose a mate?

If you see several males closely following a female, you may see some interesting courtship behaviour. Males will stay very close to a female who is nearly ready to mate, hoping to be the one she chooses. Males are able to tell if a female is ready to mate by smelling her pouch, urine and genital area, (you may see them do this). Females will generally choose the dominant male (usually the largest male) as her mate, in order to ensure the ‘best genes’ for her offspring.

Are you likely to see mating take place?

Only rarely. When the female is ready to mate she will usually hop away to a private place, the dominant male following her. However males may become sexually aroused during the courtship period, which lasts for several days before mating takes. You can tell if a male is sexually aroused because his penis becomes erect. He may also make clucking sounds and lash his tail.

Maternal Behaviour

How do mothers keep their pouches clean?

You may see a female licking her pouch. She may be cleaning up after her joey, by removing urine and faeces.

How do mothers protect joeys?

You may see a small joey leave the pouch for a short period. It may practice hopping by moving away from its mother and then rapidly hopping back to her. If the mother senses danger she immediately encourages the joey to get back into the safety of her pouch.

Social Groups

Do kangaroos form family groups?

Yes! You may see a female, her joey and a male in a close group and think they are a mother, father and their baby. In reality they are the mother and two generations of her young. Both joeys may have different fathers and the father was probably the dominant male at the time.


Do joeys play?

Watch mothers with large young, especially in the late afternoon. You may see a joey play with its mother by gently boxing or cuffing her head. Joeys do not play with other young or other adults, but adolescent males can sometimes be seen play-fighting. Play seems to allow joeys to develop their agility and social skills.

Do adults play?

Generally only young males play, and usually this involves practising their fighting skills. Play uses up a lot of energy and most adults need to use this for finding food, looking after their young, and other important tasks.


Why do male kangaroos fight?

You may see two large males fighting. Males fight to decide who is dominant. The dominant male (known as the “alpha male”) is usually the largest and strongest and is more likely to be able to mate with the females in his home range than any other male. A male is usually able to remain dominant for anything from a few months to a few years. This is very stressful and exhausting time for him, because he must constantly fight other males to retain his position.

Keeping Cool

How do kangaroos keep cool?

You will see kangaroos resting in the shade during the hottest part of the day. This conserves energy and water.

On the kangaroo’s forearm lies a network of blood vessels very close to the surface of the skin. Kangaroos lick their forearms to deposit a layer of saliva on the thin covering of fur. Heat is lost from the blood vessels as the saliva evaporates.

Looking for Predators

How do kangaroos spot a predator?

You will often see kangaroos stop feeding, stand upright and look around them, their ears moving in several directions. They are looking and listening for predators. See if you can see the predator that they have detected. Look for foxes, dingoes, cats, dogs and birds of prey.