Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Lovers, The Dreamers And Me

The Rainbow Lorikeet may well be the sentimental favourite of Australians when it comes to back yard birds, especially here on the east coast. They can be loud, bossy, aggressive and messy, but all of this can be overlooked for their incredible beauty, tolerance of and interaction with humans, and enormous and captivating range of vocalisations. And they almost always look as if they are happy, which has to be a plus.

Like the Noisy Miner of my previous post, it is very rare to see just one Rainbow Lorikeet. They seem to do everything together in a giant community with a distinct pecking order. The mating pairs especially tend to hang out together and their affectionate behaviour toward one another is gorgeous to see. The juvenile and baby birds stand back and let the adults get in first to the feeders.

Taking a number at the buffet
The Rainbow Lorikeet is so named for its obvious colouring; they are a stunningly attactive bird and the patterning of their feathers is quite intricate if you get a chance to take a close look. I've had these birds coming in to our yard long enough now to be able to pick out individual birds; they are all similarly coloured, but the patterning is different for each bird, enough that I can recognise the regulars who come in.

The babies are coloured like the adults but look fluffier and have dark beaks and black eyes, features that slowly change over time to the red-ringed iris and orange beaks of the adults. The babies stand out more so by their behaviours and vocalisations. They use a 'submitting' posture, getting low down with their wings out behind them and putting their open beak up to their parent for food, or indeed any passing adult bird that will feed them.
This bird is seen here with its parent but pestered a dozen or so others,
four or five who actually fed it
A parent watches over a fledgling learning to eat on his own
I have seen juveniles going around the yard and pestering four or five adult birds that were not their parents until they fed them. The baby birds also have an unmistakable call, a sound like someone sucking air through their top teeth, that they use to call to and pester their parents for food.
An extra serving of cuteness please
We started seeing the fledglings in September. I was lucky enough to hear a call then spy one being fed right up the top of a tree by its parent. After this we started to see them every day, up to six or eight at a time, even seeing one pair of 'twins', obviously two eggs laid and both survived, a rarity I am sure.
The first fledgling of the season
These two fledglings have been the only 'twins' I have seen so far
At the same time we have seen the mating behaviours of the paired up birds. They have no shame, getting jiggy with it right in the middle of a group of birds on the lawn or up on a branch with other birds either side. They do a strange kind of tango, with what I assume is the male bird bobbing and weaving around the female vibrating his tongue at her and snapping his wings while she tries to bite him. Quite a few times I've had to call out 'get a room!' to a couple of birds going for it just outside the window.
Like something out a Quentin Tarantino movie
This bird has one thing on its mind and its not food
The Rainbow Lorikeet is constantly letting you know it is there. If they are not out-and-out screeching at each other they are singing or filling the air with bird talk of some kind. Until we started paying attention to and attracting birds to our garden, I had idea of the enormous range of 'language' each bird had. The Lorikeet is no exception, and we hear them absentmindedly twittering and chattering to each other all day long, lost in their own birdie dreams of who knows what. There is no time in the day when we do not hear them calling in some way to each other, often just a low murmur of noise, I imagine it to be just like the undercurrent of chatter in a busy office.

In the same way as I am learning to tell the visual difference between birds, I can sit in my office and tell the difference between a call that means 'food fight' and one that means 'watch out for the crow' and one that means 'lots of food here!'. The screeching of a flock of feeding Lorikeets is a uniquely Australian sound. I remember being at San Diego Wildlife Park and hearing Lorikeets in the aviary there; the sound made me instantly burst into tears because it was such a strong association with home.

These birds don't seem to mind humans and are very aware of the times we feed them and what we are up to. We recently stopped feeding them in the mornings, going back to once a day simply because the noise in the mornings was probably a bit much for the hour. The first few days we had some very indignant birds squarking on the clothes line waiting for me to come out with their nectar, very upset that their routine was changed. I feed them now only at lunchtime, and it is a lot of fun to go out with the bowls and see the birds hopping down the branches twittering at me with excited looks on their faces.

In our yard we have ten or twelve tall flowering trees that the birds eat from, but they still like to come to the buffet for their dessert! I've been asked if I'm going to try and hand feed these birds like the flocks at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, but we are trying to draw a line between what we do and maintaining these animals as 'wild'.

I've mentioned before about feeling a 'connection' with nature through feeding the birds, and now we have increased this connection through a remodel of our garden to make it attractive to birds and other wildlife. It is part of simply trying to give back something we took from them just by being human and living the way we do which has destroyed so much of their habitat.
In a Golden Penda tree in our front yard
Big Puss does a lot of window shopping
In the last few months we have watched an area the size of a football field completely cleared for house blocks along the ridge of land above us, which contained many large trees in a wooded area that no doubt was a precious habitat for these birds and many other species. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for it. I know why people throw themselves in front of bulldozers, I feel like doing it myself.

If you are in Australia and have a block large enough to support a garden, please take the time to plant one or two trees or shrubs that could provide food or habitat for local birds and native fauna. Who knows, these delightful lovers and dreamers might also come to live at your place.

Find our more about Rainbow Lorikeets and listen to their song here.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

He Rocks In The Treetops All Day Long

I like to think I don't pick favourites among my birdie friends but the Noisy Miners are pretty close to my heart. 

This tiny nectarivore is just so full of personality - they announce their presence in the garden with a series of dive-bombing raids on any other bird who may be there and a chorus of shrill squeaks - hence their nickname of 'Squeaker'.
Noisy Miners harass a Blue-faced Honeyeater at a feeding station

The Noisy Miner was so named because they are, well, noisy! They have a large repertoire of vocalisations and calls, ranging from tiny clicks between mother and fledgling to ear-splitting squeaking when an alarm call is needed. 
Somebody's upset about something

The Miners are quick to let me know when a Crow or Currawong has come into the yard by this constant shrilling. I can also usually tell when Maggie has come in for her afternoon tea by the Miner's disgusted objections to her being there.
Trying to bags the food before the Lorikeet gets to it

These birds are bold and seem almost fearless for their tiny size. I have seen a half-dozen or more chase a Crow out of the yard or dive-bomb a cockatoo. They mostly ignore me now when I put nectar out for them, letting me come right up to the bowl before I get an annoyed burst of "WHATWHATWHATWHATWHAT!" as they slip away and return before I am back in the house. 
A pair of Noisy Miners enjoy the shade

We call them the What-whats because of their call, which sound exactly like that. They are highly curious and have to know EVERYTHING that is going on - I quite often find a dozen or so watching me while I garden or peering in the kitchen window while I wash up.
A bird's eye view out my kitchen window

If you can see one Squeaker there will usually be a dozen not far away. A very communal bird, they eat and socialise in groups and are continually flit-flitting between food sources. The Squeakers wear their hearts on their wings, and through some very out-there behaviours you can usually tell what is going on for them. 

This many Squeakers is a common sight
They seem to spend a lot of time arguing about things, with some interesting posturing of wing ups quivering, perhaps to make themselves appear larger, or angrier, to other birds.
This could be making-up, or breaking-up!
Just like Question Time in Parliament

I was delighted just a week or so ago when I started to see the parents bringing their new fledglings out of the nest to my nectar feeders. Visually there isn't much between the adults and babies of this species, with the babies appearing a little fluffier and scruffier. The babies show the normal baby bird behaviours of hassling adults for food, calling almost continuously and a low, trembling posture with the wings out and mouth pushed forward which I have seen in many different bird fledglings this season. I assume it is the bird equivalent of hanging off mum's leg shouting 'mum! I'm hungry!'.
Cutest baby bird in the whole damn world
Except for this one

The Noisy Miner is a sometimes maligned bird in Australia for its noisy and aggressive behaviours, seeming ever-presence throughout the suburbs and lack of 'pretty' plumage like some of the parrot and lorikeet species. 

Still it is a native to the country and more than makes up for in personality what it might lack in manners and beauty. For this bird, it is what's inside that matters. Check out the Noisy Miner's call here.

Would you like the birds of our Big Back Yard at your place all year round?

Shot By A Ferrett is releasing a limited edition 'Birds of the Big Back Yard' 2016 calendar. Calendar is spiral bound, sized 8x11 inch, and features 13 different bird species. This calendar will be $25 posted anywhere in Australia, with additional postage by quote for international destinations and is only available directly from us. An ideal gift for overseas friends and family. Drop me a line at my email address anna at ferrettography dot com for purchasing details. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

You Stole My Heart But I Love You Anyway

So bloggers, I've been out of circulation for a while now with a persistent illness and that pesky uni work I keep having to do.... so apologies for my long absence and hopefully I can come back with a bang, at least until my next (and final) postgrad subject starts in November.

This will be the first in a likely long series on our backyard avian friends; anyone who has been following my public Facebook posts will see that every day of the week our front yard gives any bird sanctuary a run for its money.

Today I'm focusing on the humble magpie, scientifically known as Cracticus tibicen and probably secretly my favourite backyard bird. Magpies are neither very pretty nor do they have a delightful song, but what they lack in beauty they more than make up for in personality and intelligence. Males and females are identical except for the female magpie having a grey-shaded neck and tail. 

The juveniles have more of a scruffy grey-brown mix in their colouring and are usually identifiable by behaviours and a shriller call. Magpies can live for around 20 years and are highly territorial, remaining in the same area all of their lives. They have a poor reputation as bad-tempered and aggressive BBQ thieves, and are the much-derided ruler of many a suburban Aussie backyard.
The original angry bird
In Australia, we don't need Angry Bird apps. We have the live-action original. Spring and the magpie breeding season presents a big problem for non-magpie lovers in suburbia. The adults will attack and swoop anyone or anything, pets and other birds included, who happen to come near their nests. This is one of the great man vs. beast problems in Australia; what to do about the magpie who might peck your eye out on the way to the shops for a Chico Roll. I can see you smirking but let me tell you a magpie attack is terrifying to behold or be in for that matter. Scratches are common but serious injuries do happen; about a dozen people lose an eye each year to magpie attacks. In spring it is common to see cyclists with dozens of cable ties sprouting out of their helmets and joggers/walkers in parks with fly-swats and cut-out faces stuck to the back of their hats in vain attempts to thwart the evil Magpie Demon. Alas, none of this is effective, and neither is relocating the birds, a reprehensible practice only ensuring the probable death of that bird and its offspring at home in the nest. 
Waiting to swoop and kill! No, actually waiting for me to feed her.
We have three resident magpies in our yard and I must confess, they are more than friends. Not once ever in the time we have lived here have we been swooped or threatened in any way by these birds. The secret? We feed them. Daily we present an offering that appears to be acceptable in their sight. Actually more than once a day but that is nitpicking. Magpies can recognise individual people and learn to know who presents a threat and who doesn't, and what humans live in a certain house and should be there or not. 
Maggie takes food, flies away with it assumedly to the nest then returns for more
So every day at dawn and dusk, I get out in the front yard with my spoon of kangaroo mince and call my favourite, Mrs. Maggie Thatcher, down to have her snack if she is not already waiting. Here she is coming in for her afternoon tea, watch to the end for her delightful wobbly walking:

Maggie is the bravest and largest of our three; I haven't quite worked out her relationship to the other two, or if one of them is last year's fledgling that has not moved on yet, but she is definitely in charge of the troop and controls which magpies come in to the yard and who can take food from me. As you can see she has no hesitation in grabbing food for herself. Her fellow birds will stand back a little and let me throw the food the last foot or so to them.
Maggie taking pork mince from a spoon the Brashness is holding
Usually I get a little warbling song and dance for my trouble before Mrs. Thatcher will take the food from my fingers, with her then fluffing herself up in some kind of show of thanks, or maybe she is informing the neighbourhood I am a sucker. If I don't go out at the prescribed times she puts on the song and dance act back and forth in front of the door or window until I see her and go out. I have occasionally almost tripped over her such is her enthusiasm to get her snacks when I get outside. Once or twice I have driven home from work, turned into my street and spotted a magpie on a light pole who follows the car to the house, and sure enough it is Maggie waiting for her dinner.
Maggie singing for her supper
I find it very upsetting to see the continual battle we humans wage with nature, always pushing against the tide and trying to fight when we could work out ways to coexist. Birds such as these magpies are only doing magpie things and displaying perfectly normal Magpie behaviours when they react to humans in what we perceive to be negative ways. Trust me, that magpie doesn't hate you or your dog or your bike. You walked near her babies - The End. So guess what? Basically the only thing you can do to stop magpie attacks is, oddly enough, don't walk through their territory. Hey its six weeks of the year. Go the long way around the park to the shops. You can always put your Chico Roll in the microwave.
Why, yes, I was actually this close
Check out the Birds In Backyards  link to hear Maggie's beautiful song and find out more about magpies.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." ~ Chinese Proverb
Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on the blossoms of a Golden Pender tree
Rainbow Lorikeets
Or so the saying goes, played out especially in the typical Australian backyard. I've been posting photos on my personal Facebook page of all the birds that have been visiting our yard here in south east Queensland and it occurred to me this might be of interest to my blog readers in other parts of the world.
Juvenile Butcherbird
We have so many different types of birds coming here, 17 species at last count, that I might take a blog entry for each one to adequately do them justice.
A Noisy Miner, affectionately known as a squeaker, lives up to its name
The Brashter and I have lived here for six and a half years and for most of that time have taken the bird life for granted. We have a large and very private yard with many tall and bushy trees, a lot of which are flowering, creating good food sources and cover for birds and no doubt hidey holes for nests and other top secret birdie activities.
A shy Blue-headed Honeyeater
This year we decided to encourage the frequent flyers, so to speak, by putting out a little bit of food. Well, it started as a few table scraps and has escalated into a full buffet with nectar trays, seed, bread, hanging baskets and two parrot stands. When I get home from work just before lunch I can usually find a few birds giving me the eagle-eye waiting for me to clean and top up their trays.
A Long-billed Corella
The dynamics of the birds' relationships is intriguing; not only how different species interact but the interactions between individuals of the same species. 
A Magpie Lark fiercely attacking its reflection in our car windscreen
In the house where my brother and I grew up it was nothing to hear a cacophony of birdsong all day long, starting just before dawn with the mocking laugh of half a dozen kookaburras and ending only at dusk with the mournful calls of stormbirds. Even now hearing a stormbird takes me right to our back patio at home, smelling the first drops of rain from a summer storm and feeling them plink on my face.
A Kookaburra in my parent's yard. These aggressive birds will snatch food
right off your fork if you eat outside.
We had a big flock of scaly-breasted lorikeets, affectionately known as greenies, who would swoop in and jostle for position on feeding trays we held out for them or crawl over our heads and shoulders when others pushed them off.
Feeding Lorikeets in my parent's yard, early 90s
Dad feeding Lorikeets in the yard, late 80s
We even had a hand-raised Eastern Rosella named Peter who had the run of the house. He stayed with us for a long time; even after he eventually flew away to join his kind he would occasionally return and sit and watch us from the clothes line or an upturned bucket in the yard.
Peter the Rosella perched on my shoulder, here with my brother
at Christmastime circa 1974
Eastern Rosella in my parent's yard date unknown
It was not lost on us that this intimate contact is a privilege tourists go to parks to pay for; that what we took for granted and had largely ceased to be amazed by was jaw-dropping and mind-bending to so many people who had never been this close to a wild thing or who had never seen such a colourful bird before except in a book or on the TV. And so it is now; I try and let it freshly amaze and surprise me every day that these innocent and completely free creatures can come in and be trusting enough to sit eating at times just inches from our feet.
Cockatoos are quite destructive; this one has
taken a liking to the new growth on this tree
I look at it as a kind of coexistence. We've claimed so much of the habitat of these birds through simply building our homes and living our lives as humans that I feel obliged somehow to return a little of what I've personally taken in our 750 square metres; we are in danger of 'civilising' our native animals and birds right out of existence. For us we can return an offering to nature through maintaining a bird-friendly yard and providing bird-friendly treats such as seeds and nectar mix. And of course simply allowing them to 'be', unharassed.
Young male Australian King Parrot
Female Australian King Parrot
In doing this, as the saying goes, we are trying to become 'part of the silence'. We can step away from our tablets, phones and screens and live in real time again, even if for just a few minutes a day, a kind of 'Cockatoo Hour' instead of 'Cocktail Hour' if you like. By actually stopping to listen to what the birds have to say, I'm learning again to find my own song.
Spy on the watch: a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo acting as lookout while others eat