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.