I HEADED off for work, three steps from my front door, and felt a strange sensation on my hip. Without looking down I brushed at it. All I felt were feathers. It was a Rainbow Lorikeet which had silently flown from behind me and latched onto my belt.
I became very fond of him even though he became a demanding pest. Every day for over a year he would appear at some stage, perch on my shoulder, and defy efforts to dislodge him. Some relief came in the form of a mate which avoided me religiously, but still my friend would fly into my unit, drink whatever I was drinking and not leave until it was ready.
Fussy? Fussy is not the word when it came to food. Initially he gnawed at whatever I was eating, which prompted me to buy him – and later them – some black sunflower seeds which they loved. One day I bought the grey seeds which were a little cheaper. Nope. Wouldn’t touch them. And if looks could kill!
When, as a pair, they flew about the suburb to check out houses for fruit, they would whistle to me as they passed overhead. I know it was directed at me because they mimicked my particular feeble whistle which I had used to originally call them. Eventually they teamed up with a flock which picked my neighbour’s palm tree to nest in. The neighbour objected and put fly-wire around his tree, leaving many eggs within that were just hatching. What a sad time it was to see the lorikeet families trying to get to their chicks. Worse, magpies, ravens and others attacked the wire to get to the hatchlings. A sad end to that episode.
AT LEAST a year before, a family of 15 Mudlarks made friends with me. I think I would have to call them my favorite bird.
I live in Western Australia but in the Eastern States they call this species ‘pee wee’s. The relationship began as it usually does – tentative curiosity, then a building trust. Then food.
I lived opposite a large park bordered by Norfolk Island Pines which was home to several species. Our relationship was of a nature that when I pulled up at home after my workday, no matter the time, the mudlark flock would descend around me with several “designated” scouts tapping my head as they flew past me to wait for me in the back yard. Many would comfortably eat from my hand but there were others which seemed to demand that I throw food in the air so that they could show off their acrobatic skills. Too, I lived adjacent to the ocean in the Perth suburb of City Beach, and that meant many birds of all types were appearing with legs tangled in fishing line. One or two allowed me to free them of the line – except for one fellow who had lost a leg. The mudlarks have the quirk of hanging about amongst magpies which tolerate them as inferior cousins. Males and females are easy to tell apart and there seemed little pecking order according to sex. They seemed pleased to bring their chicks around as though proud of them. The reason that they all disappeared one season remains a mystery
MAGPIES HERE are slightly different to the Eastern Magpie.
Early morning I would be woken by their melodic song. Magpies are unique in having a double larynx which enables them to sing two tunes at once.
They too would come into my yard regularly, but while some fed from my hand, they were not as personable as other species. Apparently they have a repertoire of 400 face-recognitions. When notorious attacks happen, we locals were never bothered when walking through the park, but beachgoers certainly got attacked since they were unfamiliar to the maggies. They certainly brought up their chicks rough – chicks were pushed aside when food was around and often pecked.
TWO PAIRS of doves hung around me.
One pair was of African origin and the other pair were Indian. Reportedly, this species of birds had been imported by the Perth Zoo, but were set free in the 1950’s. Since they were not prolific breeders they never became pests. They were quite shy but eventually two fed from my hand. Both breeds were a flat brown color and hard to tell apart. But Fight!! My goodness, they gave the lie to being a bird of peace. My only bird funeral was one of the doves.
NOBODY COULD dislike Fantails.
They are the bravest of tiny things and were always around. Not personable, but not intimidated either.
I once had to chase a Dugite [snake] from my back gate and down the side path to the park across the road. Actually, I did less chasing than my wagtail friend who gave that metre-long snake a very hard time.
I have to claim a unique experience concerning wagtails – and possibly a world record [which conveniently cannot be corroberated]. It is said that they never keep their tail still for more than around 25 seconds [a world record according to the books]. Well, I once had occasion to sit in a park in Busselton to wait for someone. I spied a Willy Wagtail but 2 metres away, intent on the ground ahead of him – obviously detecting the presence of a sub-terainean insect. Noticing its tail was still, I began counting. I reached 110 seconds before his tail moved. There!…..my only world record.
CROWS?…..We don’t have them. Our “crows” are technically Ravens.
Pests in a way, but admirable for their intelligence. They were always around, but never became personable – nearly but not quite. They are said to be the only species of birds which deliberately recreate, as in R&R. They do, but I’ve seen other breeds enjoy play time.
Their squark is annoying. They are intimidated by other smaller birds [mainly wagtails and lorikeets] and they robbed my fig tree every season.
BUTCHER BIRDS are wonderful.
They came close but never too close; they are always just too busy finding food. They are such devoted parents I used to watch in awe as they trained their young. They are the robbers I discovered which used to rip out the hairy stuff from my hanging baskets. Their most notable feature though, for me, was their song. Just exquisite. [Apparently they gained the name because they tended to hang their prey in a tree before consuming]. Too they are sleek and masters of flight.
FINALLY………. A SPECTACULAR INCIDENT: and it involved nearly all the breeds above.
One hot morning, my back yard was a veritable bird park. The Lorikeets were at my feet. Some mudlarks were waiting for me, perched on a chair. Several magpies were on the lawn trying to eat but were getting annoyed by a crow trying to steal their food – he had one eye out for the lorikeets since they do not take kindly to other breeds. A lone dove was perched well away on the roof gutter, watching and waiting for everyone to leave. High summer is the time for birds of prey. I have no picture here, as I don’t know what sort of bird it was that I saw far, far up in the sky, hovering as eagles, hawks, falcons and others do. It may have been a sea eagle, being white. Suddenly it dived. Really, it came from such a height and at such speed, vertically down, that I thought it was a Kamikaze suicide. It headed straight for the crow and there seemed no possibility , at that speed, of pulling out. But it did, totally defying the huge G forces. It clipped the crow nicely and veered at right angles just inches from the ground, missing my shed by a whisker. The most amazing thing was its targeting of the crow – not for the kill, but as though the crow was an annoyance, and it had nothing better to do.
There were many other species, both in my yard regularly and in the park: kookaburras, ibis, Carnaby cockatoos, galahs and of course the ubiquitous sea gulls. Since I moved house, I have not yet made many avian friends. I do miss those I left behind.