ON THE WING

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Grow Your Own - WITH DON KNOWLER

Like their cousins in Mel­bourne, the house spar­rows (pic­tured) at Sala­manca Square have learnt a crafty trick to get them a meal.

Sev­eral years ago, a friend said he had seen spar­rows hang­ing about out­side a McDon­ald’s in the Mel­bourne CBD, wait­ing for pa­trons to trig­ger the elec­tronic slid­ing doors. As soon as they opened, the spar­rows flew in, had a quick feed of fast-food crumbs and waited for the doors to open again.

On a re­cent trip to Mel­bourne I ob­served the smart be­hav­iour my­self but thought it was a one-off, that the Mel­bourne spar­rows were more streetwise than those from far­ther afield.

Well, I’ve been proven wrong. Sit­ting in Banjo’s at Sala­manca Square a few weeks ago I saw the cheeky spar­rows do­ing the same thing. The only dif­fer­ence: the main door at Banjo’s is not a slid­ing one. But still the spar­rows waited pa­tiently.

All this proved in­ter­est­ing as I waited for the Ho­bart Book­shop to open. I later learnt another in­ter­est­ing snip­pet of in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing birds mak­ing them­selves at home in mankind’s en­vi­ron­ment.

Ap­par­ently, a flock of noisy min­ers in New South Wales has learnt that the pick­ings at restau­rants do not just in­clude crumbs and scraps – the min­ers fre­quent­ing a restau­rant in Wol­lon­gong have re­ally set out to em­brace the cafe cul­ture by steal­ing sa­chets of su­gar from the al­fresco ta­bles.

The min­ers fly to the ta­bles of un­sus­pect­ing pa­trons and in a flash lift a packet of su­gar from the su­gar bowl be­fore fly­ing to a con­ve­nient spot be­yond the restau­rant to tear them open and eat the con­tents.

We might be used to spar­rows, pi­geons and gulls raid­ing out­side and some­times in­side ta­bles at eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments, but the noisy min­ers must be the first among a fam­ily – the hon­eyeaters – not known to as­so­ciate closely with hu­mans to ex­hibit such bold be­hav­iour.

With their stocky ap­pear­ance and pug­na­cious be­hav­iour, noisy min­ers might not look like hon­eyeaters but they are firmly placed among the 66 hon­eyeaters found in Aus­tralia, the coun­try’s most pro­lific bird.

Many con­fuse the miner with a sim­i­larly named bird, the in­tro­duced com­mon myna found in many main­land cities, but thank­fully this pest species is not present in Tas­ma­nia.

The noisy miner – ap­pear­ing grey in ap­pear­ance in­stead of the myna’s black – is gen­er­ally found in the drier ar­eas of Tas­ma­nia, par­tic­u­larly near the coast.

I’m not a big fan of noisy min­ers, mainly be­cause they bully other birds, but I was in­trigued when I learnt of their su­gar-steal­ing an­tics so I did a lit­tle more re­search into the Wol­lon­gong gang.

It ap­pears these noisy min­ers are very fussy about what they steal. They de­lib­er­ately choose the su­gar – both white and brown – to eat, but leave sa­chets of ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener un­touched.

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