Australian desert reaches peak budgie as thousands dazzle wildlife photographer
A wildlife photographer has captured stunning images of budgerigars in a murmuration of up to 10,000 birds near a water hole outside Alice Springs.
Steven Pearce said the display was rare, unique and relatively shortlived – lasting for only about 10 minutes. Pearce was able to shoot dozens of photos displaying the birds’ agility and dazzling splashes of colour in the middle of the desert.
“The show only lasts for 10 minutes in the morning and then, after they have a drink, they split up into groups of 50 or so and disperse into the wilderness,” Pearce said.
“Over the course of the morning there was about 7,000 to 10,000 birds. It only takes a few seconds for them to get their drink and then they’re off.”
Pearce said the birds were also quick to get a move-on because of predators, including falcons and kestrels.
The group had built up over a few days around a water hole in an undisclosed location after a long dry spell. Pearce had been tipped off to the event by a friend who is a birdwatching tour guide.
“Water is always the limiting factor for all life in the desert, and in dry conditions as the smaller water holes dry up, the budgies are forced to fly to larger water holes. They are seed eaters, so they need water every day.”
Budgerigars’ diet consists of native herbs and grasses, such as saltbush, and most of their drinking and feeding activity is in the morning.
Very large flocks like the one Pearce encountered are rare, according to the Australian Museum, and are usually only seen after a season of abundant rainfall and food. Flocks usually range from as few as three birds up to 100.
It had been five years since Pearce last sighted a group this size, and on that occasion he was able to capture footage of the event.
“It’s a pretty unique place to be, not every bird species congregates like this – it requires good communication to gather in large groups,” Pearce said.
“It’s also unique because budgies are not exotic, they are such as central part of our culture and even our lingo – budgie smugglers and so on – and this really is peak budgie, the most spectacular form you can see them in.”
The noise of thousands of birds swooping and diving was the most spectacular part of the event, Pearce said.
“One bird as it flies over you makes a kind of ‘whoosh’ sound – they’re really fast. With a group of birds flying in many directions, that sound is elongated when turning and changes in pitch and intensity, but it never really stops.
“For me the sound is the most unique part of the experience. You have to remember that it is dead silent in the middle of the desert.”
Pearce shot dozens of photos on Friday 4 October and had intended to return the next day to film the event, but rain interceded and the group dispersed.
Despite everything looking synchronised in the photos, it wasn’t always so, he said, with some crashing into trees or each other, but overall the experience had given him an appreciation of just how much coordination and communication was required for the birds to move together in such massive numbers.
“They’re cool little things for sure.”
Budgerigars photographed in the desert near Alice Springs in central Australia on 4 October.
Budgies tuck their wings in as they turn and swoop.