this (avian) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jill An­drew

YEARS ago there was a great deal of en­cour­age­ment from the gar­den­ing gu­rus to plant na­tive trees and shrubs in your garden. Not only would it save water, we were told, but the plants would at­tract birds.

Although we don’t have a huge num­ber of na­tive plants, we do have a lot of birds. One of them is a mag­pie that sings for most of the night. Why? I thought birds sang at dawn or dur­ing the day. Could it be lonely and look­ing for a mate? We have be­come used to this gen­tle sound and miss it when we are away.

The first group of crows (ravens) ar­rives close to sun­rise. Our large gum tree is greatly favoured by th­ese noisy, so­cia­ble birds. Some­times the group is made up of just a few birds and the level of noise is ac­cept­able. When there are 10 or even 20 birds perched to­gether hav­ing what ap­pears to be a ran­corous com­mit­tee meet­ing, how­ever, the noise level is amaz­ing. Th­ese ‘‘meet­ings’’ tend to last at least a half-hour. If the birds are in­ter­rupted, they fly off, ap­proach the tree from a dif­fer­ent an­gle and be­gin their noisy dis­cus­sion again.

Once the crows take flight from the tree, a small dove be­gins her morn­ing procla­ma­tion, and we won­der if it is the joy of moth­er­hood she is an­nounc­ing, as there could be a nest in the tree be­hind her. Later in the day there is a fur­ther pro­nounce­ment, which takes place at a high point in the garden or on the neigh­bour’s roof. So per­haps she is not a mother at all but an­other bird call­ing for a mate.

Our ter­race has camel­lia shrubs and th­ese are be­ing kept in­sect-free by a pair of hon­eyeaters. The birds work silently at their task un­less ir­ri­tated by our dog, when they re­lease their gut­tural cry and fly off — just far enough to be able to as­sess when it is safe to re­turn.

An­other silent vis­i­tor has been a young barn owl. Sev­eral times the lower branches of our gum tree have been graced by this lovely bird. Ob­served en­thu­si­as­ti­cally by ev­ery­one who has vis­ited the house, the bird’s beau­ti­ful eyes would gaze out at us as its head swiv­elled. There was no sign of fear or dis­com­fort. At night we could hear his call but dur­ing the day he was com­pletely silent. Sadly one day the branch was empty and we have not had a re­turn visit.

Pretty soon we will have (alien) lori­keets look­ing for blos­som on the lo­cal trees. They are vo­ra­cious feed­ers and again the troupe ar­rives at dawn to squab­ble and fight nois­ily through­out the day. This racket is partly an at­tempt to keep out the lo­cal cock­a­toos and par­rots that might like a share of the blos­som. In­ter­lop­ers from the east, the lori­keets are now in epi­demic num­bers and pose a threat to the lo­cal birds. The feed­ing and noise go on un­til the blos­som is fin­ished — it can seem a long time.

Oc­ca­sion­ally we hear the mourn­ful whistling call of carn­aby’s cock­a­toos over­head; th­ese birds are now con­sid­ered en­dan­gered, hav­ing been forced from their nat­u­ral habi­tat by log­ging and farm­ing. Lo­cally, I have seen them de­scend on liq­uid am­ber and cape li­lac trees — a far cry from their nor­mal food. They seem to par­tic­u­larly like pine trees, and they de­light in break­ing off small branches and pine cones and fling­ing them to the ground. The size of th­ese flocks seem to be di­min­ish­ing; it would be sad in­deed if this en­gag­ing bird dis­ap­peared al­to­gether.

There our other birds in our garden but those de­scribed are the ones we no­tice most. Per­haps we should plant more na­tives and see what other cap­ti­vat­ing birds we can at­tract.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for publi­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 600 and 650 words in length. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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