this (avian) life
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.
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