Scrabble for food has turned good birds bad
I THINK that things are getting tough out there in the real world as my lavish (and expensive!) offerings of birdseed and fruit are gaining a larger audience by the day. The winter carpet of non-breeding Pintailed Whydahs reached the astounding count of 60, yes 60 of these feisty little brown jobs with bright red beaks. They still squabble, but not with such vigour as they do when decked out in all their summer long-tailed glory.
At a given — but unseen by human eye — signal they all whoosh off and are replaced by a mere rug of 20 Laughing Doves. Now doves have the biblical reputation of being birds of peace and love; well this lot haven’t read the good book for they argue and disagree and bicker about everything.
Even seemingly tough birds like a Thick-billed Weaver are chased relentlessly if they dare to come too close to the food. Laughing Doves are really beautiful, decked out in soft grey and pink tones, but I wish they would be gentler towards their friends and neighbours.
A sprinkling of sunflower seeds assures a daily visit by a female Thick-billed Weaver and her offspring. For the first couple of days, the patient mum would pick up a sunflower seed, de-husk it and then pass it to her fluttering child.
She now completely ignores its feeble attempt at flutter begging, and simply carries on eating. Although deep down I am rather sorry for the kid, it is highly amusing watching its pathetic attempts at de-husking the seeds. I had never before really thought about how specialised the art of getting that nutritious kernel out of the hard casing was. Use your binoculars and just watch the weaver take up the seed in its mouth, then manoeuvre it into position using its tongue before carefully removing the hard outer layer without damaging the softer kernel.
This takes real skill, and the youngster in my garden is finding it a hard lesson to learn. We are so lucky to have books and teachers to help us with life’s problems. These guys just have to learn it all by trial and error and a bit of instinct.
I hesitate to say it after my previous gaffe, but I really do think that the lovely Paradise Flycatcher has finally decided to head north. For two days now I have not seen that flashy red-brown streamer making patterns against the sky as it flitted among the lower branches in hopes of disturbing something tasty.
I remember vividly one July visit to Sabie when I saw a male Paradise Flycatcher while out birding, and when I reported this sighting to the local expert it was dismissed outright as very unlikely indeed. This is a very unmistakable bird and I am beginning to think that some individuals do avoid the arduous trek north and scratch out a meagre living through our winter. Could this be another bit of evidence for the climate change brigade?