So, what do I love about birds? Here are a few reasons:
Their ancient lineage and evolution: I still marvel that birds evolved from dinosaurs (Archaeopteryx) and that there is so much colour and variation in the bird world! Below are photos of a mural and a model of the Miocene Thunder Bird, also known as the Demon-Duck of Doom, Bullockornis planei, a member of the Dromornithids.
Their huge diversity:
Colour: We are so lucky in Australia to have so many brightly coloured birds with amazing colour combinations : For example, the multicoloured Rainbow Lorikeets, Noisy Pittas and Eastern Rosellas (first photo); Crimson Rosellas (royal blue and deep red) (second photo); King Parrots (emerald green and bright red) (third photo); and Galahs (pink) (fourth photo); Satin Bowerbirds (the male is a metallic blue, while the female has a combination of greens) (fifth photo); Regent Bowerbirds (the males are gold and black with a red dot on their forehead); the Scarlet Robin, Golden Whistler and Blue Wren, all named for obvious reasons; the metallic green head of the male Chestnut Teal (sixth photo); the deep blue and red of the Purple Swamphen (seventh photo); and the iridescent blue-green flash of a Black Duck’s wing (eighth photo).
I also love the pink of flamingos (first photo), the blue of Azure Kingfishers (second photo), Pheasant Peacocks and Blue and Gold Macaws (third photo) and the fantastically coloured plumage of Birds of Paradise and Mandarin Ducks.Pattern: There is also so much diversity in pattern from the dots of Pardalotes (first photo), the chevrons on the tails of King Parrots (second photo), the herringbone pattern of the chest plumage of Wood Ducks (third photo) and the stripes of Fan-tailed Cuckoos, Hawks and Pink Eared Ducks (fourth photo). I also love the contrasts in the Red-Breasted Goose (fifth photo);Size: Ranging from the large emus, ostriches, cassowaries, Wedge-Tailed Eagles, White Bellied Sea Eagles; Scrub Turkeys; Bustards; Palm Cockatoos and Black Cockatoos to tiny little SBBs (short for ‘small brown birds‘, which are notoriously difficult to identify, hence the group label!) Below are photos of a thornbill, wren and emu.Form: Again, there is so much variety from long and streamlined (darter) to large and chunky (eagle);Beak Shape: A keystone in Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection theory with his studies on the variation of beak shape in finches (photos below in order are the Red-Browed Firetail Finch, the Crimson Finch and the Double-Barred Finch) and a natural correlation and leadup to:
Diet and Feeding Habits: Bill shape is directly related to diet, superbly shown by the photo below, the long curved bill of the Eastern Spinebill, perfect for accessing the nectar of the agapanthus flowers.
Compare the short strong beaks of seed eating finches (photos above) to the rounded bills of dabbling ducks and mine-sweeping spoonbills (first photo), searching for fish, small crustaceans and water life; the long probing beaks of Bar-Tailed Godwits (second photo); the short hooked beaks of meat-tearing eagles and vultures and long hooked beaks of Sacred Ibis (third photo); the boat-shaped bills of Kookaburras (fourth photo); the sharp points of diving petrels and gannets; the curved slim beaks of Rainbow Bee Eaters (fifth photo); and the strong nutcracking vices of King Parrots (6th photo) and cockatoos (7th photo), which strip fruit orchards, demolish bark in search of insects and crack open sheoaks and wheat grains;
Habitats: Every niche and environment has its own particular birds from the polar penguins to the tropical birds of the equator and from mountains and forests to grasslands and farmlands, the river and the sea. Birds have also adapted very successfully to urban environments, coexisting with mankind for thousands of years. Some examples of the human-bird relationship include:
Poultry for eggs, meat, fat and feather products– they include chickens, ducks, geese, quails and turkeys;
Bird Aviaries and Companion Pets: Cockatoos, cockatiels, budgerigars and finches;Organic Insect Control and Pollination;Falconry: Eagles and hawks for hunting;Pigeon Post;Cormorants for catching fish; and even….
Warning Bells: For example, the canary down the mine shaft to detect dangerously high carbon dioxide levels; and the dietary adaptations, changing migration patterns and extinction of bird species with climate change and habitat destruction.
Where would the world be without bird song? Here in Candelo, I love waking up to the melodic trill of the resident blackbirds (first photo); the ‘Duke-Duke-Wellington’ of the Grey Thrush (second photo); the clear peal of the Crimson Rosella; the friendly warble of the magpie (third photo); and the beautiful song of the Pied Butcherbird (fourth photo).Spring is heralded by the sweet call of the Striated Pardalote (first photo), Summer: the manic ascending cry of the visiting Stormbirds, the descending trill of the Fan-Tailed Cuckoo and the deafening clamour of massing Little Corellas prior to their January departure (second photo); and Winter is definitely on the way, when you hear the cold clear call of the currawongs (third photo).I also love the calls of the bush birds:
The Eastern Yellow Robin is the first bird to wake up, giving it its scientific name: Eopsaltria australis, the Ancient Greek for ‘Dawn-Harper’;The Bowerbirds have such a distinctive whirr and the male and female Eastern Whipbirds have a combined song – the males calling first, followed by the whip of the females;The Lyrebirds are the consumate masters of mimicry. It is a joy to sit and listen to their full repertoire from Black Cockatoos to Grey Thrush, Eastern Whipbirds, Grey Thrushes, Currawongs, Kookaburras, Eastern Yellow Robins and a variety of parrots. See: https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/superb-lyrebird/. I also love watching their courtship displays! Their tail feathers really do look like a lyre!Some bird calls are not quite so melodic! For example, the raucous squawks of our Summer party cockatoos and corellas for a start! When I was younger, our resident peacocks would often instigate police visits late at night after telephone reports of women being murdered when the poor disturbed birds would fly out of their roosting trees, straight at our peaked roof and slide inelegantly down the corrugated iron, shrieking the whole way!
On our trip to North Queensland, the loud chatter of the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos of Old Laura and the mournful cry of the Stone Curlews, forebearers of imminent death according to local aboriginal legend, were very distinctive and prominent.Courtship
Birds have an amazing repertoire of ways to attract a mate from vivid bright colours (usually the male plumage!) to their mating calls and incredible courtship displays eg Peacocks (photo below) and Birds-of-Paradise. Bowerbirds are also fascinating, building bowers in a north-south alignment, decorated with coloured objects, to attract females to watch his courting dance. The Satin Bowerbird ( above) collects blue objects from blue Tobacco flowers and cornflowers to blue plastic pegs, milk bottle tops and biro lids, while the Great Bowerbird decorates its bower (below) with white bones and black river stones. They will even destroy other males’ bowers or steal their decorative objects to win ‘their bird’! Ross once timed the construction of a new bower from its demolished state- 40 minutes all up! Monogamy:
While Satin Bowerbirds are notoriously flashy, fickle and womanising, their cousin, the Catbirds (photo) mate for life, as do swans, geese, whooping cranes, black vultures, eagles and ospreys, some owls, ravens, scarlet macaws and Atlantic Puffins.
Nests and Eggs:
Again, so much diversity in nests from the huge platforms of eagles and messy loose and dodgy-looking conglomerations of twigs by magpies and herons, to the neat traditional bowls and intricate hanging palaces of scrub wrens. Some birds don’t even have nests! Parrots use tree hollows (photo above) and peregrines lay their eggs on rocky cliff ledges, while cuckoos (photo below) steal other bird species’ nests, the interloper cuckoo baby turfing its host siblings out of the nest as they hatch and keeping their poor smaller and frazzled host parents constantly busy, satisfying their boundless appetites! Below in order are the nests of Nankeen Kestrels; a Grey Fantail; a honeyeater and Zebra Finches.
I love all the different sizes, shapes, patterns and colours of bird eggs. Fortunately, egg collecting is a hobby of the past, but chemicals like DDT, as well as habitat destruction, not to mention feral animals, pose an enormous threat to birds like Peregrine Falcons.
While many birds support each other by feeding the incubating bird or sharing the feeding and guarding of the young fledglings, I love the role reversals within the bird world, where males often take on the important role of child rearing. The male scrub turkey and mallee fowl (first photo) build huge mounds, in which the female lays her eggs, then he carefully monitors and maintains the incubation temperature until the babies hatch and make their own way. They operate on the breeding strategy of ‘strength in numbers’, while male lyrebirds focus their energies on rearing one chick at a time, instructing their young in opera singing and dance performances. Male emus and cassowaries are also formidable primary carers of their young. In some bird species, rearing the next generation is a family responsibility with input from siblings form previous broods eg Superb Fairy Wrens.Flight and Motion:
Is it any wonder that many people aspire to a reincarnated life as a bird?! Not only can they walk and run, but also swim, dive and fly, completely at home in all environments! The sight of a majestic eagle soaring the thermals high in the sky; the speed of a diving peregrine off a cliff or a tern or gannet into deep water; the flash of blurred green of a flock of musk lorikeets in full flight; the amazing aeronautical displays of huge flocks of budgerigars in the desert or starlings on dusk (see: https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/flight-of-the-starlings-watch-this-eerie-but-beautiful-phenomenon); the incessant beat of wings of hummingbirds as they sip the nectar of flowers; the crazy chase of disturbed emus, the cute slow gangly waddle of penguins or puffins; the jaunty busy hop of bowerbirds… all these amaze me and fill me with awe! Even, and especially, that huge leap of faith, when a baby bird first learns to fly! Below in order: a Frigatebird; three pelicans; a Black-Necked Stork (Jabiru) and a White-Bellied Sea Eagle.As do their migratory habits and patterns. The notion of a world without borders or passports is also very attractive to many humans, as exemplified in the films: Fly Away Home (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116329/). The distances travelled are mind-blowing! The Bird Airport at Shoalhaven Heads is very illuminating on the subject and is well worth a visit. I love this flying bird sculpture overlooking Corio Bay at Geelong, Victoria. The Spine-Tailed Swifts, which speckled the Summer skies at Dorrigo, flew all the way from Eastern Siberia and Northern Asia, up to10 000 km away, and we would often see long, long, black clouds on the horizon, just above seawater level, of migratory Short-Tailed Shearwaters, some of whom would not make it, their exhausted carcasses washed up on the seashore.
The highly-endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot flies from Tasmania to Geelong across the wild Bass Strait every year to feed on the samphire wetlands in Winter. The effect on bird life and migratory birds in particular, is my only reservation about wind turbines, especially on our coastline.
When we lived in Geelong, we loved visiting the Cheetham Wetlands and the Point Cook Coastal Park, a 500 hectare site on the western outskirts of Melbourne, including a 300 hectare marine sanctuary, which has been designated an Area of Importance by the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands. There have been over 200 species of birds recorded, including 34 migratory species. Every year, with peak numbers between September and March. thousands of migratory birds, from as far away as Siberia, Alaska and Japan, to feed upon the saltmarsh and wetlands here. I loved the photo below of The Tower, Bill Kelly’s Monument to Migration and Aspirations, with Melbourne, a city representing the ultimate expression of that dream with over 200 nationalities, in the background. Migration patterns are definitely changing with climate change, with many birds now over-Wintering in previously cooler areas or not travelling as far.
However, despite the fact that some birds will be driven to extinction, birds are the ultimate survivors. They are brilliant at camouflage and adapt readily to new environments, climates and different food sources. They have incorporated feral weeds like privet and duranta into their diet and have incredibly finely-tuned senses when it comes to water eg their sudden appearance when the salt Lake Eyre fills with water. Here is a final photo of The Tower, described above:
I hope this post has given you an excellent idea of the reasons I love birds so much, as well as being a good introduction to the 2018 monthly posts on some of my favourite birds. Here is a general guide to the monthly roundup this year :
January: Cockatoos and Parrots: Sulphur-Crested, Blacks, Gang Gang, Corella, Galah, King, Crimson, Eastern, Rainbow, Musk, Cockatiels and Budgerigars;
February: Sea Birds: Gulls, Terns, Gannets, Oyster Catchers, Plovers and Dotterels, Turnstones, Stilts, Darters and Cormorants, Pelicans, Osprey and Sea Eagles;
March: Water Birds: Swans, Geese, Ducks, Grebes, Swamp Hens, Coots, Jacanas, Rails, Kookaburras, Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters, Dollar birds, Spoonbills, Ibis, Egrets, Herons, Brolgas and Cranes;
April: Birds of Prey: Eagles, Hawks, Goshawks, Falcons, Kites, and Kestrels;
May: Large Birds: Emus, Cassowaries, Scrub Turkeys, Coucals, Bustards and Stone Curlews
June: Medium-Sized Neutral-Coloured Birds: Magpies, Peewees, Crows, Ravens, Currawongs, Blackbirds, Thrushes, Butcherbirds, Drongoes, Choughs and Apostle Birds;
July: Rainforest Birds: Bowerbirds and Cat Birds, Rifle Birds, Fig Birds, Pittas and Chowchillas;
August: Clever Birds: Owls, Frogmouths and Cuckoos;
September: Small Birds: Robins, Wrens, Finches, Silvereyes, Thornbills and other SBBs, Pardalotes, Flycatchers and Fantails, Treecreepers, Chats, Mistletoe Birds, Swallows and Swifts;
October: Nectar Eaters: Honeyeaters, Spinebills, Wattlebirds and Friar Birds;
November: Song Birds: Lyrebirds, Whip Birds, Bell Birds and Whistlers;
December: Doves and Pigeons: Wonga, Brown, White, Topknot and Crested Pigeons; Fruit Doves; Peaceful Doves and Quails.I have set the scene to one of my favourite Christmas songs, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, starting with the refrain ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me a Cockatoo in a Gum Tree!’
Posts will concentrate more on my personal experiences with these birds, with a few interesting or random facts thrown in, rather than detailed descriptions of appearance, call, behaviour, nesting, distribution etc, which can be gleaned from any good bird book. I hope you enjoy these bird posts!