2020-08-13

Something Light

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Here are the birds that have spent time in my little suburban yard this year:

 

A red wattlebird — I could only ever hear it for nearly a year before it let itself be seen. It has the sound of something from Jurrasic Park, a raucous twisted series of screeches. Suddenly it has perched quite close by where I have been able to get a very good look and I think that’s the occasion that inspired me to do this post.

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Lorikeets — magnificent colours and regular feeders in our bottlebrush trees.

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My favourites, the magpie. One of them used to regularly perch on the clothesline whenever I was hanging out washing and just watch me. We used to have long chats. They have the most remarkable sound. That youtube link gives one small sample. Google for more and if you don’t live in Australia you’ll be amazed at the range of their singing. Luckily the local magpies don’t attack us in their breeding season.

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Fairy-wrens. The male hops around and through the lower shrubs with half a dozen or more of his harem.

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The kookaburras (laughing jackass) come and go. They’re everywhere.

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Not quite sure if this is the same owl that we sometimes see on our gateway. The one we see is certainly very large, but more greyish, I think. They give you quite a start when you suddenly walk right by it at night, with it staring at you from its huge frame.

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Golden plover. I’m cheating a bit with this one. It doesn’t come to my yard but lives in a park about 100 meters away. I draw breath and walk with extreme caution whenever I pass them since the one’s I used to see in the Northern Territory were vicious — they nearly took out someone’s eye with their wingtip. The local ones here have learned to accept passersby, it seems, but I’m still wary.

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Other common visitors when they feel like it. They’re more common out west, though. My grandparents on a dairy farm kept them as talking pets.

That’s about half of them. Maybe I’ll post the rest later.


Images scanned from Peter, Slater. 2009. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds.2nd ed. Reed New Holland.


 

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2017-05-05

Crow Smarts

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It’s been a long time since I bought a children’s book — until today. Or at least it arrived today. I heard about it on a science show, Kids book goes inside the crow’s smart bird brain, and could not resist.

Look at this:

The New Caledonian crow shapes a hooked tool to extract grubs from logs.

And this:

The damn clever thing shapes another digging tool by tapering it so that it has a thick end for holding and a pointy end for digging into crevices.

The crows here have straight beaks, not slightly curved ones, and eyes more to the front of their heads than do other species of crow. Since these traits enable a more efficient use of tools (more difficult to work them with a curved beak and harder to get the aim right with eyes further apart) it appears that tool use has favoured the evolution of these smarter crows.

If like me you want to catch up with what the kids are reading and learning, check it out….


2017-01-03

The Australian Magpies

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I loved this program when it was first broadcast a few months ago and appreciated the ABC’s Radio National “re-releasing” it as a podcast. I always love watching magpies and so often notice fascinating behaviours. For some years many times I went outside to hang the washing out the same magpie would fly down and perch on the clothes line, looking intently at me as if to greet me and spend some time with me. In Australia we easily take their beautiful song for granted so I was pulled up with some surprise when an overseas tourist expressed amazement at the sound.

Anyone interested who hasn’t yet heard the program, do listen to

The colourful life of the Australian Magpie

The opening seconds is all you need to hear their sound.

Other details that fascinated me:

  • they are listening for the sounds of grubs etc beneath the grass
  • they recognize individual human faces
  • in the event of the loss of the male partner the female soon accepts another male replacement who continues to care and provide for her chicks
  • their black and white colour is no camouflage but functions as a highly visual signal for territorial purposes