Monday, November 29, 2010

Pied Currawongs

Magpies have red eyes and pied currawongs have yellow eyes.

I discovered this stunning little fact while browsing in my Brisbane Wildlife Guide. The birds are portrayed one above the other, in full regalia. Meaning that instead of a family of magpies, I host a clan of pied currawongs.

I have had suspicions for a while. The birds visiting my yard seemed bigger than magpies. While they wrestle worms out of the ground just like magpies do, they also eat skinks, paw paws and ripe bangalow palm seeds, as well as having a go at any half-eaten bones lying around that the dog hasn’t buried, as well as the juicy growing tips of the paw paw trees when there is no fruit.

Surely magpies are just insect eaters, I thought to myself as I opened the backdoor for the day, and startled a big black and white bird carving into a ripe paw paw. 

‘Startled’ is still the word. These birds probably recall the time when my dog was young and active and watchful. When she refused big birds entry to the yard with chasing at full throttle while barking. Woof. Woof. Woof. She’s deep-chested and had no trouble doing both at the same time. Now she makes only a half-hearted effort and then only when I am in the yard.

A few weeks ago I was witness to a major spectacle … a pied currawong corroboree. Between 12 and 20, by my best guess, of the birds gathered in the triangle of trees straddling my, and my neighbours’ yards – three bangalow palms, a cocos, three traveler palms and a coolamon tree.

As I say, I witnessed. Much of it from the back step looking down the length of the yard. After the first couple of tries, I didn’t bother walking down there, let alone with my camera, due to them flying off as soon as I came nearer than five or six metres.

For three! days! the noise out there was stupendous! Loud, ringing calls interspersed with a large variety of different songs. Loud in decibels and long in hours, the singers sang in the close canopy of the coolamon. It seemed to be the meeting place.

One reason for the meet may have been the serendipitous ripening of the seeds of three bangalow palms at the same time. A feast when added to the flower stalks (looking similar to banana flower stalks) in my next-door neighbour’s travelers palms.

It might be my imagination spinning a tale, but I am nearly positive that the two birds which normally frequent my yard, acted as hosts. They guided the visitors to the trees in my yard and sat on the fence watching over them while they enjoyed the berries.

At times I could see up to six birds gobbling down the bright red berries in my two palms, and three or four birds doing the same in the one over in the motel yard. The guard bird on the fence keeping a watchful, yellow, eye. One or two birds creeping in and out of the traveler palm fronds chasing down flowers, and still four or five bird voices in the coolamon raising a storm of song. There you have my estimate. I hope they do it again.

I’ll also be posting this article on my blog, a place for sharing wildlife experiences, biodiversity brags, and ways of controlling the weeds we love to hate and why sometimes we need them. See you at 

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