Baby birds everywhere
Over the past month or so the area around our garden has been full of birds nesting, sitting on eggs, feeding young or busy feeding the fledglings after they leave their nest. Spring time here in South Australia is the main breeding season for many species of birds, especially the bush birds. Many of our trees and shrubs are also flowering which means plenty of food for the birds, both the nectivorous and insectivorous species.
Here is an annotated list of the species I have observed nesting or feeding young this spring, plus a few species I suspect have been nesting nearby. All of these observations have been in our garden or on our 5 acre property in Murray Bridge, South Australia.
- Willie Wagtail – the photos of the nest (above and below) on today’s post are of the nest with two babies just peeping over the top of the beautiful cobweb lined nest. They have since fledged and are flying around begging for food.
- Australian Magpie – I knew that our resident magpies were nesting but it was only when the young started calling to be fed that I found the nest. They had made a nest in a completely new tree this year. Last year’s nest tree was blown over by one of our winter storms. (Must cut it up for firewood.)
- House Sparrow – these seem to be always nesting, not just in the spring.
- Common Starling – about a dozen tree hollows had nests in them and it is quite obvious when there are babies in the nest; their calling for food is incessant. Most of the starlings have now flown off to the fruit growing districts nearby.
- Red Wattlebird – there have been several fledged young wattlebirds getting around in recent weeks. I suspect that the adults may well be nesting again. The male continues to boss all the other smaller species quite unmercifully. They don’t like sharing their food, even though there is plenty to go around.
- New Holland Honeyeater – I saw several parents feeding young just out of the nest quite a few weeks ago. They may well be nesting again, but their nests are usually well hidden in dense bushes.
- Peaceful Dove – we saw a pair mating and they have been hanging around close to the house for many weeks. I have yet to find the nest – in part due to a very bad back at present.
- Crested Pigeon – this species always seems to be breeding, but they chose a bush quite a distance from the house this spring.
- Spotted Turtledove – again, due to my back I haven’t yet found their nest.
- Galahs – this one is tragic. After many attempts at breeding over several years in a tree hollow near the house they finally hatched a brood of young, only to see them die in the nest during an unseasonably hot spell several weeks ago.
- Common Blackbird – this species often makes a nest in our garden shed, but this year they seem to be nesting next door and only visit our garden occasionally.
- Australian Magpie-Lark – again, this species has chosen to nest in the neighbour’s tall trees. They visit our garden frequently to catch food for the young.
- White-winged Chough – another species which visits frequently – except in recent weeks. I often see them down the road about a hundred metres away, so they are probably nesting there.
- Little Ravens – although several of this species visit almost daily, I have yet to record them nesting in one of our trees, preferring to keep away from the magpies’ nest, I presume.
- White-browed Babblers – it has been quite a few years since they last nested in our garden but they are regular visitors – except in recent weeks – they must be nesting somewhere nearby.
- Superb Fairy-wren – our resident pair still seems to be around the house garden, but they are very quiet and secretive about the location of their nest.
- Cuckoos – we have heard the calls of the Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo a few times several weeks ago but have seen no evidence that they stayed long enough to nest.
- Other possibilities: White-plumed honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Weebill, Striated Pardalote, Spotted Pardalote.
A feisty Willie Wagtail
One of the most recognisable Australian birds would be the Willie Wagtail (see photo above). It is also one our most endearing birds, a favourite of many people. It loves occupying spaces close to human habitation, especially our gardens. We have a resident pair in our garden and we see them on a daily basis.
I have always known that Willie Wagtails can also be aggressive, feisty little birds. This has been in evidence in recent days in our garden, illustrated by the following incidents when it has attacked other, much larger species:
- Australian Magpies: our resident Magpies must be nesting somewhere on our five acre property here in South Australia. The male is consistently chasing almost every bird which comes near. Fortunately us humans are never swooped. Last Saturday, however, the roles were reversed. It was the magpie being chased – by a very aggressive and angry Willie Wagtail snapping at its tail as it tried to escape its wrath.
- Little Ravens: We often have small flocks of Little Ravens in our garden, usually up to about six or so. Yesterday I heard and then saw three ravens in the large mallee trees at the back of our home. As usual, they were cawing loudly. This attracted the attention of the Willie wagtail who rapidly came into the situation and began snapping at a raven’s feathers, tail and head, harassing the poor bird mercilessly. As soon as one raven flew off with a few caws in protest, the Willie Wagtail would turn its attention to another until all three were well and truly seen off the property.
I have only observed Australia’s largest bird of prey, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, on one occasion here in over 30 years. It is, however, quite a common bird throughout this part of the country and I have seen the species on many occasions in my travels. It always amazes when the tiny Willie Wagtail – not much bigger than a humble House Sparrow – aggressively attacking the eagle, snapping at it and even pecking at its back while hitching a ride. Such courage – one snap of the eagle’s beak would dismiss the wagtail permanently.
The reason for this aggressive attitude:
Normally the Willie Wagtails are friendly, docile birds. They will allow all manner of birds to cohabit happily in our garden. The reason for this sudden change of attitude is a simple little nest, like the one shown below. The photo below was taken a few years ago because I don’t want to disturb the mother Willie wagtail. She is currently sitting on two lovely eggs. She is not even afraid to come after me when I get near to the nest, snapping near my head until I move a reasonable distance from the nest.
The weeds near the nest will just have to wait a few weeks to be mown. Sigh.
I recently wrote about other birds nesting in our garden (click here).
It’s nesting time again
It’s that time of year again in Australia – spring nesting season.
Birds everywhere are making nests, sitting on eggs in nests or feeding young just out of the nest. In southern Australia – the region I am most familiar with – the “spring” nesting season stretches from the winter months of July and August, through the entire season of spring (September – November) and even well into summer (December – January).
Having confused all of my overseas readers I should explain three things:
- Most of the breeding occurs in the spring months.
- Some species – like our honeyeaters – will nest multiple times, raising 2 or more broods a season.
- Some species will even raise as many as five broods over a six month period.
Being late September nesting is in full swing here on our 5 acre (2 hectare) property in Murray Bridge, South Australia. The following is a quick annotated list of those species I have observed in the breeding mode in recent weeks:
Willie Wagtail: our resident birds have been very quiet and I suspected that they had a nest somewhere but I only found it yesterday. It contained two eggs. The photo above shows a fluffy family of Willie Wagtails just out of the nest a few years ago.
New Holland Honeyeater: last week I saw two parent birds fussing over and feeding two fledglings just out of the nest and barely able to flutter, let alone fly.
Red Wattlebird: I saw one bird sitting on a nest high in one of our trees but haven’t checked it in recent days. Other wattlebirds in our garden are being bossier than usual, so I guess that there are young around somewhere.
House Sparrow (introduced species): they always seem to be mating and nesting, so nothing unusual there.
Common Starling (introduced): the resident dozen or so birds all seem to have taken up occupation of a number of tree hollows in our mallee scrub, but I haven’t yet heard the persistent calls of the nestlings begging to be fed.
Mallee Ringneck parrots: our resident birds were feeding young a month or so ago, and I have seen them constantly investigating a tree hollow. Earlier this week we saw two of them mating, so the next brood could be on the way soon.
Cuckoos: I haven’t seen any cuckoos yet this season but I have heard Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos calling several times, so they could possibly be nesting too.
Galah: I’m not sure what our Galahs are doing. They come to a hollow in an old growth mallee tree near our clothes line and enter the hollow every day but nothing else seems to be happening. This has happened now for several years so I will just have to keep an eye on proceedings.
Australian Magpie: this is a really puzzling one. The resident magpies showed all the right activities a few months ago when they defended their territory but since then everything has gone quiet. We daily see several birds feeding around the garden and in the paddock, but I have yet to locate a nest. Very strange.
I have highlighted just 9 species in this article. Over the last 30 years I have observed many more species either breeding, or feeding young, on our property. I am quite confident that there would be other species currently nesting somewhere here, possibly including:
- Grey Shrike-thrush
- Common Blackbird (introduced)
- Spotted Turtledove (introduced)
- Crested Pigeon
- Yellow-rumped Thornbill
- Spotted Pardalote
- Striated Pardalote
- White-plumed Honeyeater
- Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
- Singing Honeyeater
- Little Raven
- Pacific Black Duck (they bring the ducklings to our swimming pool!
- Superb Fairy-wren
- Australian Magpie-lark
- Grey Butcherbird
Click on the following article headings to read about successful breeding attempts in past years:
- We have baby Willie Wagtails
- New Holland Honeyeater nest
- Red wattlebirds with young
- House Sparrows eating berries
- Very Common Starlings – nesting
- Mallee Ringnecks nesting
- Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo
- Possible Galah nesting attempt
- Baby Magpie – this is the most popular article on this site with nearly 500 reader comments.
Wild weather and baby magpies
Over the last few weeks we have had some violent wind storms. Spring here in South Australia can often be windy, but these were gale force winds. One afternoon earlier this week wind gusts up to 80kph were recorded many times. While we didn’t suffer any property damage others in our state were not as fortunate. One poor man even drowned when his boat was overturned in rough conditions on the River Murray upstream from my home town of Murray Bridge.
During the worst of the stormy weather I was concerned for the baby magpies in two nests within 50 metres of my office where I am writing this post. We had watched with interest when the nests were being built. Actually, they were last year’s nests which were refurbished. Then we waited while the mother birds sat patiently during the incubation period. Then over the last few weeks there was a constant begging noise from the babies.
When the first storm hit last Monday the babies were able to hang on to the nesting material. The following storms on Wednesday were even worse and the young were blown out of their cosy homes. Watching them today I suspect that they were not yet quite ready to fledge* because they are still unable to fly; they run everywhere – well, it’s more of a wobbly, unsteady waddle.
At one point the two babies from the nest closest to our house clambered up on a heap of scrap wood near the garage. I managed to get up reasonably close without spooking them, thus getting some good photos. You will notice that they are still very downy. These downy feathers will remain for some months yet. You will also notice that the nearest one has not much of a tail yet. In the first few days after fledging, they are terrible flyers as they learn how to get around; having virtually no tail does not help.
*Note: to see a definition of the word fledge click here.
- Baby Magpie – the most popular post on this site with nearly 500 comments from readers.
- Crash landing for a baby magpie
Mallee Ringneck parrots feeding young
We have a family of 6 to 8 Mallee Ringneck parrots resident in our garden. We see them every day and they love feeding on the flowers of plants like the Eremophila shown in the photo above. They are also partial to our pears – before they are fully ripe. (Last summer we managed to foil them by draping bird netting over the trees. Yes!)
Quite often we have seen several of the parrots sitting at the entrance of a large hollow in one of our trees. We also see them entering and leaving this hollow. We’ve suspected that they have been nesting in this hollow, but we lacked definite proof until earlier this week.
My wife, who runs a small nursery growing Australian native plants (click to visit), was working in the nursery when she noticed a ringneck feeding a young one in the tree near her. So we can only assume that they have recently used the hollow (or another one nearby) to raise a family.
The Mallee Ringneck is a race of the Australian Ringneck.