It has been a year of great weather contrasts this year in South Australia, and in other parts of the country too. At various times it has been freezing cold, fiery hot, bucketing with rain, wild storms and everything in between. We have also had the occasional beautiful day as well. Our state has had terrible bushfires, devastating floods, power blackouts from storms, crop damage due to large hail and silently creeping frosts.
Now we are about to feel the full force of summer weather. Christmas Day tomorrow promises temperatures in the low 40s (40C = 104F). In fact. our capital city Adelaide is forecast to be the hottest capital city in the world on Christmas Day. Still, at this time of the year, we expect some days in the 40s and many days in the 30s.
Heat and birds
The heat can adversely affect our birdlife here in Australia. One of the best things people can do in these hot conditions is to put out clean water for the birds. I have several birdbaths dedicated to the birds in our garden. A constant stream of birds come to have a bath or a drink on hot days. Even on mild days, the bowls are very popular.
Place the bird bath in a shady location near to a tree or bush. This can help protect the smaller species from birds of prey; it gives them a place to escape. It can be on the ground but is better if it is elevated a little. This will give the birds a clear view of any approaching cats.
Try to remember to clean the bird bath regularly, and during our hot weather this summer, top it up every day.
I have found over many years that having a bird bath near a window makes it easy to get good photographs of the birds while they are drinking or bathing. My wife and I find it very relaxing sitting in a cool room on a hot day, watching the parade of birds coming to drink.
- Time for a bath – a list of birds and animals we have observed at our bird baths
- The importance of bird baths – another article about bird baths
Over recent weeks my wife and I have been intrigued by one of our resident Crested Pigeons – shown in the photos on today’s post. We suspect that she is a female because another pigeon was displaying to her recently. We have given her the name “Topsy” because she has some extra-long feathers making up her crest. I am not sure what has caused this slight aberration, but it certainly makes her stand out from the other pigeons in our garden.
Like all of the Crested Pigeons and Spotted Turtledoves resident in our garden and on our five-acre block, “Topsy” comes frequently to our bird baths for a drink. Today, while I was having a cuppa after lunch she came once again. She spent a few minutes on a nearby branch preening before flying down for a drink. She then flew down to the ground and sat down in the sunshine. She immediately lifted up one wing and held it with the underparts exposed to the warm sun. “Topsy” then stood up, changed position and raised the other wing in the same manner.
While I haven’t seen this sunbathing behaviour in many species I have observed it in Spotted Turtledoves, Red wattlebirds, Noisy Miners and Australian Magpies. It is surprising that there is very little mention of this behaviour in the literature, but this article on the Australian Birdlife site gives the topic a good coverage. The article suggests that this sunbathing behaviour could be aimed at ridding the birds of unwanted lice.
During the hot weather we have experienced so far this summer here in South Australia I have had many opportunities to take photos of the constant parade of birds visiting our bird baths. We have positioned the water containers where we can see the birds from our sun room, a room we use often so we can enjoy the birds in our garden.
The Mallee Ringnecks shown in today’s set of photos are resident birds in our garden. This means that we see them every day. On several occasions in recent times they have raised a brood of young ones. We love seeing their colourful feathers as they fly around the garden and especially when they come to drink and bathe. At those times we can really get to appreciate their colours up close.
On the other hand, we have a love-hate relationship with these birds. We hate it when they get into our fruit trees, nibbling at the almost ripened fruit before we have a chance to rescue the fruits of our labours. This year, because of a bad back, I have not been able to cover the trees with netting. Consequently the birds – and possibly the resident possums as well – have taken some of our fruit. We were especially looking forward to a large crop of nectarines. (Those we were able to rescue were delicious.) I must get to the pears before the birds get to them as well.
- Ringnecks and kites
- Mallee Ringnecks nesting
- A small birding accident
- The beautiful Eastern Rosella parrot
Over recent posts I have written about the very hot conditions we have had here in South Australia this summer. I won’t bore you by stating the obvious yet again. When the weather gets much over 30C (86F) I tend not to go out birding, though I have on occasions been out in much hotter weather.
When the temperature soars here in Murray Bridge (80 km SE of Adelaide) I tend to stay indoors as much as possible. It is one of the joys of being ‘retired’. On these occasions we have the delight of a constant stream of birds coming to our bird baths. These containers are strategically placed in our garden where we can observe – and photograph – the birds at our leisure. On very hot days like we have had over recent months the stream has sometimes been a flood.
When the Grey Currawongs come to drink, most of the smaller birds keep their distance. I am not surprised by this; the Currawong’s bill and head is about the size of birds like the thornbills or the wrens. I guess that the smaller species know instinctively that the Currawong is capable of raiding their nests for eggs and baby birds, and so they remain at a respectful distance while the bigger birds are drinking.
During one of our recent hot spells this juvenile Grey Currawong came for a drink. I can tell that it is a young one not long out of the nest because of the downy feathers, as well as the yellow gap on the bill. Only a few days before these photos were taken I saw the juveniles being fed by the adults.
Once the Currawong had finished drinking, the smaller birds quickly returned.
Over the many years that we have had several bird baths in our garden we have seen many different kinds of birds visit for a drink or a bath – many times both. You can see a full list here.
Several of our bird baths are located in the garden close to our sun room, a place where we read the paper and often have our meals. The large picture window gives us a good view of that part of the garden and I often sit there with my camera at the ready. The room provides me with an excellent bird hide. Many of the photos I have shared on this site have been taken in this way.
Over the last few months I have often written about the extreme heat we have experienced here in South Australia over that period. Sure, we always expect some hot days in the 40 – 45 degree range (45C = 113F) but this summer – and the spring before it – has been exceptionally hot, breaking many records. Ironically, I am writing this on a quite cold day. It is currently only 20C and I have just decided that I might need some warmer clothing on.
On a hot day earlier this week we were sitting at the table when my wife spotted a metre long Eastern Brown Snake coming towards one of the bird baths. We were able to observe it for about five minutes. It actually stopped and had quite a long drink – perhaps for 20 – 30 seconds (see photos below). Although one individual approached quite close to the same bird bath some years ago, this is the first time I have observed one drinking.
Our five acre block of land on the outskirts of Murray Bridge has many of the typical habitat features preferred by this species. Although this is regarded as the world’s second most venomous snake, we are not overly concerned with their obvious presence near our home. If we leave them alone they just go about their lives in a non-threatening manner. Although several are probably resident on our property, we probably only see this species two or three times a year.
In reality we appreciate having them around. Our mouse and rat problem would be so much worse without them about. On only three occasions over 30 years of living here have we been concerned. The worst was when one found its way into the house; we were able to help it find an open door using a large piece of cardboard. The second was when a baby snake came towards me in our swimming pool. Babies can be just as dangerous as adults. The third occasion was one sunning itself in the entrance of my wife’s garden shed. All of these were unsettling events, but we avoided any harm.