Archive for the 'Glossary' Category

Bird Word: Mallee Tree

  • Mallee: this is a word I use often in my blog because I live in the Mallee districts of South Australia. Mallee is a group name for eucalypt trees which form dense scrublands and are usually found in arid or semi-arid parts of Australia. They are usually multi-trunked trees growing from a single underground stump called a lignotuber.

The mallee regions of Australia are quite extensive, stretching from southern western Australia through southern south Australia into northern Victoria and western New South Wales. Mallee scrubs can be quite thick, and almost impenetrable in some places. It is the preferred habitat for some of our bird species including:

  • Malleefowl
  • Purple-crowned Lorikeet
  • Mallee Ringneck Parrot
  • Scarlet-chested Parrot
  • Mallee Emu-wren
  • Yellow-rumped Pardalote
  • Mallee Heathwren (also called Shy Heathwren)
  • Black-eared Miner
  • Purple-gaped Honeyeater
  • Yellow-plumed Honeyeater
  • Southern Scrub-robin
  • Red-lored Whistler

Of course, many of the above species are found in other kinds of habitat, and there are many other species which can be found in the mallee habitat (click here for more photos).

Mallee Scrub, Murray Bridge

Mallee Scrub, Murray Bridge

Bird Word: Life List

  • Life list: a list of birds a birder has seen in their life time. Many also keep year lists, month lists, week lists or day lists. Other lists include place lists, state lists, country lists, lists of birds seen on television, in movies, from their office window – in fact, this listing is limited only by the birder’s imagination, time available and interests (and level of sanity).

I am a self confessed list maker.

It is one of the reasons birding appeals to me. I keep lists. All kinds of lists. Here is a list of lists I keep:

  • A list of all the birds I’ve ever seen (my “Life List”).
  • A list of all the birds I’ve seen in each state of Australia.
  • A list of birds I’ve seen in Australia, Thailand and Nepal (that counts as 3 lists!)
  • A list of places I’ve been birding (its’ a long list).
  • A list of books I have read over the last 40 years (it’s a very long list).
  • A list of things I have done this year – and last year – and the one before that…
  • A list of things to do today.
  • A list of articles, poems and stories I’ve had published (it’s a growing list).
  • A list of books and stories I’ve written that I want to send to publishers (it’s a list that should be getting shorter [sigh]).
  • A list of the titles of blog articles I’ve published and the dates published (that’s 3 lists because I run 3 blogs)
  • A list a potential articles to write for my 3 blogs (another 3 lists).
  • A list of…

Actually – I think you get the picture, and it’s not a pretty one!

And then, in the mid 1990s I bought a birding data-base to record all my bird records. This was heaven! Now I can generate all kinds of lists at the touch of a few keys strokes. Wonderful.

What kinds of lists do you keep? Tell me in the comments section.

Bird Word: Irruption

  • Irruption: when large numbers of a particular species move to an area where they are not commonly found in large numbers, often in response to drought, rainfall or other environmental changes. In Australia, some species of hawks and kites can irrupt into areas experiencing mouse plagues or locusts. Water birds irrupt into areas experiencing sudden flooding.

An irruption of birds can be a spectacular event. This is something that happens quite regularly in Australia, often as a result of our wildly fluctuating environmental conditions.

Mouse Plague

I can remember back to about 1990 when there was a serious mouse plague in the wheat growing areas east of home. Millions of mice infested sheds and barns on the local farms. During this time we went on a camping holiday to Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.We drove through this area and it was impossible not to run over hundreds of mice as we drove along. In fact, there were so many dead mice on the road, they caused corrugations. It was a rough ride.

Letter-winged Kites:

While we were travelling along we kept looking out for Letter-winged Kites. This species is usually confined to areas much further north. Because of the mice plagues they had moved south in significant numbers and were seen in the area we drove through. This Kite is a rather hard species to find normally. I was excited at the prospect of seeing at least one. I still haven’t seen one. [sigh]

Black-tailed Native-hens:

On other occasions I have seen large numbers of other species. I remember seeing literally thousands of Black-tailed Native-hens on the road south of home on our way to Meningie. Normally we might see two or three. At other times Australian Pelicans have been known to breed up in huge numbers, especially after flooding in some areas.

Lake Eyre in flood:

As I write this in mid-March (2007) Lake Eyre in far north South Australia is filling with flood waters from heavy rain in parts of Queensland. This lake is usually a dry salt lake. Over coming months, many species of water birds will breed in massive numbers in response to this water. In a year or two, as the lake dries out, there may well be an irruption of some of these species as they move in large numbers to other parts of the country.

Bird word: Gregarious

  • Gregarious: some birds live in groups and are said to be gregarious. One such species is the White-Winged Chough. They are usually seen in groups of from 5 to 10, though the family group that visits my garden has been up to 12 in size. I have seen larger groups than that in other places.

There is some truth in the saying “birds of a feather flock together.” In Australia it is quite common to see large flocks of birds of the one species. There are few sights as beautiful as a flock of several hundred pink Galahs wheeling through the deep blue Australian sky. Corellas and cockatoos also flock together, feeding together on the ground in large groups numbering in the hundreds, or even thousands.



Another amazing sight is to see a large flock of budgerigars feeding together. As they fly off – sometimes in their thousands – it is like a swiftly moving green cloud before your eyes. When such a flock lands in a dead tree, it suddenly seems to spring back to life once again.

Budgerigars, Cleland Wildlife Park

Budgerigars, Cleland Wildlife Park

Some of our finches are also quite gregarious. These flocks may only number in the dozens but in their own small way can be just as spectacular. They bring great delight to the observer when such groups visit a watering point (such as a bird bath) or a feeding tray in a park or someone’s garden.

Zebra Finch

Zebra Finch

Waterbirds can also be said to be gregarious, their numbers can often be in the thousands. Rafts of ducks, mudflats seething with waders and nesting cormorants in their thousands can be an inspiring sight and an attack on the ears (and nose in the case of cormorants).

Bird word: flight feathers

  • Flight feathers: these are the well developed feathers on the wings and tail which are used in flight. The wing feathers consist of primaries, secondaries and tertiaries.

I have tried a number of times to capture the flight of various birds, generally with not much luck. In many cases the flight feathers show up brilliant colours or patterns not apparent when the bird is viewed sitting. I remember one attempt late last year when a number of Whiskered Terns were skimming low over us on the edge of Lake Alexandrina while we had a cuppa. For nearly an hour I tried to get a photo; only blurred images or cloud shots resulted. Very frustrating. With more time and experience – not to mention cooperative birds – I will succeed in capturing some great shots one day. In the meantime, you have to be satisfied with this photo of a Caspian Tern.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Updated November 2013.