Over the last few weeks, I have been intrigued, puzzled and just a little annoyed.
I have been intrigued by all of the Little Ravens in our garden, on our five-acre property and along the nearby roadsides. While we only ever have two to five ravens at a time on our block of land, there would have to be at least 50 to 80 in the locality, perhaps more than that within a kilometre of our house. Obviously, there is plenty of food for them, as well as plenty of nesting sites. There is quite an extensive mallee scrub a few hundred metres just to the west of us.
I am puzzled because I am not sure what they are up to at present. Almost every morning this year I have heard large numbers of the local ravens constantly calling. It is usually from just after first light at around 6:30 am up until around 9 am and sometimes a little later. After that, there is just the occasional call as one or two fly overhead, or when they land in one of our trees. I have no idea why they are all calling, or why it stops after a while.
I have also been annoyed with the local Little Ravens, not only because I am puzzled by this behaviour, but it can get a little tedious after an hour or so of this calling, calling, calling. Normally, bird calls do not easily annoy me, though I will concede that if we had 500 Little Corellas wake us up every morning I would definitely change my mind. Thankfully that does not happen, though the local flocks of Galahs can sometimes be rather raucous, though they tend to fly overhead at sunset rather than at dawn.
I, therefore, have something of a dilemma. What are they doing? Why are they calling so incessantly?
I guess I will never know – unless I do an intensive field survey over many weeks in the field when I’d rather be in bed, or reading the paper.
I guess I could always try to learn how to speak Raven.
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).
I have written before about how clever crows and ravens can be. This is a well established fact and people around the world have witnessed how intelligent the corvid family can be. In fact, if you do a search for videos of these birds using tools you will find many hundreds of them; I have provided a link below.
Earlier this week I witnessed first hand one of the Little Ravens in our garden actually using a tool to assist in finding food. It had picked up what looked like a flat rock and was progressively using it to prise bark off the trunk of a mallee tree near the house. Once the bark was lifted it dropped the stone and used its beak to grab whatever was hiding beneath the bark.
Spiders, beetles and a whole range of small creatures routinely live under the bark of the local trees. Several times the bird flew down to the ground to retrieve the stone in order to use it again for the same purpose. After about three or four little snacks it flew off, stone in its beak to another tree, this time out of sight.
Of course, I didn’t have my camera handy at the time. [Sigh]
I didn’t do much birding today.
I decided that the weather was far too cold. We are having a really cold winter’s snap here in South Australia with heavy rain, very cold temperatures, blustery winds and even snow. Snow in our state is such a rarity it receives plenty of coverage in the news. We average one snow fall every few years and it only lasts a few moments on the ground – if it reaches the ground. Nothing like the countries where some of my readers reside, I know, but then you don’t have to contend with our severe summers which we take in our stride. Or our snakes. Or spiders. Or sharks… you get the picture?
Despite the cold, inclement weather I was still able to be aware of the birds in and around our home and garden. The New Holland Honeyeaters and Red Wattlebirds were busily feeding on a few native plants and trees which are currently flowering. The Australian Magpies have stopped fussing about whether it is time to start building nests yet. A small party of White-browed Babblers scratched their way through the leaf litter a few days ago and the little family of Superb Fairy-wrens always seem to be happy to flit and hop around the garden, no matter what the weather dishes up.
Yesterday I noticed two Little Ravens scratching around in the grass I haven’t mowed recently. They seemed to be having a good feast. A few days ago I also heard several Grey Currawongs calling but they must have been just passing through our mallee scrub and not stopping. Earlier in the week I heard a Barn Owl screeching outside during the evening; we had visitors at the time so I didn’t go out searching for it.
- Just click on the name of any of the species mentioned in this post. A link will take you to photos and stories about each of the species mentioned. Reading those articles might help you to while away some poor weather in your part of the world.
I was amazed at the danger this Australian Wood Duck had placed itself into. It was quietly grazing on the grass in the African Wild Dog enclosure at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, and with its back to the pack sunning themselves about 30 metres away. They are cunning hunters and quite capable of sneaking up on an unsuspecting, tasty meal like a duck. I guess that they are well fed and have no need to chase after wildfowl, or any other birds which stray into their enclosure.
This reminded me of a guided tour we had a some years ago through our local Monarto Zoo, just 10km from my home here in Murray Bridge. The tour bus was slowly moving through the cheetah enclosure when the guide announced that the cheetahs loved running at full speed and catching the local ravens or magpies before they could get airborne again.
I decided then that I would never try to outrun a cheetah!