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!
Earlier this year we spent just over 4 weeks visiting our son and his family in Sydney. Over recent weeks I’ve shared some of the birding experiences we had while there, and when we weren’t on grandparent duties. On the very last day we had a family picnic at Centennial Park (see photo above). Some of our son’s friends were also present and the weather was brilliant; bright sunshine and just a hint of a breeze.
Over the course of the afternoon I managed quite a nice list of the birds observed in the park, including a few flying overhead. The most prominent in-your-face species were the usual suspects: Noisy Miners, White Ibis and Common Mynas. We had to be on guard all the time and some of our friends’ biscuits were snatched from packets within a metre or two from where we sat.
One species I didn’t expect to join this thieving group was the local crows, or more precisely, Australian Ravens. Now I have known that crows and ravens are sneaky, opportunistic thieves since the days when I grew up on the family farm in the mallee districts of South Australia. The local Little Ravens thought nothing of snatching a few eggs from our laying hens and ducks. On this picnic, however, I saw them in a different light; they are very clever.
In the photo above I’ve captured an Australian Raven “red handed” in the act of stealing some food from someone’s picnic. The bird was clever enough to know what was food, how to get it out of the basket and even how to open the plastic bag to get at the food. I am not sure what the food is – perhaps some cut up watermelon.
Within a few seconds, the successful heist was noticed by several White Ibis patrolling the picnic area. In the photo above the raven was still in control of the stolen food, but the ibis was about to take over. They are the “bully boys” in this situation, one that is repeated in many picnic grounds throughout eastern Australia.
It wasn’t long before an ibis had taken over eating the human picnic food (see photo above). Within a very short time several other ibises joined in the feast. Even a Rock Dove (feral pigeon) comes over to see if it can get into the act (see above, top left corner of the photo).
The raven wasn’t to be outsmarted, however. It went to another picnic spot nearby, rummaged through the human food delicacies and came up with something edible in a paper bag. To minimise the chances of being noticed and being bullied out of its catch, it flew to a nearby tree. There it was successful in holding the paper bag against the branch, opening it up and getting at the food (see photos below).
Observe the feathers (called hackles) on the throat. This helps identify this bird as an Australian Raven.