It never ceases to amaze me when I consider how enterprising and opportunistic birds can be, especially when it comes to nesting time. It’s that time again and our resident Australian Magpies having been busy fighting to establish their territories. Our 5 acre block on the edge of town is the intersection of three territories, so at this time of the year there are many disputes over boundaries.
One pair dominates the area around our house and sheds and they are the birds that come most frequently to our bird baths and close to the house. They will often come right up to the front or back doors and allow us to get quite close. They are also quite happy to search for food only a metre or two from where we might be working or sitting in the garden. This includes our back veranda area where we often cook a BBQ and eat a meal.This is despite never having fed them in any way.
A few days ago my wife had a fleece of coloured wool out in the sunshine to dry. She was preparing it for spinning but our resident female magpie found it. Soon she was taking big chunks to the nest tree. Incensed at this free-loading, my wife brought the fleece onto the veranda and draped it over the clothes horse. Undeterred, the magpie enterprisingly found it and continued her nest lining activities. The photographic proof is shown on this post.
For those interested in learning more about magpies go to this article: The fearsome flute players. There is a special offer for readers of Trevor’s Birding.
An efficient mouse catcher
A few days ago we were having lunch on our back veranda. When the weather is fine we often do this and we enjoy watching the garden birds going about their daily routines. They bring us great joy and much entertainment.
Things were a little different the other day. I’d just finished coking the BBQ and we’d already sat down to eat. Without any warning or fuss, one of our resident Australian Magpies swooped down from a nearby tree into the grass nearby. (I must get around to mowing it soon.) Next thing it emerges with a House Mouse firmly gripped in its mouth. We cheered. That’s one pest that made it into our home.
Over the next ten minutes while we enjoyed our food, the magpie repeatedly banged the captured mouse on the paving bricks until it was either dead – or very concussed. It then proceeded to use its beak to tear off bits of the mouse to eat. At one point another magpie tried to steal a bit of the tasty lunch but the successful hunter kept guard over his prize.
It made me think. I often observe the diggings of mice in the garden and in our paddock, especially when I’m mowing the grass. I guess many of these mice become magpie delicacies. They are doing us a service by dispatching them. I also know that they must eat an incredible number of bugs, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and other garden pests. More power to the magpies, I say.
First birds for 2010
I was a little slow off the mark this morning. And it wasn’t because of overindulgent celebrations the night before.
These days I’m just happy to see in a new morning when I wake; seeing in a New Year means staying up to some ridiculous hour of the night!
I managed to emerge from the cocoon of sleep eventually. I showered, shaved and prepared to have breakfast. As I was getting the daily newspaper from the driveway I realised that it was indeed a New Year.
Mmmm… what was the first bird I saw this morning? Nothing sprang to mind.
My musing was rudely interrupted by a great kerfuffle in the orchard. Aha – my first birds for 2010 were four Australian Magpies and 14 White-winged Choughs having a right royal barney under a pear tree. (Despite the recently departed Christmas season there was NOT a partridge in the pear tree, but we did see two turtledoves later in the morning.)
The resident magpies were objecting quite vociferously to the Gang of Fourteen (the White-winged Choughs) feeding on THEIR PATCH. The racket thoroughly disturbed the peacefulness of this lovely new year.
After a few minutes of conflict in Bird World War, the choughs flew off in a huff.
Peace on Earth and goodwill between birds.
HAPPY NEW YEAR and HAPPY BIRDING in 2010.
Australian Magpie sunning itself
I’ve had this set of photos waiting for several months until I found the time to post them. I finally got around to it.
I observed the male Australian Magpie shown in the photos in our garden one sunny day. I can’t remember how hot it was, but I was intrigued by the bird’s behaviour. It was quite unconcerned by my presence a few metres away, but this is not unusual. Our resident magpies are quite used to us moving about the garden, and although they are still a little wary, they will come quite close.
This one stayed almost in the one spot over about five minutes while I took the series of photos shown here. It did some preening of its feathers, but it also appeared to be sunning itself. Sunning behaviour is quite common in many Australian species. I have most commonly seen it in various species of pigeons and doves. Sometimes I’ve also seen it in association with sand bathing; House Sparrows often do this.
One of my reference books records instances where the wings of magpies can stretch above the head until touching during sunbathing behaviour. The bird I observed only briefly opened the wings.
These photos were taken mid morning. Many species will use sunning behaviour first thing on cold mornings. I guess we all need a good stretch and warming up on a cold morning.
Update Feb 29th, 2016: It is thought that birds probably sunbathe to rid their plumage of lice. Read the article Sunny Side Up for a long discussion on this.
I have seen this sunbathing behaviour in the following species: Crested Pigeon, Spotted Turtledove, House Sparrows, Red Wattlebirds, and Noisy Miners.
I have since written another article about this behaviour called Topsy the Crested Pigeon.
For a much longer explanation of why birds sunbathe read this article: Sunny Side Up on the Australian Birdlife site.
Some simple bird photography rules
A few days ago I was sitting out in the lovely winter sunshine trying to recover from my recent bout of flu. Our back veranda is generally out of the wind and a very pleasant spot to take in a little snoozing in the sunshine. It was one of those rare days we’ve had recently, what with all the rain and showery weather we have been having for a change. We can’t say we are out of the drought yet, but the signs are encouraging.
While slumbering in the sun I was aware of a bird of prey calling nearby. That certainly woke me up. What looked and sounded like a Brown Falcon was circling low overhead. Several of the local resident Australian Magpies were vigorously attacking this poor creature. In a matter of seconds it had flown off to a safer location.
I do not yet have a photo of a Brown Falcon. During those 10-15 seconds it was circling overhead I most certainly would have been able to get several good shots of the underwing markings. Alas – no camera in my hand or within easy reach. When I did go inside to get my camera I found that the batteries were flat.
Two Simple Rules:
- Always have your camera handy.
- Check to see that the camera batteries are charged.