Messy birds – a reader’s question

A very unusual question

I get regular comments from readers here on this blog. That’s great and I enjoy hearing from my many readers. I also get many questions about birds, either through the comments section or via the contact form. Most of these are reasonably straight forward queries, some of them need a little research to find the answers. Today I had a very interesting question from a reader.

I don’t want to mention names, or even quote the question and background information I was given. It is probably the most unusual question I’ve been asked. It seems that in a southern NSW town there is a legal dispute between neighbours, one of them accusing the other of throwing moss from his roof gutters on to his driveway and making a mess.

A relative of one of them asked me whether it was birds causing the problem. Below is my answer.

In actual fact it could be any number of birds that are the culprits. I would most certainly think that a bird or birds of some sort are responsible for the mess being created.

Peewees (Magpie Larks) are near the top of my list. They are always mucking about in our gutters. What is more, they make a mud nest and moss would make a lovely lining. It would also help bind together the mud they are using.

It could also be Australian Magpies, though I doubt if they are using it as nesting material. They tend to use only sticks – but then, they don’t read the books about how they are supposed to behave. Wool and cloth have been used – so why not moss?

Both of the above species could also be searching in the moss for tidbits to eat, things like worms and beetles.

Another possible culprit is the Common Blackbird. They are notorious for flicking mulch from gardens on to paths and driveways in their attempt to find a feed. Drives some people crazy. Again, they could be looking for food in the moss, but they too could use it as a nesting material. Common Starlings also do the same.

Other candidates include Currawongs, Ravens, Thrushes, Swallows (mud nest), White-winged Choughs (mud nest) and I wouldn’t be surprised at any of the flycatcher family using moss, including the Willie Wagtail, the Rufous and Grey Fantails. I should also mention the robins – of the 5 different species in your area, all but one use moss to line their nests. Superb Fairy-wrens also use moss.

This list comes from just a quick flip through a field guide – there are probably many more I haven’t listed. And remember, birds don’t read the guide books – they are all capable of behaviour not mentioned in the books.

So, as you can see, there are many possibilities. You just have to catch the culprit in the act!

Male Flame Robin, Mt. Macedon, Victoria

Male Flame Robin, Mt. Macedon, Victoria