Over the last few weeks the Rainbow Bee-eaters have be flying around our garden and mallee scrub. During the winter months they head north to warmer parts of the country, and every spring they head south for spring and summer.
It is always a delight when we hear them arrive. It’s a sure sign that spring has arrived. Almost every day for the last few weeks we’ve heard them around, or seen them overhead. Perhaps this year they will nest on our property like they did some years ago?
I find their nesting habit to be quite unusual. They make a short 30 – 40cm tunnel in a sandy spot and then construct a small nesting hollow at the end of the tunnel where they lay the eggs. Sometimes the burrow into the side of a road cutting, or the bank of a creek or river, providing the dirt is not too hard or compacted. I remember being fascinated by these birds as a child growing up on a farm in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. That fascination has remained to this day.
Over recent weeks we have heard one or two Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos calling from various vantage points on our property or nearby; their call usually carries well over a hundred metres. On one occasion I saw two in the tree shown in the photos here. One was chasing the other so I suspect that mating was imminent. The tree in question is about 40 metres from our back varanda.
Most of the various cuckoos in Australia are like the true cuckoos of Europe except for their call. They are parasitic breeders, laying their eggs in the nests of a wide range of host parents who then incubate the eggs, hatch and raise the young. In many cases the cuckoo will dispose of the host bird’s eggs, or the cuckoo chick will hatch first and remove the eggs or young as the hatch.
We also get the Pallid Cuckoo and the Fan-tailed Cuckoo in our area most spring times but I haven’t heard either of them yet this year. On only one occasion we had a Shining Bronze-cuckoo in our garden, and it is possible to have the Black-eared Cuckoo here too, but I’ve yet to record that species on our block of land.
Over recent weeks we have been eagerly awaiting the hatching of the baby Australian magpies in two nests in our garden. The fact that we have two nests is exciting because this is the first time in the last 25 years we’ve had two active nests on our 5 acre property.
A few weeks ago we heard the constant squawking of the young for food, so we knew it was just a matter of time before the youngsters headed out into the wild world. Several days ago I was suddenly aroused from my concentration on my writing by a bang on the window no more than a metre from my shoulder. A baby magpie – fresh out of the nest – was perched precariously on the frame of the window. When I reached for my camera it flew off to another part of the garden. When I say “flew” I actually mean it was undertaking some sort of barely controlled flapping and squawking one could loosely call “flying”.
I was able to approach the baby to within two metres with dad right next to me – quite unconcerned. I find it wonderful that they never swoop us or get concerned by our presence nearby. In fact, they will often approach us when we are gardening, looking for worms and other tasty morsels we might dig up. Wonderful.
Over recent weeks we’ve been watching an Australian Magpie’s nest on our property (see photo below). This nest has been used by the same pair of birds over the last 4 or 5 years. Each year they just refurbish it a little before settling down to the important job of raising a family.
Last week we were working in the garden and watched with delight as the adult birds strutted around where we were working, looking for tasty morsels and then flying straight to the nest to feed the newly hatched young. Each visit resulted in excited squawks from the hungry young.
I was very surprised to find out a few days later that we actually had another nest with young magpies barely 50 metres from the other. To have two active magpie nests within such close proximity has never happened before on our property in the last 25 years. All I can surmise is that there has been a very drastic realignment of the local magpie territories over the last year.
And we are so pleased that none of them swoop us while they are nesting.
Earlier this week I was sitting on our back veranda doing some reading – and enjoying the lovely sunshine. After many weeks of gloomy, drizzling weather it was wonderful to soak up some warmth.
My reading was suddenly interrupted by the distinctive call of a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo. I looked up and saw this bird perched near the top of a nearby mallee tree. (The branches are dead because they have been ring-barked and subsequently killed by two Galahs chewing the bark.)
I raced inside for the camera and managed a few reasonable photos before it flew off, probably looking for an unsuspecting host to care for its eggs and young. Like most cuckoos in Australia (and elsewhere), this species is parasitic, meaning that they lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Around our garden this probably means the nest of a thornbill.
The unsuspecting host pair hatch the cuckoo’s egg and then feed the young cuckoo. The young cuckoo will even tip the other young birds out of the nest – and thus get all of the food.
Since hearing this bird I’ve heard others in the district, so the spring/summer breeding season is definitely on the way.