Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Birds, the Birds!

I learn a lot about birds every time I visit Mallacoota. My first silly misconception, long ago, was that, parrots being parrots, they’d all get on. Not so. They’re like people. They stick with their own kind. The rainbow lorikeets hang with the other rainbow lorikeets. The crimson rosellas stick with other crimson rosellas. Same with the king parrots. They’re like colour gangs. Mallacoota is a sort of feathered West Side Story. A bird eat bird world. A jungle.

I formed the opinion early on that the gorgeous rainbow lorikeets are the thugs of the parrot world. They bully each other and every other bird that tries to share the feeder box, parrot or not. They even chase other rainbow lorikeets out of the feeder box, like naughty kids who refuse to share the sandpit. Remember the Tweety cartoon where Tweety gets hold of the Jekyll and Hyde potion? Rainbow lorikeets remind me of the Hyde-Tweety. They drop their heads, raise their shoulders and hunch themselves up like monster birds, then hop threateningly at one another, peering down their hooky little beaks. It seems to work. I might try it on my Year 10s, next time they misbehave.

King parrots, on the other hand, are gentle giants. (late observation: I learned, 5 minutes ago, that the gang mentality is alive and well in this species too - they're shy when they're all alone, but surround them with a few friends, and bang, they can bully with the best of them! Bugger - now I need to edit what I said yesterday.) Stunningly beautiful and very good natured, they’re quite shy on their own, and don’t stand a chance against the when outnumbered by lorikeets. This lovely boy is quite tame. 

When he gets over his initial fear, he will sit on your head or your arm, and take food from your hand. Curiosity gets the better of the rainbow lorikeets then, who see a potential source of food in your hand, and want a piece of the action. They sneak or flutter closer, not quite brave enough to hop on the hand, bobbing their heads to get a better look at whatever the king parrot is eating, and trying to calculate how they can get some too.

Cor, wotcha got there mate? Can I have some?
No, bugger off!
Feeder box rules don’t apply here. Here on The Hand, the lone king parrot will fight back.

 So yesterday, with all this attention from my little feathered friends, I felt quite popular. While I was hangin’ with ma homies – feeding the king parrot and fending off the lorikeets - my sausage-eating magpies spied me, and decided it must be sausage-time. They’re in the habit of peering through the window to find me. They even jump up and down at the back door, beaks clacking and sometimes warbling to demand food! 

Madam Magpie: Oi! That parrot's not eating my sausages, is it?
 Madam, suspecting human treachery, and fearful for her sausages, was clearly disgruntled, and actually swooped me when I had my back turned! Beastly, feathered ingrate! Her wing slapped me on the back of the head and the ‘clack’ of her beak on my ear gave me quite a jolt. 

That’s the thing with birds – one minute it’s all sunflower seeds and sausages, 
and the next, it’s a Hitchcock movie!

The magpies don’t have it all their own way though. Earlier in the day, Madam Magpie was industriously thrashing a piece of sausage on the ground, when a brown and cream bomb hurtled out of the blue at her, bowling her clean over and nicking the sausage. A kookaburra. It took up a seat on the seedbox and cackled a bit – and made threatening noises at Madam when she approached to remonstrate. I had no idea that birds could ‘growl’ - I told you I learn a lot about birds here!

The Kookaburra - not as cuddly as you'd think! And a bit of a curmudgeon to boot!
Kookaburras may look like lovely cuddly plush toys, but that long snappy beak, with the little hook on the end, is pretty lethal.  To appease my growling kookaburra friend,  I offered him some sausage of his own, and he accepted!  I was grateful he didn’t snap a hole in my hand (the kookaburra method is to divebomb and grab, which often snaps its prey's back or neck, if it happens to be a hapless lizard or snake) – but this bloke's aim was true, and he left not a mark on me as he swooped the sausage and headed off for a safe perch on which to enjoy it. Phew.

So – that was my eventful day. Oh, and I bought a house.


Geoff James said...

Lorikeets are indeed thugs. They're a pain in the summer round us, squabbling with other birds and nicking our peaches and apples.

Before I got to the end of your post, I started thinking, "Wonder if Sue is going to follow her heart?" and then I got to the last line. I think the warmest congratulations might be in order :-)

Looking forward to the next post!

Sue said...

Thanks Geoff - still getting my head around it - it's very exciting!

dunc said...

congrats on the purchase

sounds like your becoming birdwoman of the south coast

Sue said...

Hi Dunc - I didn't ever have much of an interest in birds till I came here. The variety is amazing, and the numbers! People cage their vegie gardens here because otherwise the birds eat everything in sight. I believe I will need to put nets over the fruit trees at my new house, too (oh, what a hard life!)