Friday, October 19, 2012

Bird talk

Most mornings I'm an early riser, up well before sunrise, reading a book in our quiet little kitchen until the sun comes up. But there's one resident of our street who beats me to it every morning. This person.

The koel. Everyone in Sydney knows this bird
not so much by sight as by sound. This black
bird, the male koel, calls for his mate from early
in the morning, like 3am or 4am early, and goes
on with his call all day, at this time of year.
This one creature causes more lost sleep than
any other living thing in Sydney.
He's doing it right now, calling plaintively, repeatedly, as I sit here at my computer this morning. Hopefully this link to an mp3 recording of the koel's call works for you.

Epic post ahead warning! Keep on reading this longish blog posting from here only if you are interested in finding out probably everything I know about birds in my backyard.  

Now, for starters, credit where credit is due, and my theft confessed to with humble apologies. I have pinched virtually all photos used in this posting, and all the sound recordings, from the excellent Birds of Canberra website, found here

I have long wanted to do a posting on the birds which regularly visit our garden, and have proved to be such an inept photographer of them that when I visited the excellent Birds of Canberra website I discovered that they happened to have most of the birds which visit my backyard, here on the NSW coast. Canberra might be well inland and south of Sydney, but it's still only 288km away from here, not that far away as the birds fly.

And so I can at last do my (epic) posting on birds which visit our garden. The list is longish yet that doesn't mean these birds are here every day, though all the following birds are seen here throughout the year, some very regularly. And thanks again to the excellent ornithologists of Canberra for their wonderful work.

The magpie. Often heard and seen here, one of the
most beautiful calls of all, and my favourite.
Magpie's sublime call

The black faced cuckoo shrike, named by early colonists.
It's neither a cuckoo nor a shrike, though. Nice looking bird,
often seen on the clothesline or TV aerial looking for food.
Black-faced cuckoo shrike call

My favourite personality in the garden is this little bird. It's the
New Holland Honeyeater and it's a small thing but it's fast,
smart and fearless. I've seen dopey big wattlebirds try to
chase New Hollands out of 'their' grevillea, but the New
Holland just darts here, there, up down and the selfish big
wattlebird never wins even a point in their scraps. 
New Holland Honeyeater static-on-the-line call

Here's the aforementioned greedy dope, the Red Wattlebird.
I actually like this flighty creature. That red 'flap' on its cheek
is called a 'wattle', and so it doesn't get its name from wattle
trees. This is an early riser too, often feeding on the flowering
gum tree which is our street tree. It's the only native bird we
have a nickname for, and I call him or her 'Cluck', as that's
what its call sounds like, which goes like this... 
Red Wattlebird call

Lots of people call this a Blue Wren, for obvious
reasons, but only the males are blue, and as Mrs
Wren is brown, the 'correct' name of Superb Fairy
Wren is a better description. These little insect eaters
 are tiny and get about the garden in a pretty little
hoppity hoppity way. One little thing I like about these
wrens is that the male juveniles are brown, like
their mums. When they grow up and start to colour up as
blue, Dad drives them off. "Clear off son, you're blue."
Superb fairy wren call

Kookaburras aren't plentiful here but I do see them from time
to time. The impressive thing about these birds is their size,
they're hefty birds, strong with a big beak that's perfectly capable
of picking up an unsuspecting snake. As a child I can recall
hearing kookaburra calls being used in Tarzan movies!
Kookaburra call

I hate seeing these squawky, destructive hoons sitting on the
fence. These Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are big birds too,
so they just do as they please. A while ago, after I had planted
out a whole bed full of vegie and flower seedlings, one of these
birds came down, walked around the bed ripping seedlings out
of the ground, looking for worms wriggling underneath. The

only thing I like about these birds is their waddling walk, and
seeing them fly off into the distance, of course.
Sulphur-crested cockatoo's appalling, loud call

With its impressively fearsome big, black beak
the Pied Currawong visits only occasionally,
but it's always a wonderful big thing to behold.

Shame it eats bird babies so much, but it has
to make a living and that's its job.
Pied Currawong call

This tiny and extremely pretty little bird, the Spotted Pardalote,
is a rare visitor to our garden, and when Pam saw the first one
we were genuinely excited. We do see them a few times each year,
but each visit is a special occasion. We suspect they nest down 
at the local golf course, which is nearby and sited on a river,
the kind of habitat our bird book says Spotted Pardalotes prefer.
Spotted pardalote call

Alas, so very plentiful when we first arrived here
21 years ago, these Silvereyes are now a rarity
here, but I do occasionally see one still. A small
bird with a striking white ring around its eye
it's a busy, chatty little personality.
Silvereye call

Another lovely personality is the Willie Wagtail, a smallish fantail
bird who waggles that tail as it looks for insects and grubs.
While a common bird in general, its visits here are just occasional.
Willie Wagtail call

With an appalling screech of a call that's like fingernails on a 
blackboard to me, the Peewee or Magpie Lark has won back
my sympathy, as I have learned that it is a common dupe for
the cuckoo-style tricks of that annoying koel which wakes up so

many people. Koels lay their eggs in Peewee nests, and when
the baby koel hatches it pushes all the Peewee babies out of the nest
(to their doom) and then the Peewee parents exhaust themselves 
trying to keep up food supplies to the huge, ever-hungry koel baby. 
Ain't nature cruel sometimes! 
Peewee (Magpie Lark) loud car-alarm screech

I'm caught between admiration and dislike of this bird, the Noisy
Miner, which is plentiful on the street side of our house, and
mercifully not so often seen in our backyard. I admire them for
their unlimited reserves of bravery as they fight birds two, three
or more times their size (in packs). But they are bully birds
who just live to dominate their territory and constantly try to
shoo away 'intruders'. Their natural habitat is 'forest margins',
ie, trees on the edge of a forest, with light scrub or grasslands
beyond, and that's a hell of a lot like parkland and suburbia,
so they are in huge numbers here in Sydney. They don't really
like our backyard as it's too densely planted for their liking. Phew!
Noisy Miner's noisy call

Almost finished, but not quite. All photos and bird calls featured above are from the Canberra Birds website, but they didn't have every bird which visits our garden, so here's a few more. Continuing my ignoble tradition of thieving both bird photos and recordings of their calls, I have proceeded to the wonderful 'Birds in Backyards' website for these next items. It can be found at

This Red-Whiskered Bulbul isn't a native bird
but one family lives here. Every year Mr and Mrs
Bulbul make a nest in our Murraya hedge and
raise babies. I am proud to say that my keen
mulching of our garden with sugar cane mulch
provides some very suitable nesting materials.
Interestingly, I spotted Mr Bulbul the other day
having an all-in fight with himself. He was perched
on the end of our barbecue, flapping his wings
and pecking madly at our garden mirror, in which
he could see his reflection. Hope he didn't hurt himself,

but I do think the reflection came off second-best.
Red-whiskered bulbul call and fact sheet, which includes a little thingy containing its call

And finally, the last and most colourful backyard visitor of all of all is this person, the rainbow lorikeet, in a photo taken by me (the only one in this posting, I am sorry to say).
The rainbow lorikeet, pictured in his favourite spot, our
Eucalyptus leucoxylon 'Rosea' street tree. This tree flowers
from early autumn to late spring, and the rainbow lorikeets,
red wattlebirds and New Holland Honeyeaters are in
constant competition for the abundant nectar on offer.
If you're a complete glutton for bird-loving blog punishment, here's a link to an earlier posting about an injured lorikeet named Bung who recuperated in our backyard for several days following an argument with a car, prior to (hopefully) returning to his flock. It's called 'Bung's Bingle'.

And again, courtesy of Birds in Backyards, a fact sheet on these birds which includes their not especially pleasing call

Anyone still here? Working from home allows Pammy and me to keep a good, close eye on who visits here, and we never ever tire of our little fun with birdwatching. The one lesson that keeps on popping up from all this bird visiting and watching is that though it may be small, my little backyard is a part of an urban chain of bird-friendly habitat that helps to sustain many hundreds of wonderful lives.


Ngeun said...

Great insight into the local birds Jamie, they are fun to watch & listen. I love the call of the koel, horrible habit but quite a bewitching call. Amazing how all the birds have their personalities & quirks. I've never seen the Red-Whiskered Bulbul before, cool looking crest. In the wee hours of this morning, I was woken up by another type of bird, the mythical mechanical kind escorted by men, that raucously flew down our street, chewed up our garbage bins and then spat them out on the side of the road, flashing orange eyes looking for their next onslaught, aka Friday morning garbage trucks. I'd rather any real weird bird sound that that nightmare, lol.

Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

Thanks Jamie! I LOVED this post, as there is very little I love more than to identify animals, particularly local ones (although edible gardening and ocean swimming come a close second).

gardenglut said...

Thanks Jamie, loved this. I am in the Inner West too and have the same birds visit me. I love then all, although sometimes I could throw a shoe at the Koels. The black-face is one of my favourite visitors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this ! That koel is a beautifull bird ! You are so blessed living in Australia !

Min said...

Wow, you have such a diverse range of birds visiting your garden. Growing up we used to have all sorts of tiny wrens and swallows in our yard but sadly over the years, their habitat declined and predators took over.
We did always have a Koel every year take up residence in our Silky Oak tree. They are quite an interesting bird, laying their eggs in other birds' nests and leave them to bring up their young!

Sue O said...

We loved the birds in Australia, so much more exotic than our Oregon birds, although we do dote on and feed the finches that flock to our garden. I have planed a lot of flowers that entice hummingbirds. What i don't like are the starlings who have been digging dirty great holes in our lawn every time we water or it rains, and the blue jays that keep plucking my new little succulents out of their lovely green strawberry pot.
So, birds are a curse and a blessing.

Shirley E Hardy said...

I loved reading this post as it gives me a better idea of what birdlife actually lives in Sydney. If you have a talent for bird photography, as you say, then apply those talents, else it will be wasted.

I live in Tenterfield, up near the QLD border, in NSW and I started a blog of all the birds I see and when they nest, etc here in Tenterfield. It is interesting especially knowing when some birds migrate at certain times of the year. It is also rewarding too, as I love gardening and knowing if birds visit certain plants or not. Keep up the great posts and I hope to read more about the birds visiting your garden. Perhaps you could study the birds and find out which birds visit which plants in your garden, and write posts about it. Just an idea.

Jamie said...

Hi Sue O, great to hear from you again!

And Shirley, I am so pleased to hear from Tenterfield! I have a Tenterfield connection, because my Mum was born there... in 1911. She says she remembers as a little girl there growing up that there were still a few bushrangers causing trouble!

I'll go and check out your blog Shirley, because I love bird watching from my backyard, just like you do.

Jamie said...

Oops – one edit from me. Mum "USED TO SAY" etc etc about Tenterfield. She's not 101, in fact she's been in heaven these last 30 years, my lovely old Mum, Zella.