March 1 - 7, 2020: Issue 440
Pittwater's Fledglings 2020: A Late Summer - Early Autumn Annual Bird Fest In A Spotted Gum Tree Cathedral
Although it is not recommended to feed wild birds as they become dependant and lose their ability to forage in the wild, a neighbour had put out a small amount of mincemeat for the family - this is not the best food for meat-eating birds as the mince can get stuck on their beaks and cause infections - experts state dried dog biscuits are better, if you must feed them, better yet plant out your garden with bird-attracting shrubs and trees or look after the dirt so it gets filled with what they like to eat. This particular family of kookaburras will perch on a low branch of one eucalypt when we're gardening, ready to swoop down over the shoulder and grab any insects dislodged during digging. That certainly wakes you up!
Watching them this week, and their precarious balancing on wires, or being quite at home on a slim tree branch, has been a delight for residents and visitors alike. Some sequences showing you this tipping back and forth on a wire runs below. Two of the youngsters soon grew tired of this swaying, which their shorter tail feathers may have helped cause, and moved to a rooftop and then back into the Spotted Gum trees.
Their parents and last year's siblings loudly warned any coming too near to get away, making that territorial echoing 'laugh' song loudly.
The laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a bird in the kingfisher subfamily Halcyoninae. It is a large robust kingfisher with a whitish head and a dark eye-stripe. The upperparts are mostly dark brown but there is a mottled light-blue patch on the wing coverts. The underparts are white and the tail is barred with rufous and black. The plumage of the male and female birds is similar. The territorial call is a distinctive laugh that is often delivered by several birds at the same time, and is widely used as a stock sound effect in situations that involve a jungle setting.
The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern mainland Australia, but has also been introduced to parts of New Zealand, Tasmania, and Western Australia. It occupies dry eucalypt forest, woodland, city parks and gardens. This species is sedentary and occupies the same territory throughout the year. It is monogamous, retaining the same partner for life. A breeding pair can be accompanied by up to five fully grown non-breeding offspring from previous years that help the parents defend their territory and raise their young. The laughing kookaburra generally breeds in unlined tree holes or in excavated holes in arboreal termite nests. The usual clutch is three white eggs. The parents and the helpers incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. The youngest of the three nestlings or chicks is often killed by the older siblings. When the chicks fledge they continue to be fed by the group for six to ten weeks until they are able to forage independently.
A predator of a wide variety of small animals, the laughing kookaburra typically waits perched on a branch until it sees an animal on the ground and then flies down and pounces on its prey. Its diet includes lizards, insects, worms, snakes, mice and are known to take goldfish out of garden ponds.
Being amongst a Tree Cathedral, a Grove of Spotted Gums affords many such encounters as the fledling kookaburras are among a host of birds spotted being fed - everything from new Magpies to Rainbow Lorikeets, Butcher Birds and Currawongs are making its way out of the cosy nests provided, some of which have been captured this week for your pictorial enjoyment.
On Feeding Birds - By BirdLife Australia
The issue of bird feeding is a very controversial one. Many people enjoy feeding birds in their garden, on their balcony or even at their windowsill, but this creates many unseen problems such as malnutrition, disease, and imbalanced populations of some species. Despite authorities telling people not to feed birds for decades – the fact is, Australians still continue to provide food for birds. We need to give some guidance on how to do it safely.
If you are going to feed birds, you should be aware of potential problems and consider how you can minimise the risk of harming the wildlife you want to help.
Firstly – it is a myth that birds become dependant on us for food. Except in very rare circumstances, research shows that birds continue to search naturally for birds. In cases of extreme events such as bushfires – providing food, and more importantly water, is particularly important for the survival of wildlife.
The types of foods we put out for birds are very rarely what they find naturally. There are a couple of items in particular that are known to cause problems for birds and should be avoided.
- Mince: This might seem like a treat but it lacks nutrients that carnivorous birds would normally obtain from their natural diet of insects and the fur and bone of small mammals. Huge problems can arise if the adult birds raise their young on this diet as the juvenile birds can suffer from brittle bones due to insufficient calcium. Mince can also stick to the beaks of birds like Kookaburras and Tawny Frogmouths, leading to bacterial infection.
- Honey/water mixes: these do not provide the complex sugars that a bird would get from the nectar of a flower.
- Bread: This is just a filler. It contains nothing of nutritional value and instead simply fills the bird up.
Disease transition is a real risk with bird feeding and there have been outbreaks of illness overseas linked to bird feeders. If you must feed birds, ensure that you keep the area where they are fed very clean and well scrubbed daily using a bleach solution or specific wildlife disinfectant.
Our parrots in particular can spread Psittacine beak and feather disease at unhygenic feed stations, particularly were large numbers of birds gather. This virus attackes the feather follicles and the cells that grow beaks and claws. Feathers become malformed and eventually fall out whilst beaks and claws grow uncontrollably and can crack and break, leading to infections and potentially stop the bird from being able to feed. The virus also suppresses the immune system, opening the bird up to a range of secondary infections. Those mangy, balding Sulphur-crested Cockatoos that you may occasionally see are infected with this disease. If you do have parrots with beak and feather disease visiting, immediately cease feeding and clean your feed station. You may also wish to contact your local wildlife rescue group if the bird is very sick and needs to be captured.
Think about the birds that we fed - they are the ones doing well anyway, the omnivorous (eat anything) opportunists such as Currawongs, Kookaburras and Magpies. Increased numbers of these larger, more aggressive birds in many urban areas can be attributed to artificial feeding. For example, Pied Currawongs and Magpies have increased dramatically in numbers over time, forcing out smaller species from many areas. Currawongs eat the eggs and chicks of small birds. The quantity of food available also helps those being artificially fed to become very successful breeders, increasing their numbers further, which puts even more pressure on the smaller birds.
So what should you do?
We know that people take great joy from feeding birds and that connection to nature is really important. Be aware of the potential problems and if you do want to feed your local birds ensure that:
- Stations are placed out of the reach of cats and other predators.
- Stations are cleaned daily and food removed after an hour (less if you are using a nectar mix as they spoil quickly). Vary the time of day in which you provide the food.
- Good quality food is used such as commercial nectar mixes or seed mixes. The cheaper supermarket seed does not contain sufficient nutrition for birds.
- If feeding meat eating birds then 1. consider the impact they may have by hunting smaller birds and 2. use dry dog food or dog roll as these are the best alternatives currently available. Even better if it can be supplemented with an insectivore mix (like Wombaroo).
- You cease feeding if large flocks (20+) birds begin feeding at the same time and you observe for any illness in the birds you are feeding.
- Pets are fed indoors or remaining food is removed. Common Mynas and other birds regularly eat pet food so we should limit their access to it.
- You make it an occasionally treat (for you and the birds), not a daily event. Think of it as a Tim Tam and a cup of tea.
A garden that provides natural food for birds such as one with native grasses to provide seed, mulch to encourage insects and small-flowering locally native shrubs to feed honeyeaters is much better for our whole bird community than one that feeds only a few potentially problem birds. Whether you feed birds or not, please create great spaces for them which include habitat and water.
For more detail on what you should consider if you want to feed birds. Please read the book ‘Feeding the Birds at my Table’ by Darryl Jones.
Juveniles have lighter greys and browns amidst the starker blacks and whites of their plumage; two- or three-year-old birds of both sexes closely resemble and are difficult to distinguish from adult females. Immature birds have dark brownish eyes until around two years of age. Australian magpies generally live to around 25 years of age.
Nestlings are fed exclusively by the female, though the male magpie will feed his partner.
They are well known for their ability to imitate the songs of other birds living in their range, in particular the laughing call of the Kookaburra.
This Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) - also lives here.