February 5 - 11, 2012: Issue 44

 Pecking Order
by Robyn McWilliam

A pair of lorikeets was the first birdlife I noticed after moving to Pittwater. Hearing a faint squeaking, we discovered a nest with babies in the corner of our roof. As we eventually demolished their home, we felt obliged to provide them with a new one.

Following reconstruction of our house, a timber bird box was hung in the gum tree just beyond our balcony railing. Decked in their rainbow colours the lorikeets regularly arrived, balancing on the pitched roof, swinging down to the perches and disappearing through the circular hole. On wet days they were snug in there.

A year later a ringtail possum decides to make the bird box its home. Curling around the central wire, the creature’s smoky fur fills the hole. If disturbed a cute face might peer out revealing a soft pink nose and round inquisitive eyes. Depending on the season a mother and baby cram inside. The lorikeets return and appear bewildered by new occupants.

So we buy a conical tower surrounded by a feeding tray and fit it to the tree. A scattering of wild birdseed brings back our colourful friends. It’s delightful to observe the brilliance of their feathers, apple green with flashes of orange and purple. One bird husks and eats the seed while the other tilts its head in a questioning manner. Sometimes they ask for breakfast by sitting on chair backs looking into the house. Flying to the tray when I walk out they squawk softly as seeds spill from the box.

We have a friend visiting with his partner from Vietnam. She sees the birds and the possum-filled box and says, “Where did you buy your pets?” She has no idea that our backyard is their chosen habitat. Usually a pair comes to feed but sometimes as many as ten lorikeets settle in the branches.

Dusky pink galahs wait patiently on the glass balustrade for remnants of seed. Only the white cockatoos will attempt to edge out the lorikeets. Beaks locked, they fall in a flurry of feathers. We shoo away these invaders as they are the delinquents of our birdlife. Flicking forward their yellow combs, their screeching is an unpleasant noise. A favourite pastime of theirs is ripping out my pansies and flinging them all over the deck. Unrepentant, they eye me in defiance. White cockatoos seldom stop but I often hear a gang of them shriek past in the early hours.

Lately a pair of corellas joins the throng on the tower. I’ve only ever seen these birds in numbers out bush. They are white, of similar size to the galahs with a lower-pitched squawk. Pale blue rings encircle their eyes. They too are subservient to the lorikeets but are keen to share the seed mix.

On rare occasions a crimson and green pair of King parrots visit. Compared to the antics of the other birds, they are quiet and polite. Each species has different personalities.

“The rainbow birdies are here, Nanna,” my granddaughter says when she stays overnight. In the morning we watch the parade and wait to see the pecking order of the day.

 Words and Images Copyright Robyn McWilliam, 2012. All Rights Reserved.