backyard birds - the good, the bad and the ugly

Part of the point of planting indigenous plants in the garden is to attract native birds. I used to think it was good to attract as many different species of birds as possible. Over the years I have observed quite a variety of birds: insect eaters such as Thornbills, nectar eaters such as Wattlebirds and seed eaters such as Doves.

Brown Thornbill - Acanthiza pusilla - from Birdlife Australia

Some birds are carnivorous - Ravens, Kookaburras, Magpies, Tawny Frogmouths, Pied Currawongs and Butcherbirds. They'll eat mice and lizards and part of their diet includes young and small birds. That's why the butcherbird got its name!


Grey Butcherbird - Cracticus torquatus


Sometimes the mix of birds you get isn't so great. I hate it when the garden becomes a war zone. With loud shrieks, the bully birds chase away the less aggressive birds. The tiny bush birds stay right away.

Brian Bainbridge, president of Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association, suggests you grow nectar plants like Correas in one corner of the garden, so the bullying wattlebirds won't scare away the small insect eaters.

Red Wattlebird - Anthochaera carunculata - from Birdlife Australia

A good reason to try to discourage bully birds such as Wattlebirds is that these large birds have adapted successfully to the urban environment, whereas numbers of smaller birds like the Spotted Pardalote are declining.

Birdlife Australia suggests you don't feed wild birds in your garden. Too much artificial food can lead to poor health and disease. And if you do feed them, you'll just end up attracting the large aggressive ones. But people just love to feed birds and will feed them anyway. Ecologist Darryl Jones recently said we might as well accept it,  and just encourage people to keep bird tables clean, and avoid feeding them bread or processed meat.

Tawny Frogmouth - Podargus strigoides - from Birdlife Australia

I've taken the advice of Birdlife Australia and don't feed the birds in my garden. I just provide them with clean water.

We can't control nature, but we are trying to influence it to change in ways we think are beneficial. Magpies aren't as aggressive as other meat eaters. But even if they were, I'm so hooked on their lovely complex warbling, I'd do what I could to attract them and keep them around.

Australian Magpie - Cracticus tibicen - from Birdlife Australia
Australian Magpie in my garden - Cracticus tibicen tyrannica

These Magpies have different markings, so they could be different subspecies. According to Wikipedia, there are currently thought to be nine subspecies of Australian Magpies. Or, more likely, the different patterns signify the sex of the birds. Female Magpies typically have a mottled grey back (top) whereas the males have greater colour contrast (above).

Recently scientists discovered  Rainbow Lorikeets eating meat at a feeder north of Brisbane. Up till now these birds have just eaten pollen and seeds. Now they've developed a taste for meat, and are chasing kookaburras and magpies away.

Rainbow Lorikeet - Trichoglossus haematodus - from Birdlife Australia

Apparently scientists found this discovery surprising and challenging, because it contradicted their previous observations. But the natural world doesn't always fit into neat categories. The only thing we can sure of is that things don't stay the same. The fact is these birds have opportunistically taken up meat eating.

In his 1963 horror film, The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock imagined a scenario about what happens when many species of birds develop a taste for meat. Sca-a-a-ry!

Theatrical Release Poster - from Wikipedia

The photos are of all birds that I have seen in my garden. Thanks to Birdlife Australia for giving permission to use photos from their website.

Spotted Dove - Streptopelia chensis - from Birdlife Australia
Common Blackbird (female) - Turdus merula - from Birdlife Australia

Comments

  1. It's true! Nothing is nice and neat. Love these birds and your photos. And of course, my favorite of your series is the Tawny Frogmouth:)

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    1. Lovely to hear from you, Chris. I knew you'd like this post.

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  2. Fantastic variety of birds, and you are so lucky to have seen them all in your garden. My favourite is also the Tawny Frogmouth, which reminds me of something from 'The Muppet Show'!

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    1. So true, now whenever I see a TF I will see a cute puppet!

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  3. Terrific photos. You do get to see such a wide variety of birdlife. How wonderful. I'm lucky enough to see some fabulous birds here too, and like you, I don't feed them. I'd much rather have them live their natural life and not be dependent on human feeding. Thankfully, I don't get to witness a lot of bullying around here, apart from the times when mothers are protecting their nests. They can be quite the bully then.

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    1. Your birds are wonderful, You're lucky if the big ones don't bully the small ones. Magpies are the main ones that I am aware of, that get aggressive defending their babies.

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  4. Incredible bird shots, Sue! That Tawny Frogmouth is a bird I hadn't heard of or seen before. That seems to be the consensus interesting bird. :)

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    1. Thanks, Beth, maybe I should do a whole post on TFs ...

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  5. Feeding the birds is part of gardening here, we feed the birds all through the year, but only enough to last an hour, then they have to find their own food. When we moved here I started keeping a record of the different species that visit, it is now up to 60. Living next to farmland and having the small woodland means that we get species that aren't usually found in gardens. Most of the time they all live and feed quite happily together with only the odd skirmish.
    Interesting post, your birds are so different from ours, especially the Tawny Frogmouth!

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    1. 60 species is an amazing number. How wonderful. I wonder whether a larger proportion of our birds are carnivorous. I get the impression you feed the birds seed, not meat, is that right?

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    1. Hi linda, I'm sure that would be the point of view of its next meal!

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  7. They must have really sharp eyes to be able to eat insects isn't it? Anyway, these plump birds looks happy even when gazing hehe... well fed and taken care by Mother Nature ;-)

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    1. Hi Stephanie, yes and, I'm so happy that they're managing to regularly visit or even live in the garden.

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  8. I also gave up feeding birds in my garden. I do have many varieties of shrubs, trees and perennials that are sources of food for them, so they seem happy. We have a wide variety of birds here, including predatory birds such as hawks and owls. I like to think these predatory birds primarily eat ground squirrels and voles, which are huge problems for me, rather than my beautiful songbirds. I have also given my cat the same instructions!

    By the way, I saw that movie when I was young. I never forgot it!

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    1. Hi Deb, sounds as if you have a thriving ecosystem in your garden. I hope your cat is obedient to your wishes. I used to have a dog that would chase birds, but I think she wouldn't know what to do with one if she actually caught it.

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  9. Sometimes, when a large flock of Jackdaws flies over, I think of Hitchcock. I feed the birds all year round. I hope the birds will repay me by also eating aphids and other pests.

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    1. Hi Denise, Jackdaws, like crows, can seem a bit sinister. I think the birds must eat aphids in the garden, because it all looks very healthy.

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  10. Love your birds especially the coloring of the magpies....but oh my the Tawny Frogmouth are so unusual.

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    1. thanks, Donna. If it was a popularity contest, the TF would win hands (claws) down.

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  11. I know what you mean with shrieking birds. I get a lot of raptors in my tiny garden. I love the birds you have where you live. Nice photos too! The birds are so different and interesting. I have a birder from Australia that follows both my blogs. His birds from there are amazing. I never saw the frogmouth before though. That is one strange looking bird. Check him out, aussiebirder.

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    1. thanks, Donna. I'll check him out.

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  12. Very interesting post Sue. Kookaburra sits in the old oak tree-e, why does all the daft stuff stick in my head, in 1950 when I started school, (yes, I am flippin seventy now) we were taught a number of Australian songs, seems weird really but I guess it must have been something to do with the commonwealth, or was it still the empire.
    Love all your bird shots, we still regularly put out sun flower hearts in the feeders, a few years ago they were discouraging us, tables have turned the opposite way now.

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    1. Hi Alastair, it's a sweet song, I think. When I was in Burma I taught it to some children in a village nursery school. To feed or not to feed, that is the question ...

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  13. We have carnivorous birds here, too but I've seen little gangs of songbirds mob them and force them to leave. My platform feeder recently broke and I hate the loss of it because watching the birds and squirrels is so entertaining. How disturbing that a bird with such a beautiful call as the butcher bird is such a .... butcher!

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    1. That's a great story - about the little gangs of songbirds. Maybe the little birds here will get together against the bully birds. I love watching birds bathing. We don't have squirrels, probably the equivalent are possums and they're nocturnal and I'm usually not.

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  14. I love your blog and the way you reply to all your comment(ers). I just read in last week's Age about the Australian Native Plants Society and wandered if you knew about it. My blog which includes my travels, family history, writing in French and passion for art, gardening and sustainability is at: literite.blogspot.com.au

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    1. Eva, how lovely to hear from you. I have heard of the ANPS, but don't know anything about it, so thank you - I will check it out. I'm so pleased you love my blog, and I will definitely visit your blog.

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  15. One of the great joys of gardening is having a garden full of birds. Unfortunately here the big ones have forced out most of the tiny birds but I'm planning to plant more natives to give them cover. Every summer we have two large birds move in; the Koel and the Channel-bill Cuckoo. They lay eggs in other birds' nests and toss out the original chicks, causing much disruption. The parent birds, which may be as large as Magpies and Currawongs, hate the cuckoos and the garden is often at war. Nature red in tooth and claw!

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    1. Hi Carol, what an interesting comment. It is a shame the tiny birds have been forced out, but how fascinating watching the cuckoo do its thing. We can't afford to be too sentimental observing nature - it's all about survival and life and death.

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