Wattlebirds are mentioned early on in Where Song Began by Tim Low. Noted ornithologist John Gould described the sound made by little wattlebirds as similar to the sound made by a person vomiting. It is true that their call is harsh, but living in an area populated by red wattlebirds has softened my view of them.
As a honeyeater, red wattlebirds are a fiercely territorial bird. They call out to mark their territory and play an important role as pollinators. To watch a wattlebird or two tug away at nectar-filled blossoms is quite a sight to behold, as they are quite large birds although the Tasmanian yellow wattlebird is the largest honeyeater.
In the earlier days of colonisation, wattlebirds were hunted for the dinner table.
Red wattlebirds sold in Sydney’s poultry shops in large numbers. They were pronounced the best eating bird in the bush. Sugar produces a sweet meat that pleased colonial bellies. (p. 28)
Whilst these birds are no longer hunted for food, they provide a regular background of calls and clucks with a steady presence throughout the year. They are shy yet bold, not willing to come too close yet not entirely uncomfortable with human presence. They will take on magpies and currawongs, birds larger and known for their territorial aggression, in order to preserve their area. They are active birds, shifting quickly from trees to bushes in search of nectar.
They have a narrow beak, as befits a honeyeater, and reddish eyes which match their red wattles. These are small flaps of skin that hang beneath their neck. The red wattlebirds have a yellow underbelly.
Not all of their calls are harsh; some are softer and more gentle on the ears. Hearing their distinctive call is one of the wonderful reminders for me that I am home.
[Photo: red wattlebird]