Feeding the Magpies

One of my Dad’s favourite expressions around mealtimes was that it was like ‘feeding the magpies’. I was reminded of this recently when I was distracted by a noisy young magpie, calling for food. It was loud and insistent, crying out until a parent returned with a morsel of food for consumption. The feeding mustn’t have been quick enough as the noise continued right up until the food was positioned in the young magpie’s beak, with the parent arching back in order to drop the food into the open mouth. As soon as it disappeared the noise started again.

7516799536_IMG_0922

Feeding the magpie – open beak waiting for food

Off went the parent to source some more food. The young magpie poked around in the garden a bit and drank some rainwater out of a hollow in the path. The parent returned with more sustenance, and they moved around the garden a bit, hunting for the next treat. Another magpie flew in with a worm, and there was a bit of jostling about as the young magpie looked between the two food sources with great interest. Once both tidbits were consumed, the three birds walked the garden, looking for more food until a currawong landed in a nearby tree.

7516799536_IMG_0923

Feeding time

One magpie immediately flew up into the tree, making warning noises and pushing at the currawong. The currawong held its ground, not meeting the warning with a similar response, but remaining steadfast on the branch. After a while the magpie rejoined the two magpies on the ground, and a wattle bird flew in and gave the currawong another serve, shoving it further down the branch before perching in the branch above. The size difference seemed not to matter, and I was reminded of Tim Low’s comments in Where Song Began about how aggressive Australian honeyeaters are.

7516799536_IMG_0933

Currawong (left upper branch) and magpie working out their territory

Many insights into the behaviour of Australian magpies are provided by Dr Gisela Kaplan in her book Australian Magpie: Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird. The feeding of young magpies is taken care of by both parents as well as helpers when available. Earthworms are a popular choice for the baby chicks and fledglings as magpies don’t drink water until they are more mobile. The young are fed constantly for the first three months are so, then there is a further period of two to three months when they are shown how to fend for themselves, with some assistance if required. A process of weaning applies, with parents and helpers withholding food if need be to encourage the young to be self-sufficient.

It was interesting to be able to watch just a small part of the process of feeding the magpies.

And worth noting, too, that it was recently voted as Australian Bird of the Year 2017.

[Photo: magpies feeding]

Advertisements

On Looking Up

If your spirits are low, go for a walk. Hear the morning chorus, watch as magpies squawk and squabble overhead. Listen to the smooth notes of a currawong from high up in a gum tree, and watch a squadron of parrots chasing each other before feasting on seeds in the pine trees.

On a good day there will be at least one kookaburra chortling away. Way up high there is the frantic screech of a white cockatoo, seldom alone and usually part of a rowdy, wheeling mob. A red flash as the compact bodies of rosellas, one of the shyer birds, fly by. Wattle birds feast on the nectar of native shrubs, their sombre grey and white plumage contrasting with their red neck wattles and the dash of yellow on their bellies.

Look up and see a beautiful butterfly, camouflaged against the heritage paint of an old building. Look around and see the blur of a bright brown rabbit, tucked in against the edge of long grass along the roadside. And a white horse sitting down in a paddock, its stillness a contrast to the movement around it.

Learning to look up has been one of the most rewarding lessons of my life.

How often do you look up?

[Photo: a red wattle bird]

Background Noise

This weekend there has been maintenance work carried out along the railway lines in the Blue Mountains. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, but it has made me more mindful of the noises in the background. The railway lines are a couple of blocks away, but the sound of the railway carries much further than that, particularly when the wind is casting the acoustics further afield.

It isn’t that I don’t like the sound of the railway – the opposite is true. I like to pick up the light clatter of the passenger trains, or the heavier groan of the freight and coal trains as they rumble along. Twice a day there are the swifter rattles of the XPT, and the weekly passing of the long Indian Pacific. But in the absence of the railway noise, other noises come into focus.

Bird life is plentiful in the mountains, and on a soft, damp day like today it is mainly magpies and king parrots in close proximity. The parrots tend to feed in brightly plumaged clusters in trees, neatly nibbling away at seeds high up in the trees. The cackle of kookaburras carries from a distance, along with the swooping squeal of cockatoos.

Traffic sounds from the highway include the whine and moan of trucks, always on the move. Most car and bike noises are subdued in comparison for the most part. There is the occasional hum of a plane, somewhere above the low cloud cover.

Closer to home the breeze plucks a tune from a bamboo wind chime, a soft plunking sound on the air. The rainwater tank is full and there is a methodical tinkle as the overflow is caught in a container. People walking past chatter and laugh, or speed past on bikes. Dogs in the neighbourhood holler out greetings or warnings, their calls picked up along the roadway like a raucous Chinese whisper. Then the rain starts again, a soft settling upon the roof.

What makes up your background noise?

[Photo: glimpse of a king parrot]