Monday, 26 May 2014

DONALD - Part 1

DONALD - Part 1

   After a lengthy love affair with a 1976 Fiat Mirafiori, I succumbed to the needs and constancy of wildlife caring and  bought a 1984 Suzuki Carry Van. In fact I bought it without even seeing it first, and when it arrived, I loved it instantly.
   A bright yellow high dome, made Rufus distinctive and so easy to find in crowded carparks. And despite his size, he was like a truck to drive.
   On the first night of his arrival, I left for the city business district, after receiving an 11:30pm call from the night concierge of an apartment block. He said he'd found a bird in the parking lot, and when I asked what kind of bird it was, he said, "Kind of like a pelican."
   A few things came to mind...(1) pelicans aren't known to be night flyers, but as the call came from half a mile away from a lake, night occurences and disturbances are always possible.
   (2) My biggest cage was for cockatoos. Much too small for a pelican, and even the door was going to be too small to put the bird through.
   (3) Should the bird be able to recover, I definitely had no appropriate food for it, even though I would contact Conservation Rangers who kept facilities for large species at their headquarters.
   First things first though, and with fingers crossed for the bird not having injuries too serious for recovery, I set off on Rufus's first pick-up, 12kms away, in a sleeping CBD just on midnight.
   I parked at the main entrance and went inside to find out what size the bird actually was, and something about its condition.
   The concierge wasted no time in disappearing to get the injured party and when he came back, carrying a box that had once held a 100cm television, my heart sank. No way was the cockatoo cage I'd loaded into Rufus going to be big enough.
   "Here it is," he said, and I walked over and peered inside, only to be peered back at by two bright eyes on an almost naked little body, nestled into one corner of the box.
   Definitely not a pelican, but a pigeon hatchling -- fallen off a totally unsafe nest site, as pigeon hatchlings tend to do.
   After finishing the paperwork, I left with the bird in a much smaller carrier, and drove to a nearby 24hr vet clinic to have him checked for internal injuries, thus saving another trip the next morning.
   While I waited, a man there said, "That pigeon, it'll die. You can't raise them, they stress too much." He then went on to suggest what food to give it anyway. All of this had me thinking I wouldn't succeed with this bub, and determination set in.
   The vet check was fine, and back home I settled the little one into a warm place and left him. Come morning, first food offer proved to be more difficult than with most new arrivals, and I ended up with more of the mixture over me than what the bird had taken in.
   For an almost featherless, unattractive, podgy-shaped little bird, he certainly put up a struggle.
   A couple of later attempts though, were more successful, and he and I met halfway in what was a two-way operation -- me, on one side, supplying the food and he, on the other, making up the rules about how much of it, if any, or all, he was going to swallow.
   This small victory for me was all I was concerned about for now. Nourishment being an absolute must in so young a chick.
   Gradually though, after three days, I noticed a decline in his manner and his appetite began dropping, which wasn't good at all.
   I stood nearby and watched him, and I took into account the surroundings  he was in. Firstly, he wasn't walking yet, and I'd 'nested' him in a carrier which had all sides enclosed but constructed  so that the occupant had a full view everywhere around him.
   There were a few other chicks in other similar carriers, and wide, double windows in one wall, gave them all a view of the many trees in my backyard, along with the sounds of wild birds which frequented the garden.
   I looked back to the pigeon chick and his eyes were focusing on the greenery through the windows. He barely moved, unlike the others, who could be quite vocal and who had begun moving around and testing out what their legs were for.
   Not so, the pigeon. He was stressing. He was beginning to 'give up'. I followed his gaze once more, then went over to him, took him out of the carrier, and set him down near the floor-length windows.
   Little miracles are something carers treasure, and one took place there in front of me.
   Donald, as I'd come to call him, rolled a bit, but soon found his legs and made his wobbly way over to where he could see the view outside. The 'miracle', was the immediate change in his eyes, his face, his behaviour, and from then on, he became livelier and more attentive to all others in the room.
   So, Lesson 1 with baby pigeons is: understand and compromise. Lesson 2: Never contain baby pigeons. They need to be free.

   In my next blog, DONALD Part 2, Donald surprises me.....and I surprise Donald.

Saturday, 17 May 2014



   There are so many aspects in wildlife caring, no less in being a carer for one overall species, as I was -- for birds.
   A favourable part of that whole involvement, is when you release birds, either young juveniles you've hand-reared yourself, or others which have been injured or sick.
   Adults of the latter circumstances are, as often as possible, released back into their own territory, as many of them have partners or families to return to. First-time releases are found suitable areas where all of their needs are taken into account and, very importantly, where they'll be as safe as possible from predators or other birds which may prove to be unfriendly.
   I had a call from our wildlife shelter, concerning a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita, 46 - 50cm), they'd had for a few weeks. He'd been slightly injured, but had fully recovered. The problem though, was that none of our experts could assess whether he'd been a captive bird, or one from the wild. This is usually very easy to tell, regardless of what species the bird is.
   So with much trepidation at first, back-pedalling to a tentative agreement amongst themselves, the shelter's main body decided this bird could be released. He'd been found in my area, so I was asked to collect him and take him back to the same place he'd come from.
   An hour later, having made the pick-up, I took out the large carrier from my car, next to a very expansive parkland, which acted as a divide between two suburbs.
   In the distance, I could see a childs' playground and from there, various pathways had been designed for walkers. Running through the centre of the entire area, (some half a mile long), was a creek with no fencing alongside, but left in a sunken, craggy, natural state. The width of land each side of the creek was about 50 metres.
   Following their squawks, I could see 40 - 50 Cockatoos feeding in a couple of trees directly opposite me, and about 20 metres away from the other side of the creek.
   So far, so good. It looked like being a good release and as is the procedure, I set the carrier down to wait for a while, as the bird I'd brought picked up the sounds of the others. In fact,  he did this very fast and began making a few squawks of his own.
   This, of course, got the attention of the feeders, and most of them stopped eating, and turned towards the newcomer's direction.
   I waited another few minutes, anxiously taking note of the flock's movements, but they seemed calm and no adverse vocals or behaviour were evident. And so I opened the carrier door and stood back.
   What should have happened, was that the bird fly over to the others. He didn't. Instead, he ran in a crazy, excited way to the edge of the ground that sloped down to the creek. He stood for a few seconds, contemplating the descent, then seemed to jump over and out of my sight.
   I ran across and looked down, seeing him standing on a dirt mound at the edge of the water. While I looked around, trying to find a safe way for me to go down and retrieve this bird who obviously couldn't fly, he began calling out to his peers.
   It was a pitiful call he was making. He knew he couldn't fly, and he knew he couldn't cross over to the others because of the water.
   Before I could make my way down to him, I heard the heavy, powerful sound of Cockatoo wings, and looked up to see that three of them had left the trees and were flying to the helpless newcomer.
   They flew low over him, calling and flying on upwards behind him in the same path he'd gone down. They flew in an arc, and crossed back over the creek again, but without stopping, returned to him and flew up behind him once more. This time, they landed in a nearby tree and the new arrival jump-climbed his way back up from the creek, and crossed over to the tree. Hitching himself by beak and feet alternatively, he climbed the trunk until he reached the first, low branch where his three rescuers were perched.
   As soon as he had managed to nearly reach them, they flew back to their flock.
   The released bird seemed a little confused by his new position and me, finally shaking myself out of a state of amazement, realized that somehow, I had to get the bird down from the tree. This had all seemed to have happened so fast, and I chided myself many times after, for not coming to my senses and catching him before he made his climb.
   Nevertheless, there it was -- the bird's problem solved and now one for me.
   Retrieving him wasn't too difficult. I saw a government worker cutting grass on a ride-on mower, and after signing to him to turn the machine off, I asked if he could ride it down to where the bird was, so I could use it as a makeshift ladder.
   Breaks in monotonous jobs always seem to be welcome, and within 20 minutes, the mower had been converted from razer to rescuer.
   Before another hour had passed, the Cockatoo was back at the shelter and happy enough to be with the other fourteen Cockatoos he'd spent the previous few weeks with.
   These majestic birds, doomed to spend a possible 80+ years away from the life they were meant for.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014



   I mentioned three species of birds in "The Food-Share" blog which team up and chase Sparrowhawks away from suburban areas:
1: Australian Magpie...37-44 cm
    (Gymnorhina tibicen)
2: Pied Currawong...42-49 cm
     (Strepera graculina)
3: Magpie-lark, (or Pee Wee)...26-30 cm
     (Grallina cyanoleuca)
   As an example of this teamwork, I'll describe one particular event I watched in its entirety.
   Firstly, the setting: In front of my house is a huge elm tree. Its most important duty is to provide sleeping quarters when the annual, large crèche of juvenile Starlings arrive.
   Each year, they come from the state of Victoria, in the southern end of Australia, and coincide with the ripening of fruit on my 8metre fig tree.
   They reach here as dull, plain-looking, first-time migratory travellers, with a couple of 'carers' and they stay until the figs are almost gone, and by which time  they've grown their beautiful metallic-coloured feathers.
   My tale here though, occured in early spring and includes a number of Common Mynahs (Acridotheres tristis) - an invasive, introduced species, which plays havoc with nests of native birds, removing eggs, and taking over the nests for their own use. This attracts environmental advocates who capture and euthanase them.
   The mynahs are 24cm and a perfect size prey for a Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrhocephalus), 30-40cm, (in fact I've witnessed a number of "catches").
   One afternoon, I heard a commotion outside my house. I followed the piercing alarm calls of Pee Wees, until I was under, and looking up into, the inner branches of the elm tree.
   Two Pee Wees I knew to have a nest nearby, (and apparently then unattended), were noisily objecting to the presence of a Sparrowhawk, quite close to them, and standing on a branch beside the limp body of a mynah.
   The Sparrowhawk had been interrupted before eating his catch, but something in the world of natural laws, makes the hawks very wary - even afraid - of the smaller Pee Wees. Whether this is to due to the similar colouring of the Magpies, or their piercing vocals, is up for discussion.
   I stood there for some minutes, the scene above not changing at all and then, slowly coming from the south, a responding Pee Wee call could be heard. As it grew louder, I stepped out from beneath the tree and saw two more Pee Wees flying towards the drama in progress. And the most amazing thing was, that between them, was a Currawong.
   The two smaller birds had brought help!
   When the three newcomers entered the tree's foliage, the first Pee Wee pair immediately left, flying back in the direction of their nest. And seeing the arrival of the Currawong, the Sparrowhawk edged away, finding another branch well back, but not quite willing as yet, to leave his catch behind.
   The new Pee Wees continued the alarm calls and the Currawong, instead of  solely attempting to scare off the predator, instead, spotted the body of the mynah.
   Currawongs alone aren't killers, but they are always interested in eating.
   At this point, about 20 minutes had passed and as I looked at the Currawong move in on the mynah, with the Sparrowhawk looking on helplessly nearby, there came more calls from the distant skies.
   Within just a few more minutes, a battalion of vocal, winged soldiers had arrived. Magpies and Currawongs, accompanied by more Pee Wees, had come en masse.
   This time, the Sparrowhawk did decide to forgo his meal, and as fast as he could, left the tree behind and flew north, followed by a very large, noisy protective comradeship.
   Within less than two more minutes,  peace was again mine.
   The parent pair were back at the job of feeding their chick, the Sparrowhawk chase had almost disappeared in the distance, and the only movement in the tree was the Currawong feasting on the mynah. He was in the company of another of his kind, who'd chosen to miss the excitement of the chase in favour of a free meal.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014



   Within two years, the change has been devastating. A complete violation of nature once more, where a bio diverse system has been destroyed. And by what? By a group of so-called forward-thinking architects and planners who designed and built a new suburb of nature-friendly constructions for environmentally aware residents.
   Such a nature-aware lot of humans, that the first thing I notice when looking over at this new development, is that there isn't even a single tree in sight. And so, therefore, no birds either.
   During this time of oft-repeated violation of nature, the kookaburras, who had previously had a north-south hunting behaviour, now are attuned to east-west. And this being due to their integration with Australian ravens in a pine plantation on the western end of the green space. I hear Barney and his family "laughing" from different directions along its length. Their hunting now, of course, is much reduced of prey and the days when I hear them are very few.
   Sparrowhawks have also been forced to look further a-field, and this has resulted to almost daily visits to my suburb. Now, because of this, the suburban magpies, currawongs and pee wees (as the species who don't take kindly to hawks), give noisy chase to the predators while garden birds, who are the potential prey, flee to hiding places.
   And so, trying to add a little assistance here, I practice a "food-share" as often as I can.
   Because of the many backyard compost piles, aviaries and chicken coups in the suburb, mice are an unappreciated addition. As secretive as they are though, those which chose my pigeons' aviary as a source of nocturnal nourishment, were silly enough to give away the whereabouts of their breeding sites.
   Giving them the benefit of a free feast, by way of a cute little contraption the mice can't resist climbing into, (only to find they can't get out of), I catch as many of the little horrors as I can. Then, as they're still alive, I release them on the green space. In fact, I aim the contraption towards the new suburb, and 'fling' the glad-to-get-away critters in that direction. Come night, when they're fully active, and the highway is devoid of most traffic, the most adventurous survivors among them, will cross over to a new life.
   Everyone's happy.
   The mice are happy to be free of imprisonment. The magpies hunting in the area are immediately alerted and happy. The kookaburras will have an opportunity to feast as well....and the new suburbanites, I'm sure, will be happy to be made aware that nature has provided them with a visiting challenge.
   And I'm happy too. Smugly delighted with joyful revenge.

Sunday, 4 May 2014


     THE FOOD-SHARE: Part 1
   Across fom my house, there's a wide "green space" that travels along the rear of two suburbs. It has diverse terrain, centred with a track for walkers and the occasional (illegal) motor vehicles and trail bikes. Steep hills, interspersed with high, flat stretches, make for interesting walks, and one which many local birds bring chicks to for survival lessons.
   Immediately in front of my house is a long plateau at the top of a slight hill. Not visible from the house and travelling alongside the entire green space, is a busy 4-lane highway that lays at the bottom of a steep drop.
   On the far side of the highway, previous open country had gone on well into the distance. Since living here, new suburbs have been built through areas to my north, but all had been too far and too hidden to see.
   Until two years ago.
   The undeveloped land next to the highway and across from me, was a huge area that was home to a kookaburra I called Barney, and his extended family.
   Many bird species are sociable and form groups, but when a group of kookaburras appears, chances are that they're all related.
   I named Barney when he suddenly began appearing in my backyard every afternoon. Always alone, and always leaving at least five or six family members on the power lines in front of my house. Barney turned up at the same time each day I'd taken to throw out pieces of meat for visiting magpies.
   Eventually, the magpies moved on, but Barney kept coming daily for three years. And then, just as suddenly as he began, he stopped coming. I feared the worst, but then heard him and his family "laughing" in the vicinity.
   The reason for his altered routine, was the appearance of bulldozers in his territory. Men and machines had moved in and begun clearing Barney's ancestral grounds. This wasn't only a catastrophe for the kookaburras, but also sparrowhawks, the occasional eagle, and many migratory birds that stayed for the spring/summer season, feasting on various offerings of the native trees and shrubs.
   There was also the sheer joy of seeing the annual visitors produce chicks and nuture them in an area which would imprint itself onto them for life. In following years, again and again, I've seen the same birds return, and watch as they circle the area around my home, as a sign of recognition when they arrive.
   And so, what the bulldozers represented, was nothing less than a tragedy.
                •••••( End of Part 1)•••••