While spending time with family in Canberra (our nation’s capital) last weekend we encountered small flocks of White-winged Chough (pronounced chuff)in pine forests on two occasions. Most Australians know little about this bird and often think it is a crow or raven when viewed from a distance, and so they never bother to investigate.
This bird is not in the Corvid family at all, and is in its own peculiar category Corcorax, having more in common with the Apostlebird as far as its behaviour. The bright red eye of the adult and curved beak, long tail, distinct white on either side of wing primaries (seen only in flight) and harsh raspy call make it quite identifiable.
Listen to their continuous call as this group communicate while foraging especially juveniles with adults. Sadly the loud cackling sound of the Noisy Friarbirds can be heard also in the background making it difficult to detect their raspy call.
These birds are always found in family groups of up to 10 birds, as are the Apositlebirds. They are ground grazers, feeding mainly on insects and seeds by foraging, flicking leaf litter with its beak. They seldom need to fly, except to escape danger. This footage was taken with my movie camera as my birding camera remains in hospital waiting for parts to arrive. The ambiance of the pine forest adds to the peace and tranquility of this place.
Choughs prefer to run away from human approach rather than fly, with flight a last option. They maintain a close group formation and never going far from each other, even though they spread out at times to graze. The Apostlebird does much the same, but remain closer together as a group. You may see both Choughs and Apostlebirds grazing nearby each other.
Both these birds are mainly found west of the Great Dividing Range in the warmer dry open woodlands in the eastern states but not Tasmania or WA. The juveniles have a dark eye and dark beak and are raised by the family group.
Research on these birds has studied the unusual behaviour of this bird, in how it may kidnap and take captive juvenile birds from other family groups nearby. These captive birds become slaves and are basically sequestrated into the family for the purpose of benefiting from their service. It has been found that Choughs need helpers to breed successfully. Very small family groups appear to fail to have successful nestings. These birds build a large mud nest in a tree fork, requiring 5 to 10 birds to build, protect nest and incubate the eggs. It is very much a family effort, hence their aggressive manner in acquiring captives when the opportunity arises.
Similar to Magpies, during the first few years to maturity the young Chough will learn by watching intently the adult mentor appointed them. Note the eye of the immature slowly changing from dark to red. This eye colour may mean 1 to 2 years of age. Notice how it copies the adult preening, and is watching me out of the corner of its eye. Here you can see the hidden white wing tips revealed in the adult bird.
There is often aggressive tension between family groups, as they attempt to drive away would be kidnappers, or attempt to add to their own group. Most aggression takes the form of display battles where the members of each group fly into a tree and line up along opposing branches. They then perform the wing-wave-tail-wag display in which they maximize exposure of the white tips of their wings and their fanned tails, engorge their eyes with blood, and call repeatedly for around 10 to 20 minutes, resulting one group being chased away by the other. (Rowley 1978).
Before making our way home we stopped in to the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, a place we visit most times when in Canberra. However the effects of the long drought had caused much of the wetlands to dry up and after recent rain weeds have grown up and choked the wetland causing the waterbirds to relocate, which is disappointing as we usually see some good birds here.
As we made our way home past the usually dry expanse of Lake George we were delighted to find much water due to the recent torrential rain. A little further along and we stopped near a pine forest, and it was here that we saw these Choughs and this Kookaburra quietly enjoying the ambiance of this beautiful vista. I love the light through these trees and the peacefulness. Walking among tall trees is beneficial for ones health, both stress relieving and blood pressure lowering.
The White-winged Chough and Apostlebird highlight the importance of family and community involvement for the survival and successful breeding of the flock. This is just as important in human welfare and survival also. While making slaves of the young is sometimes an essential practice of the Chough, it was also a practice of the wealthy in England during the industrial revolution days, taking advantage of the poor families, working on coffee plantations overseas or children in the poor houses crawling through coal mines in England. It is not a practice to be condoned in any way as acceptable today. We are thankful that caring Christian men and woman such as William Wilberforce in the late 1700s, and George Muller in the 1800s were devoted to helping liberate and give hope to the poor and disadvantaged. Many today forget that it was caring kind people like these that contributed to the freedom and lifestyle that many of us enjoy today. The greed of man not only enslaves and makes captive those who serve the wealthy, out of necessity to live, as is the experience of many today with mortgages and young families to support, but more so it enslaves the wealthy in the web of their own demise in breaking the 10th Commandment: The addictiveness of Covetousness. The issue is not that one is wealthy, for this is a blessing, but that one puts the attaining of wealth as their god and prime purpose. This is why: the love of money is the root of all evils and not money itself as many have misquoted.
My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” – Psalm 35:10 (NIV)
Isaiah the prophet’s message to Israel about 700BC warning them that though they appeared religiously and socially to be acting out all what they believed to be proper and acceptable behaviour, in daily life, under cover, many were oppressing the poor and taking advantage of them. God saw this and was going to address their duplicitous behaviour. The blessing of a nation in God’s eyes, rests on how it cares for widows, orphans and foreigners.
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless…” – Isaiah 10:1,2
If this is your first visit to my blog, why not check out the rest of my website at my HomePage menu for birding info and lessons we can learn from our beautiful Australian birds. Also check out my soon to be released 2nd Edition of “What Birds Teach Us”. You can still purchase the last remaining copies of the 1st Edition if you want here.
Have an enjoyable week and stay safe! We are enjoying and giving thanks for the torrential rain we received recently, that after much prayer came unexpected since the gloomy long range forecasts saw none imminent. The experts had said no rain till May but God had other plans for his people because he does answer the cry of his people. Easing the heat, stopping the winds, filling our dams and putting out the fires.
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