As many of you are aware Australia is host to some of the deadliest snakes and spiders in the world. We also have the deadliest bird, found in Far North Queensland, the large flightless Southern Cassowary and yes, it is very wary of humans, and so humans should be of it as many have died from its razor central claw and being repeatedly jumped on by this bird. Thankfully our close encounter with this bird in the wild was peaceful.
Australia has one of the world’s most aggressive native bird families, The Miners. These include the most aggressive Noisy Miner followed by the Bell Miner, Yellow-throated Miner and Black-eared Miner. Recent research on the both the troublesome Noisy and Bell Miner in particular reveal the very tight and organised social structure of family and flock groups which has led to their rapid increase in numbers and breeding success.
The specialized and extremely organised defenders of the territory known as the coalition use techniques of numbers, noise, back biting, mobbing and general harassment to ward off unwanted intruders. This has created a problem for many smaller honeyeaters and insectivorous passerines, which are excluded from areas around human habitation. A coalition may be one to 12 birds at a time, depending on how many can be called in when the alarm is raised. This lone Kookaburra is attacked by a lone Miner, but is unsuccessful in removing it. Kookaburras are one of our most placid birds and they are one of the few birds which give in to Miner aggression.
The alpha male Magpie in any territory will usually not be attacked, for fear of injury. The very intelligent, skilled, well trained Magpie, likewise from a very tight organised family social structure, has one of the hardest and dangerous beaks and is not afraid to use it on any bird that crosses it. The brave Noisy Miner will however confront and attack Magpies when the perceived safety of its young are is stake, as seen here. But the Miner knows it is a risk when going it alone without the coalition’s assistance.
The similarities in organisational structure of Miners and Magpies and how they have diversity of caring for and training their young as well as defending their territory is well documented.
However in recent weeks I have seen my local Noisy Miner coalition, which drink and bathe daily in my bird baths, mob and drive out several very large birds, holding them up in the same large eucalypt tree, near their nests. You may remember some of these photos from recent posts, but here is the most recent of a lone Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo mobbed by a sizable coalition.
They pair for life and would normally be in a family group to breed or large flock. Like others of the Parrot family, this one (below) may have lost its partner (having become deceased), or its flock or be excommunicated from the flock for some reason. Watch how the miners mob this bird which is quite stressed. Notice a large number on nearby branches watching on. I apologise for the poor images as these were from my movie camera on a rainy day. My birding camera is still in repair waiting for parts. It is also the top of a very tall tree from a distance (hence camera shake to get focus).
Stress caused by Miner mobbing has been reported to contribute to bird deaths and low breeding rates in other small passerines frequently attacked by Miners. Miners can actually starve birds of their food source in some cases where food is scarce. Miner flocks may fight with other nearby Miner flocks over territory, and attempt excluding them, which creates quite noisy battles, but these occasions may create opportunities for mates to be found. Here are several species being harassed by miners.
Look at the stress and fear in the eyes of the Eastern Rosella (below) which is under attack. You might realize that many of these birds under attack are much larger and able to ward off these Miners but flight speed, numbers, back biting and brute boldness and courage are in the Miner’s favour. Their loyalty to the flock is unrivaled.
Here are two Bell Miners attacking a Little Wattlebird, but it stands its ground.
Research into forest die-back has shown that Bell Miners ( incorrectly known as Bellbirds) are responsible, due to their territorial exclusion policy towards other insectivorous birds, in particular the Pardolote. This results in eucalypt trees within their territory suffering leaf stress and dying prematurely. This is due to a very sought after food source among passerines called Lerps (bird sugar candy) which they extract with their tongues from the protective coating on psyllid larvae, but leave the psyllid larvae. The larvae emit a substance toxic to the leaf leaving brown dead patches on eucalypt leaves which many of us see on fallen leaves. By keeping the trees to themselves and harvesting the Lerps they ensure a constant food source for their young and themselves. Note below the many dead spots on the leaves due to their exclusion of larvae eating birds, and note the white lerps being extracted.
The Noisy Miner is bold when confronting humans and other large animals. I have been attacked while protecting a girls dog from being bitten. Another act of boldness is at open air cafes where they are constantly a menace for staff on tables. One actually landed on my table about six inches away from me and looked at my meal. I soon sent it hopping.
Lastly, view the footage of this Noisy Miner brutally attacking itself (or at least its own image) in the rear vision mirror of my car. Notice the tenacity, relentlessness, commitment to purpose, driven by its loyalty to the clan.
One could ask how such a small bird could hold so much control and intimidate so many much larger birds, large animals and humans. Courage, Conviction and Constancy to protect family and friends will always make this bird a winner. From a very different perspective, the testimony of the many heroes throughout the ages who while humbly acknowledging their human vulnerability, because of their commitment of Love and Loyalty to Family and Friends, displayed extreme acts of valour and selfless sacrifice putting their lives on the line in the face of extreme danger. This is the testimony of our thousands of brave Fire Fighters and support teams who in the recent disastrous fires put themselves between the blazing inferno of an all consuming firestorm and the lives and property of many helpless families and fellow citizens. We acknowledge their bravery and are extremely thankful for all who daily put themselves in danger to protect and care for our communities.
We can know peace in the midst of turmoil and loss when we realize that there is One greater than the uncontrollable droughts, heatwaves, fires and floods that are common to Australia. My peace and joy rest in the knowledge that My Ever Present Creator knows me and loves me and wants me to know his love and become intimately acquainted with him, as he is already with me, not just in times of trouble but in all aspects of my life’s journey. You can explore more about this here.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
“Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” – Psalm 50:15
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1
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