Australia hosts some of the worlds most deadly snakes and spiders, as well the most dangerous bird, the Southern Cassowary, which has also caused death and injury. However, in Spring each year one’s friendly neighborhood Australian Magpie joins the list during nesting season. What is normally a very friendly bird allowing close contact becomes an aggressive vicious villain to avoid coming anywhere close to its territory around the nest which male relatives closely guard(around 100m diam area). It is interesting that these clever birds see humans as such a threat considering their nest is high in a eucalypt tree away from our interest. Unlike the Masked Lapwing which is notorious for attacking humans and animals that pass over its open nesting field, there appears no logic to the Magpies concern, and the extent of its aggression.
Those who have purchased my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ will know that Magpies are very intelligent, in fact, one of the most intelligent of birds. They have a very well organised social and family structure, and are very aware and capable survivors. Presently groups are gathering as the alpha male is established who will win the right to mate with present females, though for some the nesting process has already begun due to our early Spring. In Sydney we have the North Eastern Black-backed subspecies, whereas the states in the far south mainland have the southern and south western white-backed subspecies. The Magpie has some of the most successful survival techniques, similar to the Australian Raven.
the fight to be alpha
The alpha male when established will mate with the females in the group and after the nest is built will spend much of its time feeding the female(s) who will remain on the nest till nestlings appear, after which the responsibility to feed and train the babies will be the male and his male relatives, while the female has a break. The logic is that the clever Magpie is aware of the Cuckoos always trying to invade their nest to plant surrogate eggs, so to prevent this the female stays on the nest most of the time.
Male Australian Magpie feeding its chicks
The courting procedure is played out in full view of the group, as intimate foreplay. The female surrenders to the male making herself very vulnerable and he shows affection, just like we do. I featured the Little Corella here some months ago doing a similar thing in the flock. It is interesting that the water meter became the centre point of their love making.
It is after all this that the trouble starts for all who pass their way. A ruthless guard is placed over the surrounding area to all birds, animals and humans. Their aggression is mainly toward those running or riding bikes as their speed suggests a threat, though as you shall see from my photos below just walking slowly is also deemed a threat by the more aggressive Magpies. This swooping and continuous attacking will occur while one is their guarded zone, and fast exit is wise. A week ago a man was riding his bicycle in a town south of Sydney when he was suddenly attacked by a Magpie, his bicycle hit a post, causing him to fall, his injuries were so bad that he died. Local councils are urged to erect signs in danger areas. The problem is, if you are not already aware of a danger zone, you sometimes do not know you are being attacked until you feel it bite your ear or cut your face, as they swoop so suddenly and accurately.
As part of my research I placed myself in the danger zone of one particularly dangerous Magpie, which I witnessed injuring at least two people and scaring others. I personally allowed myself to be deliberately attacked on several occasions but did not get injured due to my quick action and awareness. The man below was walking through the attack zone and received a bleeding bitten ear lobe from an sudden swoop. In some council areas these birds have had to be taken out or destroyed as too many people are injured or emotionally damaged, especially if it occurs along a frequented footpath.
To get some idea of how focused and obsessed the attacking Magpie is with performing the task, take a look at these pics. Click on them to enlarge, though they are taken from a distance.
Consider this video I took, being the only successfully filmed movie attack caught . At first in normal speed followed by slow motion. It is filmed all the way from the Magpies tree to me.
This poor man was a victim in an open field with nothing to protect himself with. In the end, the only way he could stop the constant attack was to sit down on the grass, where he did not pose a threat, but the determined Magpie sat watching him from a few feet away, determined to take his commission to guard duty most seriously.
The Australian Magpie should probably have been named the Pied Magpie, as when compared to the European variety it lacks colour and is only black and white, but since it is named the Australian Magpie it may not be necessary. Compare these…
White-backed Magpie female
White-backed Magpie male
Black-backed Magpie male
Male and female Black-backed Magpie
Immature Magpie gaining more mature plumage
Imagine having this face looking at you from close range within a danger zone…
Interesting enough this was one place where another aggressive bird, hated for its aggression, the Noisy Honeyeater, actually came to my assistance and chased the naughty Magpie, taking its attention off me. Even the Noisy Miner were not going to let the Magpie be the meanest, as they hold that reputation all year round.
My wisdom thought for this occasion was the picture below. The rogue Magpie sitting on watch above a road sign telling people that a refuge island is located in the middle of the busy road, right in view of the Magpie’s gaze. This would be the very least place to take refuge, exposed and very visible. Normally this would be a safe place to stand when crossing the road, but something has changed, and for several weeks it may actually be a danger zone for the unsuspecting, regardless what the sign says. How important it is for us to be aware of and wise to present danger. Many people young and old are walking around with their head bowed over an electronic communication device, unaware of present danger. Many more are causing serious accidents themselves, walking onto busy roads without stopping to look, being lost in an artificial world where many seek encouragement and validation to medicate what may be low self confidence. This addiction has made necessary new challenges and therapies in counseling. Many have died on our state roads due to people texting while driving. A call to be vigilant and present in the now. Mindful of what is occurring around oneself. I often have people near where I live, walking into me on the wrong side of the footpath, or just about to because they are lost in space, cyber space. Distractions like these can be deadly so the call is to Be Alert ! and present in the now, and avoid anything that distracts you from the true purpose and activities of life.
“Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8
Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you.” – Mark 13:5
Have a wonderful week! Enjoy each precious moment and give thanks for it and for the gift of life itself.
‘What Birds Teach Us’ is available on my BirdBook page.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.
Continuing from last weeks Birding tour of the red centre around Ayers Rock (Uluru) in central Australia, my wife and I set out mid-morning in 35°C heat to do the popular Mala Walk (named after the Mala people its original inhabitants) along the western side of the The Rock. We were immediately alerted to the loud noisy chatter of huge flocks Zebra Finch in an alarm flurry moving from tree to tree. This made us curious as to why all the comotion. Our first thought as always is to look for a raptor in the sky, but none was seen, and then we spotted nearby in a tree what appeared to be the cause, a beautiful Collared Sparrowhawk (so we think after much checking of features). The reason being, this bird is easily mistaken for a Brown Goshawk. We saw several of these birds on the walk…
A more experienced birder on raptors may choose to differ. The questions to ask are is it a glare or a stare? Is the tail rounded or square? Is the middle toe greatly or mildly extended? etc etc. My wife and I laboured over this bird with various books and photos for over an hour and remain open to either name, whatever it be for us is another lifer. We even conceded that we may have seen both species of bird, as they are both found here. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Oh yes, back to those Zebra Finches, from left to right, female and male in the foreground. These tiny birds can exist in huge flocks and live well in the desert eating grass seed and flying insects. The lack of water here has possibly caused them to flock during Spring. Zebra Finch are being used all over the world in current research into bird intelligence, due to their easy breeding and learning skills. Here are some the shots we took of the flock, it was too difficult to catch movie clips of them.
Zebra Finch (4males+1female)
A flock of finches is called a charm of Finches, and charm us they did! There excited call was quite loud as they passed by in flight, like little bullets shooting through the air.
Charm of Zebra Finches Uluru
Charm of Zebra Finches resting
Interesting as it is Finches, Budgerigars and some Parrots do very well in the hot arid desert regions. But some of the comoner birds seen on the south east coast of the continent are also here. This includes two subspecies (races) of Magpie, the Black-backed and White-backed, the latter being found mainly in Southern states of Australia.
White-backed Magpie female
The Pied Butcherbird, Magpie-lark (PeeWee), Crested Pigeon and of course, Willy Wagtail (which we see every where we go in Australia) were also found here.
It was lovely to see the male Mistletoebird in several locations around the resort and the rock. There was quite a lot of mistletoe growing in the desert gums. We did not see the female, so maybe she was nesting. We see this bird from time to time west of the coast.
The only parrot we saw was the Galah, which was in small flocks grazing at the resort grounds on grass seed. These are usually in large flocks in central as well as coastal regions, but more so inland.
As the morning heated up and became midday, we noticed this woodswallow alone in a tree, and on closer view realised we had sited another lifer, a Black-faced Woodswallow. .
Nearby we saw a pair of Dusky Woodswallow sitting on a dead branch in the heat. Woodswallows also survive well in arid regions of Australia, being mostly insectivorous. These birds are often seen huddled snuggly together in a row on dead branches.
Last week I showed a slide-show of the various colour changes of Uluru throughout the day. Here are some of the unusual rock formations found around the base of the rock. See how coarse the rock is. It is said that if a person falls off it, by the time they reach the ground below their skin is so stripped from them they are unidentifiable. These caves served as shelters for the traditional inhabitants. Climbing the rock (a very sacred site to its original inhabitants) is not appreciated by the indigenous community, and is only allowed under perfect still clear weather conditions. Climbing the rock will be banned from October 2019.
Early the next morning we drove some 52 km from the resort to Kata Tjuta (known as the Olgas) another beautiful vista of rock similar to Uluru, much of which lies beneath the desert. It is the arkose rock, course grained sandstone rich in feldspar that gives it is magical luminary properties. We were wanting to beat the rain storm and check out Walpa Gorge for birds. There is usually water in the gorge stream but it was dry. Here is some shots of Kata Tjuta…
Despite the dryness birds could be heard flying about mainly the Grey-headed and White-plumed Honeyeater I showcased last week. There were several nests in trees at the mouth of the gorge.
The wind blew relentlessly as we walked into the gorge at around 30 to 40 km/hr, we could barely stand up and walk forward. Finally in the gorge the wind passed over. We saw this desert wild flower growing up out of bare rock.
After much pursuit we finally tracked down our last lifer, a quite unexpected find, this Western Bowerbird. At first I saw the female hiding in a tree some distance in the gully. She eventually saw me and flew into the gorge to thicker inaccessible thich bush.
As we watched we saw a smaller flash of bright yellow follow beneath the same bush, which we thought to be a juvenile. Within seconds a larger bird flew and landed in view, with its back to us, watching us, just in front of the bush which may have housed the nest. I only managed to get these shots of him. Note the male below has a pink nuchal crest, which is smaller in females and not present in juveniles.
Recent research has shown that these bowerbirds are sensitive to the ultra violet end of the light spectrum, enabling them to greater visual appreciation than we have. Similar to the Great and Spotted Bowerbird it decorates its bower with white objects like shells, feathers and pebbles or anything it can steal from humans.
It was lovely seeing the floral emblem of the Northern Territory, the Sturt’s Desert Rose flowering while we were there. This flower appears on their state flag, as does the Southern Cross star formation peculiar to our southern skies. This can be seen well here and the huge white ribbon of the Milky Way on a dark desert night.
Sturt’s Desert Rose
Northern Territory flag
Lastly let me show a sunset during a desert storm over Kata Tjuta…
To finish our desert birding adventure, we ponder on the Sparrowhawk/Goshawk sitting quietly in the tree watching the Zebra Finches. We know that Finches are food for the raptor and that by flying in flock (as a charm) they are protecting themselves. They must listen carefully to the call of the flock, sometimes in frequencies outside our perception to know when to fly and perch, it could be a matter of life and death. They seek out water and food as a flock even as the streams and ponds are dry, they survive and flourish together. This confuses the raptor as he looks for a stray member or sick bird to pluck from the flock.
No one is ‘a rock or island’ in response to Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock. We are all vulnerable when alone, we need to have a charm or flock of good friends and people around us who encourage and help lead us into good places in life. I once heard a helpful hint which I share as a counselling help: Always make sure your Balcony friends or acquaintances outnumber your Basement ones. This means keep check that the people who you spend time with and speak into your life and share experiences with are more the encouraging, helpful sharing type than the selfish, needy. use and abuse negative type. If they are negative it may be you who needs to speak positivly into their life to help them correct their behaviour, as a true friend should.
“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:6
“The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” – Proverbs 12:26 (NLT)
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9
“There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17
Have a wonderful week my dear friends. Just to let you know I have been asked to stay on in my medical work for another month to assist in training staff, so I am waiting to see what God has for me at the end of the year. This has delayed both my transition to partial retirement and also the writing my second book, which will most likely be an ebook. The bird guiding proposition appears to have fallen by the way.
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I was greatly blessed to receive a very extensive review of my new book “What Birds Teach Us” in a post by Jen an American blogger who purchased my book here online recently: “Birds, Blooms and all things Beautiful”
You might like read it (click on link above) and also read more reviews and information and purchase your copy through the security of PayPal on my BirdBook page.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018