Tag: birds

Feeding the birds

We first noticed the arrival of a pair of turtle doves on our property around three years ago. Since I knew the species isn’t native to Tasmania I wondered where they’d come from. Their distinctive cooing call reminded me of visits to my grandmother’s home in the south of England when growing up. The birds weren’t common in the North, or not where we lived anyway, so hearing the gentle coo coo always takes me back to the lush rural landscape of Highclere, in the UK.

Nowadays though that pair of turtle doves has grown to over 20 birds, so as well as being successful in the breeding department, they’ve clearly worked out where their bread is buttered. Or where there’s likely to be a feed of grain. It no doubt comes with having a few chooks, and the doves – along with various parrots, eastern rosellas and sparrows – have clocked on to when breakfast is served at our place.
Finding food in winter is always a challenge for many bird species, especially those who rely on seeds, flowers or insects for their sustenance. These are all scarce during the colder months, but even so we can’t remember quite so many birds turning up at chook meal times before.

I’m conflicted about feeding wild birds regularly, although have been obliged to turn a blind eye to John feeding the small troupe of magpies on a daily basis. We inherited the magpies with the property thanks to the previous owner feeding them. At least I’ve encouraged him to reduce their feeds to once a day rather than two.

But as it’s winter, and recognising finding food is tough, we’ve relented enough this year to buy a bag of seed designed for wild birds. To be honest it looks pretty similar to the mixed grain ‘muesli’ seed the chooks have, but at the moment after I’ve walked Della dog, I now juggle two containers of grain in my hands each morning. One for the chooks, and another for the doves, sparrows and rosellas that are swinging on the wire and waiting patiently and optimistically for their share. At least there’s no squabbling and they all seem quite happy to mingle as they peck away.

Humans could learn a lot from their behaviour.

When it comes to pollination – don’t forget the birds

We are frequently reminded about the importance of bees when it comes to pollinating flowers, vegetables and fruits. But while most people these days are aware of the critical role bees play in pollination, birds are just as crucial and many bird species are struggling to survive.

Climate change is a threat for birds globally, just as it is for us all. Rising temperatures, and more frequent extremes of dry and wet seasons that lead to floods and bushfires are all affecting birds’ ability to feed and breed successfully, and even just survive. Additional threats are human activity, deforestation and land clearing, invasive species, and predation – in particular by domestic and feral cats.

Certainly in Tasmania the threat of habitat loss from land clearing and logging is right up there, with iconic species like the swift parrot, masked owl and wedgetail eagle under severe pressure of becoming extinct. Introduced species like sparrows, blackbirds and starlings are also aggressively displacing smaller native species in the fight for food and nesting sites. It’s no wonder our native bird species are at risk. Adding to the stress in both urban and regional areas is the increase in light and noise pollution at night. These stimulants can disturb birds’ feeding, and sleeping habits, and ultimately their breeding cycles.

As though bird populations don’t have enough to contend with, a further threat to their survival is the latest iteration of avian influenza, or bird ‘flu. European ornithologists, conservationists and scientists spoke out publicly about this potentially catastrophic threat to birds recently. The only regions that continue to remain free of the most recent strain of the H5N1 virus, are Australia and the Antarctic, but this isn’t expected to last. The rapid spread of infection, and the fact so many bird populations across the world have never previously experienced the virus, makes them particularly vulnerable.

What can we all do to help the survival of our local native bird populations – and help to minimise the biodiversity loss that the loss of birds would accelerate? Well, wherever you live a good start would be to plant more bird-friendly native bushes and trees. Native bushes, shrubs and trees can provide ideal habitat for some species, and the flowers and fruits are a vital food source, especially for some of our honeyeaters, parrots, and wattle birds. To help insect-eating bird species, consider limiting the hours the light outside your home at night is burning, or at least lower its brightness. Security is important of course, but so is the survival of our lovely birds. How shocking it would be if the scenario Rachel Carson wrote about in the 1960s, in her most well-known book ‘Silent Spring’, ever came to pass.

Photo credits: Wedge-tail eagle – Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary; Swift parrot – BirdLife Australia