Readers’ wildlife photos

February 11, 2023 • 8:15 am

We’re running low again, folks, so send in any good wildlife/travel/people photos you have. Remember, good ones! Thanks. Oh, and I want to thank all the readers who keep the photo tank full. All of us who appreciate these photos should give a hand to the contributors that keep this feature going nearly every day of the year—and that’s a lot of photo!

Today we have the first photos of a two-part series by Aussie reader Rodney Graetz. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Close to Home, part 1

Here are six photos of the wildlife that inhabit my suburban back yard, in Canberra, Australia. Canberra is nationally known as the ‘Bush Capital’ because it remains in touch with the natural world

A Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes), aka ‘Topknot’, probably female. With copper-coloured chest feathers, dark banding, iridescent wing patches and pink feet make these bird attractive to see and observe. Originally a bird of the plains, it has now widely and permanently moved into urban gardens, including ours.

A juvenile Crested Pigeon resting but alert threatened by my presence (about 5 metres away).  Crested Pigeons rarely have more than two offspring.

A very common backyard visitor is the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), a mid-sized black and white bird found almost everywhere across the continent.  The patterning of the plumage varies between ‘black-backed’ and ‘white-backed’ races.  This bird has mixed patterning, but the white back of neck indicates a male.

Being ground feeders and mostly insectivorous, they are well established in urban areas that provide trees for nesting and lawns for foraging, as this bird is doing.  They habituate slowly to the presence of people, or quickly and permanently, if fed.  Fiercely territorial, they will contest the ownership of your backyard against any intruders with noisy ground and aerial battles.

There is a temporary downside to magpies.  For a period of about five days, between completing the nest building and the female beginning to lay eggs, the male bird becomes extremely protective by attacking any territory intruders, including dogs, pedestrians, and particularly cyclists.

These attacks, known as ‘swooping’, involve the male bird coming in silently from behind, then noisily attacking the head, especially ear lobes.  Swooping is tolerated and managed by displaying temporary warning signs.  The birds appear to have a particular dislike of gaudily dressed cyclists sporting equally gaudy and menacingly shaped helmets.  Come the swooping season, October-November, cyclists protect themselves by decorating their helmets with cable ties, which have limited effectiveness, as shown here (photo extracted from a newspaper article).  When the swooping season ends, peaceful coexistence holds until next breeding season.

This long-tailed parrot species is a regular visitor throughout the year.  With the obvious name of Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans), it can always find fruits, as in this photo, or seeds, both provided by popular garden plants.  Both sexes are similar in size and plumage, but in the breeding season, September-December, the plumage colours intensify, especially the cobalt blue cheek patches.  As tree hollow nesters, they rarely can find suitable trees in the suburbs, so they temporarily depart to the woodlands of the neighbouring Nature Reserve, returning two months later with 2-4 mottled green and red offspring.

This bird with dead rat is a (Laughing) Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae),the largest bird in the Kingfisher family.  It is leaning backwards because out of shot on the right-hand side were three different birds (Currawongs) harassing the Kookaburra to make it drop the rat and flee.  They failed, and the Kookaburra, plus rat, flew away to the nearby woodland reserve where it would have repeatedly beaten the rat against a tree branch until the body was pulp, but intact, to be swallowed whole, headfirst.

The Kookaburra is an Australian iconic bird, widely known for its bizarre call – loud maniacal laughter – hence the original name of Laughing Jackass.  It is also admired as a pugnacious bird.  Weighing around just 350 grams (about 0.8 pounds), it will unhesitatingly attack, kill, and eat one-metre-long venomous snakes.

YouTube holds many videos of Kookaburra calls, and activities, such as befriending people with balconies and a supply of red meat, plus the legendary snake catching.

JAC:  Here’s a video of snake-catching. The video maker, “Oztralien”, gives these notes:

I didn’t realise this kookaburra was eyeing off a snake as I was filming it. The kookaburra suddenly darts out of a tree, catches the snake, beats it to death and eats it whole. There are a few videos on YouTube of kookaburras killing and eating snakes but I haven’t seen one to date of a kookaburra actually making the catch. I guess I got lucky 🙂

10 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. And idea on why the magpie would target the earlobes? A much smaller target, and I would think that an attack from behind would be enough to rattle a cyclist.

  2. I’d love to hear the loony laugh of the Kookaburra as well as that of the Australian Magpie, picked as Australians’ favorite bird. When I was about 12 and in summer camp (A Jewish camp) one of the songs we sang that wasn’t about Israel or Jewish life was about the kookaburra: Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he, laugh, kookaburra, laugh kookaburra, how gay your life must be. (There is a second verse too). Australia is a bird lover’s paradise because 1)the birds are amazingly tame; 2)there is almost no ground cover (shrubs, etc.) so birds perch in the open. You have to kick the parrots out of the way when you are hiking…..what a nuisance…..

  3. Neat critters in your neck of the woods. Thanks for the great photos and interesting commentary.

    Red/Blue is probably my favorite color combination, and that Crimson Rosella is a perfect example of how lovely the colors contrast. What a beautiful bird!

  4. These attacks, known as ‘swooping’, involve the male bird coming in silently from behind, then noisily attacking the head, especially ear lobes. 

    I’ve experienced the same behaviour with the local red-winged black-birds, the males become very aggressive during nesting.

    They especially do not like Tilley hats.

  5. The most magnificent sound to wake up to in the Australian bush is the sound of a magpie who roil their tongues around the morning and the kookaburra who laughs until you awake

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