A Mistletoebird pays a quick visit

Male Mistletoebird

Male Mistletoebird

Yesterday my wife and I were taking a short break from the jobs we had been doing. Sitting on our back veranda we were enjoying the lovely sunny spring weather we have had this week. It was afternoon tea time and we were enjoying a well deserved cup of tea. The back veranda has been a bit of a mess over the winter months and the weather has been too cold to spend too much time cleaning it up. Now that the spring weather is here we had a renewed enthusiasm for being outside.

While we sat there we enjoyed the constant parade of birds hopping around in the garden nearby. Many others were calling and we enjoy trying to identify them by call alone, a good way of honing one’s identification skills. Our resident Superb Fairy-wrens entertain us every day, as do the Mallee Ringneck parrots, the Eastern Rosellas and the Galahs. We can’t work out if the Galahs are actually nesting or not. The Spotted Turtledoves often join in the chorus and in recent days we have had the delight of Peaceful Doves also hanging around near the house.

As we sat there we were delighted to have a female Mistletoebird fly in and alight on a bush in full view just three metres from us. We were able to see the soft, dull grey colours of the feathers on her back, a stark contrast with the blue-black feathers of the male (see photo above). I didn’t have the camera handy, and the bird flew off after less than a minute, so I have shared a photo of the male taken some years ago. I do have one photo of the female, but unfortunately it is not in focus. Sigh.

I cannot categorically say that this is a resident species in our garden and on our 5 acre property, but it is certainly a regular visitor. I hear its call almost every week. Many years ago this was the first species to nest in one of the trees we planted after moving here. There may have been other species before it, but this was the first one we positively recorded doing this. The nest is a delicate pear-shaped container with a small entrance near the top. It is made primarily from spiders’ webs, small leaves, lichen and other soft materials, and hangs from small twigs or leaves. They are just coming into their breeding season, so I need to keep an eye open for a nest. This species is found throughout mainland Australia except in the driest regions. It is not present in Tasmania.

Further reading:


It’s nesting time again

Baby Willie Wagtails

Baby Willie Wagtails

It’s that time of year again in Australia – spring nesting season.

Birds everywhere are making nests, sitting on eggs in nests or feeding young just out of the nest. In southern Australia – the region I am most familiar with – the “spring” nesting season stretches from the winter months of July and August, through the entire season of spring (September – November) and even well into summer (December – January).

Having confused all of my overseas readers I should explain three things:

  • Most of the breeding occurs in the spring months.
  • Some species – like our honeyeaters – will nest multiple times, raising 2 or more broods a season.
  • Some species will even raise as many as five broods over a six month period.

Being late September nesting is in full swing here on our 5 acre (2 hectare) property in Murray Bridge,  South Australia. The following is a quick annotated list of those species I have observed in the breeding mode in recent weeks:

Willie Wagtail: our resident birds have been very quiet and I suspected that they had a nest somewhere but I only found it yesterday. It contained two eggs. The photo above shows a fluffy family of Willie Wagtails just out of the nest a few years ago.

New Holland Honeyeater: last week I saw two parent birds fussing over and feeding two fledglings just out of the nest and barely able to flutter, let alone fly.

Red Wattlebird: I saw one bird sitting on a nest high in one of our trees but haven’t checked it in recent days. Other wattlebirds in our garden are being bossier than usual, so I guess that there are young around somewhere.

House Sparrow (introduced species): they always seem to be mating and nesting, so nothing unusual there.

Common Starling (introduced): the resident dozen or so birds all seem to have taken up occupation of a number of tree hollows in our mallee scrub, but I haven’t yet heard the persistent calls of the nestlings begging to be fed.

Mallee Ringneck parrots: our resident birds were feeding young a month or so ago, and I have seen them constantly investigating a tree hollow. Earlier this week we saw two of them mating, so the next brood could be on the way soon.

Cuckoos: I haven’t seen any cuckoos yet this season but I have heard Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos calling several times, so they could possibly be nesting too.

Galah: I’m not sure what our Galahs are doing. They come to a hollow in an old growth mallee tree near our clothes line and enter the hollow every day but nothing else seems to be happening. This has happened now for several years so I will just have to keep an eye on proceedings.

Australian Magpie: this is a really puzzling one. The resident magpies showed all the right activities a few months ago when they defended their territory but since then everything has gone quiet. We daily see several birds feeding around the garden and in the paddock, but I have yet to locate a nest. Very strange.

I have highlighted just 9 species in this article. Over the last 30 years I have observed many more species either breeding, or feeding young, on our property. I am quite confident that there would be other species currently nesting somewhere here, possibly including:

  • Grey Shrike-thrush
  • Common Blackbird (introduced)
  • Spotted Turtledove (introduced)
  • Crested Pigeon
  • Yellow-rumped Thornbill
  • Weebill
  • Spotted Pardalote
  • Striated Pardalote
  • Mistletoebird
  • White-plumed Honeyeater
  • Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
  • Singing Honeyeater
  • Little Raven
  • Pacific Black Duck (they bring the ducklings to our swimming pool!
  • Superb Fairy-wren
  • Australian Magpie-lark
  • Grey Butcherbird

Further reading:

Click on the following article headings to read about successful breeding attempts in past years:

Southern Shoveller, Laratinga Wetlands

Southern Shoveller (male left and female right)

Southern Shoveller (male left and female right)

Several months ago now I visited the Laratinga Wetlands for the morning. I have written a number of articles here over recent weeks about that visit, showing photos of the birds seen in most of those articles. These wetlands consist of about a dozen artificial ponds on the eastern edge of Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. This are about a half hour drive south-east of Adelaide, as well as just over a half hour drive west from my home in Murray Bridge. The ponds are actually the sewage works and storm water drainage for the town of Mt Barker. The purified water is later recycled for irrigation on nearby farms.

The wetlands are a wonderful haven for water birds, including ducks, cormorants, ibis, swamphens, coots, grebes, plovers, egrets, herons, reed-warblers and more. The surrounding landscaped picnic areas are also a haven for many bush birds such as honeyeaters, parrots, lorikeets, wrens, pigeons, bronzewings, hawks, kites, falcons, flycatchers and more.

On this most recent visit I took several photos of a male and female Southern Shoveller. Several of these photos are marred by branches or twigs in the way and the only reasonable one is that shown above. Also known as the Australasian Shoveller, this duck is found in suitable habitat throughout the eastern half of Australia, including Tasmania as well as south western parts of Western Australia. It is a species I have not seen all that often, and on those few occasions I have seen it, I usually only see a couple or a small group, never in large numbers.

I have included another photo below. This is of an eclipse plumage bird and was taken last year in one of the wetland areas of  the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, New South Wales.

Further reading:

Southern Shoveller (eclipse plumage)

Southern Shoveller (eclipse plumage)

Miners v Mynas

Noisy Miner

Noisy Miner, Adelaide Botanic Gardens

I was a little amused last week when there was quite a flurry of correspondence in the Letters to the Editor section of our state-wide newspaper, The Advertiser. A reader wrote in complaining that something should be done about Myna birds in his suburb which he considered  pests. He claimed that they were chasing away all the other birds, especially the smaller ones such at wrens and thornbills.

The next day the paper printed a whole page of rebuttals – or rather, a raft of claims of mistaken identity. Several years ago I, too, experienced getting into a long discussion with someone who was adamant that there were Mynas around the Salisbury area in the north of the city. They just would not be convinced otherwise.

The fact remains that there are currently no Common Mynas (also known as Indian Mynas) in South Australia. This introduced species is, however, relatively common in the eastern states and their range is increasing. Only last week my 7yo grandson reported that they now have them in their garden in Artarmon for the first time. (I have seen them up the street but never in their garden.) I have included a photo of a Common Myna below, taken several years ago in the Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, a few suburbs away from my son’s home.

The species that the correspondent was concerned about was the Noisy Miner, an Australian native honeyeater species as shown in the photo above, taken a few years ago in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The Noisy Miner is a gregarious and mostly aggressive species which can be very dominant in some situations. Their bossy ways discourage smaller species like wrens, thornbills and other honeyeaters until those species leave and never return. One of the ways of combating their habits is to plant up gardens with smaller Australian native plants because they prefer more open, grassy, lawned areas.

As an interesting aside, we do not have Noisy Miners on our five acre block on the edge of Murray Bridge. They are relatively common along the river reserves and throughout the town, but in over 30 years they have never – to my knowledge – visited out property, though I have expected them for some years now. I did see one small family group about 500 metres down the side road from our place, but so far they have not moved any closer. We certainly do not want them invading our orchard – the Mallee Ringneck parrots are pest enough in the fruit trees. (Placing bird netting over the trees mostly works effectively.)

The threat of Common Mynas

The following is a quote from our government department PIRSA (Primary Industry):

The species is listed by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) as one of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species alongside Common Starlings, Red Foxes and Cane Toads. The Common Myna is a moderate pest of agriculture causing damage to orchard fruits such as fig, apple, pear, strawberry, guava, mango and grape. It also damages standing cereal crops including maize, wheat and rice.
In several countries it is considered an environmental pest and is reported to eat eggs and young birds and mammals including endangered species. The Common Myna aggressively competes for nest hollows and food, adversely affecting the breeding success of other birds and hollow-nesting mammals. It has been observed
attacking terns on islands as well as taking the eggs of other sea birds, possibly interfering with those birds’ breeding and general behaviour. The Common Myna is also known to spread avian malaria to other birds.

Further reading:

Common Myna, Long Reef, Sydney

Common Myna, Long Reef, Sydney

Common Myna, Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney

Common Myna, Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney

The problem of swooping magpies

Australian Magpie (male)

Australian Magpie (male)

It’s magpie swooping time again.

At this time of year people in many places around Australia are ducking for cover. It is magpie swooping time again. Around July and onwards our Australian Magpies start building or refurbishing their nests ready for the breeding season. Once the female has laid to eggs she is the only one to hatch them. Meanwhile, the male keeps guard over his territory.


This species is highly territorial and disputes over their patch are hotly contested. On our five acre (2 hectare) property we have three intersecting territories, so the conflict can sometimes get quite boisterous. Once nesting commences, these bird wars calm down. You could say that they are real life “angry birds”.


The fighting doesn’t always end there, however. While the female is sitting on the eggs, or the young are being fed while still in the nest, the male can be very aggressive in guarding his territory against anything, or anyone, he sees as a threat to the success of his progeny. Animals – including dogs, cats, foxes – other birds, walkers, gardeners, joggers and anyone misguided enough to venture within a hundred metres or so of the nest are all fair targets. Cyclists are a particular object of attack.


The male magpie will usually wait until the target has passed by, and will then attack from behind, a swift, smooth, nearly silent swoop aimed at the head. A swoosh of the wings and a few snaps of the beak from less than a metre behind is often the only warning one gets. By then it is too late. If contact is made the result can be both frightening and bloody. Their sharp beak can inflict a nasty break in the skin, and in a worst case scenario they have been known to damage an eye.

Preventing being swooped

So – what can one do to prevent getting swooped? I recently read this great list which was published here in South Australia in Weekend Plus: a digital magazine for seniors.

“We do need to take care around them because they have sharp beaks and claws and if they make contact, they can draw blood.

“The good news is that swooping season only lasts about six weeks, beginning when the eggs hatch and finishing when the young birds leave the nest.

“The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route if possible, as they’ll only swoop within 50m of their nests.”

More tips for surviving the spring swoop

  • Avoid making eye contact with magpies.
  • Walk, don’t run past their nests.
  • Travel in groups where possible as swooping birds generally target individuals.
  • Carry an open umbrella or wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
  • If you’re riding a bike, walk your bike through magpie territory or attach a flag to the back that is taller than your head.
  • Don’t wave your arms or shout – this just proves you are a threat to the nest.
  • If you know of a swooping magpie, put up a sign to warn others.








Further reading:

Australian Magpie (male)

Australian Magpie (male)

Australian Magpie (male)

Australian Magpie (male)