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The Scrivener: Birds Through My Window

...My next door neighbour isn't at all happy about the peewee which is currently attacking its reflection in one of her windows. Tap, tap, tap, tap, all excited...

Brian Barratt tells of feathered dramas - then brings us a distinctive song.

Some people call them magpie-larks. Others call them peewees or pee wees. It depends on which part of Australia you live in. They are not related to magpies or to larks but they do look like small Australian magpies, with similar black and white markings. 'Peewee' echoes their strident common call. They are also called mudlarks, and when you have seen a couple of them dabbling around in muddy, swampy ground, you can see why.

One of them, which lived not far from my place, achieved fame in newspaper reports. It was nesting in a tall gum tree (eucalpyt) (and they are all tall, anyway) above Mount Waverley railway station. Now peewees are aggressive in the breeding and nesting season and will vigorously attack their own reflections in windows. Well, whenever a train pulled into the station, the birdie in question swooped down from its tree and flew the whole length of the train as each reflected rival passed by, trying to attack it in each of many, many windows. This went on for weeks and, yes, there were photos in the newspaper. I think it was even featured on the TV news bulletins.

My next door neighbour isn't at all happy about the peewee which is currently attacking its reflection in one of her windows. Tap, tap, tap, tap, all excited, followed of course by a white dollop of, er, recycled food on the window-sill and down the wall.

I think that one must be the feathery father of the mummy bird and juvenile who wander around my garden every evening. The sure indication of their status in the family is that one of them follows the other, in noisy haste, its beak wide open, waiting for a bit of nutritious breakfast worm which is eventually shoved down its throat.

On the other side of the house, later in the day, a pair of pigeons cuddle together on the timber deck to enjoy the afternoon sun. There are so many different kinds of pigeons, including the delighted little crested variety which troop haughtily round the front lawn. But I think the two on the deck are, technically, spotted turtle-doves. These cooey lovey-doveys mate for life, so they could be the same couple that built a nest in the most precarious place they could find above my laundry door, a couple of years ago.

Last month (and I am writing this in December) I would stand by the French window overlooking the back garden and gaze at something I have never previously seen — in the evening, two or sometimes three pied butcherbirds descended from among my Chinese Photinia trees and involved themselves in the business of feeding. It took a while but I eventually identified the male, the female and the juvenile. They did some intensive pecking in the grass for a while and always flew back up to the same branch of the tree outside my window.

Butcherbirds have long, powerful beaks and small feet. That's how they get their name: the catch their prey and, unable to hold it down with their small feet, impale it on a thorn or a sharp projecting twig, and rip it apart. I saw something similar to this when one of them would drag an unsuspecting worm from its subterranean comfort zone, fly up to the usual branch, and bash the poor old worm against the tree over and over again before giving bits of it to the famished fledgeling.

The loveliest experience of all occurred last week. The French window was closed. I was chatting to a friend on my hands-free phone with added extras, supplied by Telstra for folk who have hearing and other handicaps, but I still have to wear my hearing aids. Without them, I can't hear what people are saying on the phone and I can't hear birds when I'm indoors. Suddenly, both of us clearly heard a loud, magnificent and melodious bird-call. I went to the French window. There on the branch previously used by the pied butcherbirds sat a grey butcherbird, a different type, loudly declaring its territory. To see and hear why this thrilled us, have a look at a video clip posted by someone in Sydney:

When a bird can sing like this, I think we can overlook its nasty eating habits, eh?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2011

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