Tag Archives: birds

The Dawn Fruit Pickers: A Story


J.K.Leahy PIc. Sulphur-crested cockatoo eating a passion fruit. Is that a look of remorse at being caught red-handed or a look of defiance?

There was a commotion outside my house in Bellbowrie, Queensland a few days ago.  All the windows and curtains were shut. I dreaded that the neighbour’s dogs were back following a recent attack. The had come over a month ago and attacked our chickens, almost killing the rooster. The rooster survived the attack, but lost the use of its feet and started to develop ulcers. We had him put down two weeks after the attack.

Since then, the other three chickens’ were very nervous. They were frightened by the distant dog barks, people laughing, cars passing by, the crows that live in the back yard, and even the plane flying overhead. I was annoyed by the chickens constant panic cries and all the false alarms by now. But, I keep getting reminded by one of my favourite stories as a child, the Aesop Fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. I would have this nagging thought, full of guilt, “what if..?” (That is what if the neighbours dogs were back?)

I sprung out of bed and quickly opened the curtain. The chickens were still moving around nervously in the backyard, but nothing was on them or at them from the ground. They were staring into the trees. Something was moving in the pepper tree. The pepper tree was completely covered with my passion fruit vine and full of the season’s fruits, many were ready to pick. I could not see the moving thing; I knew it couldn’t be the possums, because with daylight, they were asleep in the roof. I had another thought, a large snake.

I moved to another room and opened the window to take a better look. Sure enough, there it was – a little white clump of feather moving in the thick greenery. The window opening distracted the sulphur-crested cockatoo and it sat up from the bushy tree and looked straight at me. In its claw was the half-eaten juicy passion fruit.

“The thief is back,” I told myself.  The same cockatoo and company also stole the macadamia on my two trees and most times, they removed the nuts while still green, and dropped them to the ground.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos can be kept as pets and they are beautiful birds to look at. They are also quite majestic when they fly and their wings are fully stretched. But these birds travel in pairs or colonies and are often quite destructive. They had come every season for the macadamia, and sometimes I chased them away because they were so noisy.

Today, the cockatoo just sat there, devouring the fruit and then took another ripe one. I did keep them away from the passionfruit bush previous seasons by wrapping all the fruits in bags. I forgot to do that this season. The bird picked every fruit and dropped the un-ripe ones to the ground. I took a few pictures, but when the bird threw the unripe fruits to the ground, I chased it off.

The next day, even before dawn, I heard noises outside my window. The chickens were still asleep. I looked at the pepper tree. It was weighed over towards my room. The pepper tree was completely covered with a gang of cockatoos, clawing their way over the passion fruit bushes and branches and eating very quietly. They worked like the fruit pickers across Queensland who rise at dawn and work their way through the orchards.

I was amazed at how quiet and sneaky they were, a complete opposite to their usual loud antiques. I was too tired to chase them off, but by the time I was ready to wake up, they left me two ripe, one wrinkled and two green passion fruits from the entire season’s harvest. In spite, I pulled the remaining five down, but I decided not to chop the vine. I must remember to save the fruit before the cockatoos return the next season. They have tasted the sweetness of the fruit of passion.

 

Winter Food for Birds


About three years ago, I bought this small plant about eight inches tall from an eighty year old man in Moggill markets, Queensland. This market has now moved away from the vicinity of Bellowrie to a nearby suburb.

This plant did not have any flowers, but the old man told me,  it will have these bell-looking flowers that the birds love. He called it a bush. My cousin Marina, a horticulturist, gave me a yellow species of the same plant. She told me the plant would be huge and I need a large space at least three cubic metres for it. When I showed her the old man’s plant, she said the two were exactly the same, the yellow-flowered one she gave me and this orange one. The orange one took almost a year to grow up to a metre or so and flowered.

My yellow plant is still about a metre tall and because I placed in a spacious spot, it has not grown into other plants. This orange bush is now branching into the chook coop and the passion a pepper tree, because I planted it before I got the horticulturist’s advice.

The orange plant needs pruning several times a year, and the plant, which I can never remember the name, (I’m sorry) provides an abundance of bird food. Daily, many little birds come to enjoy its petals, and I’m grateful to the old gardener who sold me the plant. I also love its colours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Natives of Numinbah Valley


The Natives of Numinbah Valley

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This delightful pair was the star guests at a small bush cafe in Numinbah Valley, Queensland. Not often do you meet ‘wild’ natives that are so friendly and ready for a photo. We would have never met these natives if we did not have a stopover. The stopover at the cafe happened after a mystery visit to one of Australia’s world heritage sites last weekend. (We were suppose to go to another site, but we could not swim there). It was a wonderful surprise and I will write a separate story on that site.

This whole trip was part of a retreat for Solid Screen Sisters – a gathering for indigenous women storytellers and film-makers. (More on this blog about Solid later)

I often get king parrots such as these on the trees in Bellbowrie, but they never come up this close. In the picture below, a Rosella (blue and red feathers) tries to land in front of the king parrot.

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The green and red Australian King Parrot prefers to fly and live lower in the trees. Only the male Australian breed has a completely red-head. The birds live in pairs.

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Kaz Plays the Thief – Bird Life Photography


Kaz the rainbow lorikeet checks the coastline before he breaks into  the bird-cage to steal food and hang out.

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JK.Leahy Picture©
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JK.Leahy Picture©

Kaz plays a thief, checking all around him before he checks into the cage to eat Boz’s food. This pet lorikeet grew up in this cage and while our house is still his home, he lives in the palm trees in the wild. He knows he is welcome anytime at the Bellbowrie house. The rainbow lorikeet gets his own food, but he prefers to bully his younger rivalry Boz who is waiting to grow flying feathers while living in Kaz’s old cage. The funny thing is, Boz, the scale-breasted baby lorikeet is not afraid of Kaz at all. Sometimes, he would climb out and let’s Kaz play in the cage.

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Kaz starts of with his own food on the deck chair. JK.Leahy Picture©
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However, he really wants to get into the bird-cage and see what is there. Kaz tries Boz’s water. JK.Leahy Picture©
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A very annoyed Boz waits in the bottom corner for his older aggressive visitor to do whatever he wants and hopefully get out of his home. Sometimes, we have to chase Kaz out and close the cage so Boz can relax. JK.Leahy Picture©
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Sometimes, a neck scratch is called for, just to assure Boz – he is the boss of the cage after all and everything is fine.

 

Cast Iron Drinking Hole


Cast Iron Drinking Hole for Birds

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JK.Leahy picture. Bird bath. 2016

Five years ago, when we moved to Bellbowrie, we found this cast iron pot on one of the kerbside collection. I guess you could call it someone’s castaway. (Brisbane City Council does the annual kerbside cleans and collects rubbish or throw aways from residents).

It was a good water container for chickens and ducks. One day, my ceramic bird bath fell off this stump and broke and I gave the birds the pot full of water. Its size  and weight made it perfect for a bird bath. I only had to wait 30 minutes before the birds starting flying down to the cast pot to drink.

Everyday since putting up the pot in the tree (six months ago), birds and other animals stop by to have a drink and a bath. I get to watch them from my verandah. Sometimes there would be a small flock of nosey miners frolicking noisily just like the drinking hole had been there all along.

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JK.Leahy picture. Bird bath. 2016

Garden Visitors – Photography


These creatures are our garden visitors. Most of them are regulars, but they do change with the season. This summer, they came in all shapes, sizes and colours. Some were old friends that have never left.

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Almost daily, an old friend visits. You all know Kaz, the rainbow lorikeet that used to live with us.

Birds Talking – Poetry – Drawing


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JK.Leahy © – Sketch in pencil and ink on paper. 2015.

 

Birds Talking – Poem JK.Leahy©

Birds Talking

Silent words, only seen

Scratching, screeching and bursting to surface

Extending wings, feathers, beaks and necks

Swooping, flying, walking and talking

Birth by imagination

Birds taking forms

Living on paper

 

 

 

How the Cassowary Became a Flightless Bird – A PNG Legend


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Public Domain image

While described as one of the most dangerous birds in the world, cassowaries are beautiful large flightless birds. I have posted a story about threats to cassowaries in Northern Queensland due to their habitat destruction. Read Here. I had mentioned the value of cassowaries in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in that post and I wanted to show what this bird means to our  people. This legend comes from Garaina, in Morobe Province. I also come from Morobe. The legend was contributed to a national high school collection of legends told Stephen Suij.

How the Cassowary became a Flightless BirdA Legend from the Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.

Long ago, the cassowary was a big bird with a long neck, large legs and big wings which enabled it to fly like all other birds of the forest.

At that time, the cassowary and the hornbill were best friends, and spent most of their time flying around together, feeding on the delicious fruits at the top of the trees.

They were very close friends, but as time passed, the hornbill became increasingly jealous of the cassowary, who with his long neck could stretch and reach the best of the fruit pickings. The poor hornbill had to be content with leftovers.

While the hornbill hid his jealousy, he began to plan a trick to punish the cassowary.

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A Hornbill Picture by Waterdragon62 – Flickr Photo-sharing

One day the hornbill broke two dried sticks off a tree branch, placed them beneath each wing, under its feathers, and then flew off meet the cassowary.

“I have an idea”, the hornbill said to the cassowary.

“After we have fed on the fruit and are fully satisfied, let us do some stylish tricks in the air to see who is more brave and skilled.”

“Sure”, the cassowary said – liking the idea.

“But”, added the hornbill, “each of us must break his wings to see how far he can fly with broken wings.”

The cassowary had no objection to this ‘idea’, so when they had eaten enough fruit, they were ready for the game. The hornbill volunteered to go first.

Pretending to break his two wings, he snapped the two dry sticks beneath his wings and then flew away. He performed some stylish tricks in the air and then flew to a nearby tree to perch. The hornbill then called the cassowary to try to outwit his tricks.

The cassowary, ignoring the pain he had to suffer, broke his wings, one by one. Then he stretched the wings to fly away but he only crashed to the ground. He could not lift his weight with broken wings.

The hornbill broke into laughter at the top of his voice he said, “you have always had the most and the best of the fruit, but now you can stay on the ground and feed on my waste while I enjoy the best of the forest.”

From that day until today, the cassowary has been a bird of the ground, with wings that could not fly.

The Cassowary – Papua New Guinea

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Public Domain image

Flightless Feathered Family
The cassowaries are ratites, very large flightless birds in the genus Casuarius native to the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. There are three extant species recognized today.

The most common of these, the Southern Cassowary, is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.

Cassowaries (from the Malay name kesuari)[3] are part of the ratite group, which also includes the Emu, rheas, ostriches, and kiwis, and the extinct moas and elephant birds. The other two species are the Northern Cassowary, Casuarius unappendiculatus and Dwarf Cassowary, Casuarius bennetti. They are also found in Papua New Guinea.

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A PNG warrior wearing a cassowary feather headdress. Picture by Brent Stirton

Cassowaries are very important to the native people of New Guinea both economically and ritually. Cassowaries have been traded for pigs and even as bride price for a wife and compensation payment especially in the highlands provinces .

Some tribes hunt them for their meat which is considered a delicacy. They use the feathers to decorate headdresses, and the feather quills for earrings. The sharp claws are often placed at the tips of arrows, while the strong leg bones are used as daggers.

For many native people, cassowaries are full of legends and mystical powers. Some tribes believe that cassowaries are reincarnations of female ancestors, while others believe that the cassowary is the primal mother. These tribes do not hunt or deal in trade with cassowaries.

A HD Movie on Cassowaries narrated by David Attenborough on Natural World BBC.

Princess Celebrates Motherhood


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Breakfast at Bellbowrie – Princess and partner stand on guard while their daughters eat first. The life of a duck in our backyard.

Princess celebrated motherhood yesterday when her eight babies learnt to fly for the first time on our lawn in Bellbowrie, Queensland (Australia). She is a wild wood duck who grew up in our family home. I have written three stories about her on this blog, see the links below to bring you up to date with her life story.

You could say – after all she has been through, she deserved one happiness, and that she has. She literally grew up inside the house – in my son Nathan’s bedroom – she lived in a crate at night and during the day, we watched her wander around the yard, and making friends with other adult wild ducks and our laying chickens. She would always come back upstairs when it got dark.

I had rescued Princess in 2013 just after Christmas with five other ducklings in our back-yard. During the course of raising the ducklings my sons and I became parents as well as students, learning how we could help the ducklings grow and then release them back into the wild. Goodness knows what was going on in the communication from duck to human language, but soon, the ducklings fell into a pattern of eating, playing, swimming and just following each other and anyone of the three of us, in a line when we walked around the property. When we decided to name the ducklings, she stood out because she was the smallest and had a nervous twitch – everything had to be done for her. She would just wait to be served.

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Family snack time on the front lawn.

Princess’ four siblings died in the process of growing – the vet said, it could be anything – the stress, cold, fright, and drowning. There were two ducklings left. Princess and her sister. They continued to live with us inside the house in one of the spare bathrooms at night and much to the disgust of our visiting friends and family who sometimes accidentally stepped on duck poop. As they got older and stronger, we let the two sisters swim in a small water tank which was deeper than the bath. Later they took to our swimming pool and we could see them really enjoying themselves. When they became taller and their wings got bigger we knew they were ready to fly;  my son trained them to fly off our balcony into the pool (15 metres away) and also fly onto the lawn from the two story house.

With her nervous twitch,  we noticed, her big sister became protective of Princess any time she found things difficult. She would nuzzled Princess and peck her gently to settle her.  I became very attached to the confident big sister. She was a very smart and a caring big sister, She always tried new things and places before involving Princess. The two ducks bonded closely and were almost ready to be trained back into the wild together.  Early one evening while we were having dinner with the two ducks tucked into their large box on our verandah,  a python came up, unexpectedly, slipped into the box and coiled around one duck – the confident sister.

Click to read The Duck War story

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Flight practice. I caught them on my phone after work yesterday.

From that day onwards, Princess remained in the house with us, less confident to fly and became very attached. A few weeks later she started to regain her confidence. Then she tried to fly so Nathan took her to the window and she flew into the pool – about 30 metres away. She was natural. Swimming, diving and fluttering her wings. She loved it and started there all day – we had to bring her food to her, like a true Princess. She also flew a complete circle around our neighbours yard and took a swim in their brand new swimming pool. I jokingly told Princess, it was okay as long as she did not poop in their pool or get caught.

Then, one day a bunch of young male ducks that were hanging around our pool flew off and we saw her go. We followed her through a few neighbour’s property and decided, she was ready to go.

She returned to our property regularly and pretended she did not know us when we called her name. Sometimes, her twitch would become obvious – perhaps from worrying, we were trying to get her back. Amongst other wild ducks, when her name was called, Princess would be the only duck turning to look at us. It was funny. She had many suitors who often fought over her in the front lawn and the pool.

It was only a short time before Princess established herself  with a pack of wild ducks that frequented our yard. Then Princess fell in love.  Earlier this year, I posted a story about Princess and her first ducklings.

Click here to read Saved Duck Returns with Babies story

On their first day, she brought her babies out for a walk and played in our yard and then a swim in the pool.  Within a few days, she decided to leave our property and cross the main road into a vacant block which led into the wild, a creek and then Brisbane River.  I followed them to the edge of the bush concerned she had made a grave decision. There was a big storm, the next day. The mother, partner and babies – did not show up for two days.

Click here to read Nothing Came with the Rain story

Seven weeks ago, my son Nathan was very excited about new ducklings in our yard. Ducks don’t always have babies in winter so we were surprised. We rushed out and counted eight baby ducks. Sure enough, someone had been busy, it was Princess and her partner with their ducklings. She had also lost the nervous twitch.  The ducklings were not newborn. They were at least two-three weeks old. She had hid her babies until they grew up. It was clearly a clever plan by Princess. We could not work out where they were before they came home.

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The new girls marching in for morning tea by the poolside.

Attentive and followed by her partner and their babies, Princess headed for the chicken’s feed. Even the chickens let the ducks eat. We were all overjoyed.

I decided to buy some duck food from our local produce store. I did not post a story about the new arrivals earlier, just to let Princess have the quiet life she wanted and raise her eight daughters. Our family tried to keep our distance and no paparazzi were allowed. It has been almost five weeks since they arrived and adding the first few weeks in hiding, they have grown rapidly and are now ready to fly. Usually the babies grow their strong feathers by six weeks and fly at eight weeks.

The mother got them started in the pool –  flapping wings and lifting off – then falling on the water. The training also takes place in the water and on our lawn – just as we tried to teach her. It is quite funny and heart-warming to watch. Ten days ago, wild foxes got into our chicken coop and took Lady Stella. (That’s another story). After the midnight drama and the shock of losing the toughest hen –  we raced about our property trying to  find Princess and her family. We discovered, after all this time, she had cleverly nested her family in the thick layers of my flowers just on the water’s edge in our fenced swimming pool where no large animal can get in. She family planned well in the sense that being winter, even the snakes would be hibernating. So…they are safe for now and it is only days before the new girls will fly. Then, they will all be in the wild together.

I feel that Princess has truly achieved motherhood and as her mother, I am very proud of her.

 

 

Princess is a Mother Again


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Princess, facing the camera leads her daughters into our yard for breakfast.

Good news. Princess, our home-raised wild duck who lost all her family members, returned with eight ducklings. More on her story in tomorrow’s post.