For 20 years after building our hilltop home, we carefully refrained from feeding the wildlife which shared their rainforest territory with us. The accepted wisdom cautioned that doing this would make the crazy creatures dependent on handouts.
That is a bit like saying that if all of the fast food take-away stores should close, the human population would starve, understanding no alternative ways of finding sustenance. Still, we supposed Melbourne Wildlife Removal knew best and so we followed their advice until a difficult drought struck, three years back. Years of abundance had invited our local Kookaburra family to strain to the maximum. Now the parents, and their two helpers from the prior season, faced increasing four new offspring in a time of scarcity.
Notice: Kookaburras practise a’nursemaid’ system of caring for the young. Two of the offspring from the previous season remain to help raise the new nestlings, while some surplus offspring are chased off to find new territory for themselves. This amalgamated strategy, though rare elsewhere on Earth, is common to a lot of species of birds native to Australia.
So, my Bloke chose our local lot needed a little helping hand. They soon learned the Bloke’s program and by 4:30pm could be lined up along a tree branch overlooking the deck where he feeds them. Always, one bird could be missing from the line-up. I guessed this was a lookout, since the Bloke’s car entered the drive, the tardy one could join the group in the tree, setting off a raucous cackle of greeting from all of them. Perhaps it was just their way of saying:’Hey, hurry up with the dinner!’
From the early days, we would spread the meat on the brick paving around the swimming pool, sometimes throwing pieces to watch with admiration as the birds deftly caught them in mid-air. Every piece was held securely in their great, blade-like beaks and thoroughly bashed against the floor in their normal custom, before being consumed. All this noisy activity attracted the attention of our black cat, who insisted on observing the day entertainment from a ring-side chair only a few feet away. He never made any move to frighten the birds. In any case, with wings for a quick getaway and fully armed with these formidable beaks, they left a goal he was not keen to engage.
For their part, the birds grew so disdainful that they would perch in the rafters right over the cat as he sunned himself on the deck in the mornings. Finally, the birds gave the game up and went back to taking their morning baths in the pool with barely a glance at the cat. After a long and joyful life, having been rescued from misery as an abandoned town stray, our kitty companion died this past year. Now the Kookaburras, and 29 other species of indigenous and immigrant birds, have our backyard to themselves.
The juvenile birds remain wisely wary of us people at feeding time, but the parent birds will take meat out of our fingers. This practice was initiated by the old Mama bird, who is a very outgoing character and always first down to get a feed. She’ll even ignore beef laid out on the sawhorse’perches’ my Bloke setup, to take her parts straight out of his hand.
Note: How can you tell the girls from the boys?
And have our Kookaburras fallen into feckless ways since we began providing this free bounty? Here are a couple of illustrations to prove that point:while waiting for their afternoon steaks, one after another of the birds will swoop down to skewer a fat grub amongst the grasses. They never gorge on the meat, but fly back to the trees when they have had what my grandma used to call’an elegant sufficiency,’ leaving us to eliminate the surplus.
1 day The Bloke was late coming home and a man flew away in the tree, seemingly too hungry to wait. When he returned, he carried a struggling baby Mynah bird in his beak. 1 year, our swimming pool had re-lining and the emptied space, warmed by the morning sun, proved irresistible to the local population of lizards and skinks. They left a yummy feast for the Kookaburras, which cleaned up a swag of these each day. One casualty caused me personal despair.
This was a skink of gigantic size which for several years had patrolled a territory around my studio. It had pulled me from my work one day, when I heard unusual splashing noises and found the poor critter from the pool. All its efforts to climb out were useless and the cold water soon rendered it nearly comatose. With the help of a plastic leaf scoop, I eventually managed to land it on the deck, where it sagged until the sun warmed it. 1 startled look at me, and it was off into the bushes. Since the Kookaburras reduced the smaller lizards lounging in the emptied pool, the enormous skink had to range further afield with this favourite item of its diet and in an incautious moment of vulnerability, the huge birds had him for breakfast.
I think it’s apparent that our’interference’ in the daily life of the local Kookaburras has done them no injury. They are resourceful creatures and while they may be temporarily disappointed if we stopped our largesse, they do not really need us. It’s we who would deeply miss our daily communion with these crazy but friendly fellow creatures.