Friday, 18 January 2008

#44 A disappointing bird tale

My husband, Grahame, has recently taken up the hobby of bird photography. This has resulted in not only obtaining a close up view of some of Australia's beautiful birds, but an introduction into some of the intricate details of their lives. [Note: all photos in this entry are by Grahame.]

Female Rufous Whistler at Broke in the Hunter Valley

We found a nest of Rufous Whistlers (Pachycephala rufiventris) at a reserve at Broke in the Hunter Valley, and sat back, relaxing, observing these busy little birds raising their family.

The nest was a small, flimsy, cup-shaped construction made from grasses or very fine twigs, sitting in a low fork of a very young eucalypt. I have since read that the nest is secured to the tree fork with spider's webs, and close inspection of photographs shows this ingenious building technique on the right-hand side of the 4th picture here.

A back view of the female Rufous Whistler

There is a marked difference in appearance of sexes of the Rufous Whistler. The male is unlikely to be confused with any other bird with its black face and breast band, white bib, grey wings and back, and rusty brown/orange belly. The female, although more subtle in colour, is definitely not a drab bird with its attractive streaked underparts.

Male and female are both about 17cm long, and rather stocky. Their call is loud and cheery, and once we were accustom to their tuneful song, it was easily recognised.

Distinctive colours of the male Rufous Whistler

With the nest low in the tree, we felt privileged to have an excellent unobstructed view into their lives. Clearly, there were two young in the nest with eyes barely opened. Mum and dad left the chicks unattended while they both flew off hunting for insects, and we were amazed at the array of food they offered the gaping mouths of their offspring.

Mum returns with a large winged insect.....

.....and places it well down the throat of the chick

It is likely that the Rufous Whistler is affected by land clearing, but it appears to be quite capable of adapting, making use of available trees and shrubbery in farmland and residential areas. Now that we have learned to recognise its call, we have heard the Rufous Whistler in several locations.

According to records, the Rufous Whistler is found throughout Australia except in Tasmania and the most arid of environments. I have not seen these active little birds on the ground, other than to bath; and as with most birds, it is an entertaining sight to watch them bathing.

A male Rufous Whistler comes down to bath.....

.....and he really gets down and wet

But this bird tale has a disappointing ending: we returned 6 days later to observe the progress of the Rufous Whistler family only to find the nest empty. Although the chicks apparently do not spend a long time in the nest, we observed the male and female at length without sighting the two youngsters.

I can only presume that the chicks were taken by a cat, goanna or another bird. If they ended up as a feed for a goanna or native bird, that's life in the wild, but too often cats are the cause of native animal loss. Fortunately, the Rufous Whistler's status is secure.

As two broods are often produced in a season, we plan to revisit the nest site. Observing the nesting activities of our native birds from a reasonable distance so as not to disturb or stress them, provides a fabulous opportunity to learn more about our wildlife. Learning about our wildlife increases awareness and respect for the value of preserving or reproducing habitat as human persuits encroach further on the lives of our native birds and animals.


Lola said...

An informative and beautifully illustrated posting. Well done to both Gaye and Grahame.

David said...

My compliments to Grahame. Little birds can be tricky to photograph. Thanks for the interesting write up :D!


headsie said...

Whistlers are beautiful birds and you have provided a wonderful insight into their lives. The females have a really lovely nature and are so quiet you have to keep an eye out for them.

Superb photography Grahame some of the best you will find.

David said...

Nice work guys.
Well captured shots Grahame, and nice write up Gaye.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Grahame was very encouraged by the comments left here, especially headsie, as I know your bird photography is brilliant. Thank you all, and I'm glad that I could share this beaut little bird and its nesting endeavours. I'll be looking forward to featuring more of Grahame's birds.