The squabbling, flapping cacophony outside my bedroom window tells me that it must be April/Easter time.
Forty years ago, when planting natives became popular, a beautiful, but non-indigenous, red flowering Yellow Gum, Eucalyptus leucoxylon rosea, was planted in our garden. Eucalyptus leucoxylon is endemic to much of south Eastern Australia, but not here. As a side-note, did you know the flowers of this tree are a favourite food source of the increasingly rare Swift Parrots when they fly over from Tasmania for the winter? To my great disappointment, despite many visits to Barwon Heads in autumn to a Yellow Gum Reserve, I have never seen a Swift Parrot.
Anyway, at this time of year my tree is covered in masses of delightful pink Snugglepot and Cuddlepie flowers which provide a feast for honeyeaters. In my garden it is the Red Wattlebird and New Holland Honeyeater who dominate and ensure that any other honeyeater species has no chance—it’s a totally non-sharing environment. Even if it appears to me that there is more than enough for all, they will vigorously chase off any intruders.
Tim Low, in his book Where Song Began, gives several pages over to the aggressive behaviour of so many Australian birds in protecting their concentrated food sources.
‘Nowhere else in the world are birds excluded like this. Territoriality, the world over, is usually selective … birds will often repel members of their own genus … and a predator or a bird that strayed near the nest.’
In Australia, we encourage such behaviour if we feed wild birds, such as regularly giving seeds to our delightful King Parrots. This causes fights and aggressive behaviour that would not have occurred otherwise, both between and within species. An added problem is that Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, which we well know are ‘top dog’ in the parrot world, will chase off any lesser parrot species, and when the seeds are all eaten, they will attack any soft timber around the house!
However, I must admit that I am enjoying this particular annual fighting and feeding fest in my tree, as the birds zigzag in and out of the foliage chasing other birds as they defend ‘their’ food supply. I am sorry when the food runs out, peace returns … and winter descends! Such entertainment is even more appreciated this year, and I wonder what I will find for much needed enjoyment when the cold weather descends.