William meets Wildlife Officer John Martin and Adrian Davis from the University of Sydney who are using Facebook to monitor the movements of dozens of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos around Sydney. -- Background Information When it comes to birds, Australia holds a special claim to world fame with many of the world’s most extraordinary species evolving right here on our ancient continent. Even the origins of the world’s birdsong can be traced back to our great land... From ancient feathered weirdo’s to modern dancing show-stoppers, Williams’ encounters with his fine-feathered friends will prove Australia always was and still is the land of birds. PARROTS Facebook cockatoos Cockies – aka Sulphur-crested Cockatoos – seem to have a taste for prime real estate and are moving into the centre and suburbs of Sydney. Adrian Davis from the University of Sydney wanted to find out more about where these birds where coming from and where they were going to. So armed with a load of wing tags and setting up a Facebook page, he started a study to track individual birds. People started spotting the cockies with tags and helping keep track of their movements via the Facebook page – even giving them names like Watermelon, Pina Colada and Party Boy! It turns out the cockies are highly mobile, and they are much more popular than their cousin the ibis in a similar tracking program – receiving 50 times the number of reports as them! Drunken lorikeets It happens each year towards the end of the dry season and the beginning of the wet in October-November in the Top End. The lorikeets here hit the turps and stumble around in a drunken haze. They are a particular type of lorikeet – the Red-collared Lorikeet, which is a sub-species of the Rainbow Lorikeet. They have bright blue heads, green wings and distinctive red markings on their neck. The drunkenness is actually a disease and is far more dangerous to the birds than a hangover is to people. About half of the birds brought into the wildlife shelters with the symptoms will die, but vets like Dr Stephen Cutter hope to one day find a solution... Orange bellied Parrots The Orange-bellied Parrot is one of only two migratory parrots in the world. The other also lives in Tasmania – the Swift Parrot. Both are endangered. The Orange-bellied Parrots migrate every year to the mainland for winter. They leave the south-west wilderness of Tasmania at the end of summer to travel slowly up the coast for around 2 months, stopping over on King Island before reaching their destination. They spend their winters in the coastal salt marsh habitats of South Australia and Victoria. These birds are only slightly larger than a budgie and incredibly fly over 2500 kilometres a year on their annual migration. Corellas The first flock of 20 - 30 Little Corellas was spotted in the South Australian town of Noarlunga in 1990. Now every summer certain towns in South Australia have an influx of thousands, even tens of thousands, of corellas. Their numbers are so large because they feed on crops grown in the region and after breeding they form huge temporary flocks. And they aren’t only noisy, they do damage. They chew wires, antennas, irrigation hoses and strip trees bare of leaves. As well as ripping up tennis courts. They drive many locals insane. Each year the town councils receive many calls, emails and letters from residents, businesses and groups - and many solutions have been tried...
William McInnes meets Suzanne Dennings who has a special relationship with a male malleefowl; faces off with an Australian Brush Turkey; and plays Barry White, coughing sweet nothings into a female emu's ear. -- ￼Background Information ANCIENT BIRDS Malleefowl Malleefowl take chick rearing very seriously. Not only are they impressive earth-movers - shifting 8-12 semi-trailer loads of sand a year in their nest maintenance, they are diligent temperature controllers. Their mounds are made up of thick layer of sand, an egg chamber and layer of rotting compost. The egg chamber is kept at a constant 33°C by opening and closing air vents in the insulation layer, while heat comes from the compost below. They build little moats on their mounds to collect rainwater. When they hatch, the chicks dig all the way up the mound without taking a breath. Their first breath is at the surface, then they scurry off into the mallee to fend for themselves, never even seeing their parents who have put so much effort into getting them this far! Brush turkey For some they are a living nightmare, pecking on windows at 4am, destroying pool and spa wiring to the cost of $600 and even attacking children playing on bikes in their own backyard. The male Australian Brush Turkey builds a nesting mound of soil and plant litter mostly between August and December. If you disturb or move the mound during the day, the male will probably rebuild it in the same location the next day and the next, right until the end of the breeding season. It turns out the best solution is based on the way the mound temperature regulation works. Brush turkeys need 90% shade canopy to maintain their mound at optimal temperature. So where it’s possible, some selective pruning of the shade cover above the mound to let in a good bit of glaring light will see the bird move on. Cassowaries Cassowaries are one of Australia’s most primitive living birds – and also the heaviest – weighing up to 76kg. They live to around age 50 and can grow to 2 metres high. One of the most striking features about the cassowary is its long and unusual black feathers. Cassowary feathers differ from other birds in that they have a quill that splits in two. These huge birds are the only animals capable of distributing the seeds of more than 70 species of trees whose fruit is too large for any other forest dwelling animal to eat and relocate. Cassowaries also help disperse at least another 80 different types of plants, many of which are toxic. With their overactive liver and unusual combination of stomach enzymes, cassowaries are able to safely eat them. Emus They adorn our coat of arms, you can eat the meat, you can use the skin for leather product, their feathers are used for all sorts of things from hats to fishing lures, and the fat can be boiled down to an oil that has great medicinal purposes. Emus are in demand! And that is why a lot of effort is being put into working out the best way to farm them – using artificial insemination (AI). AI is a great tool to improve and breed selectively from the best males, with no faster way to improve the stocks and increase production for farmers.
William and audio king Dave Stewart spend the day recording the songs of our warbling wonders in Queensland. William then tries to work out why magpies swoop at us before observing the courting ritual of the Great Bowerbird. -- ￼Background Information SONGBIRDS Lamington Songbirds are the largest group of birds. Across the world there are around 4000 different types of songbirds – and all of these probably originated in Australia. A fossil was found on a cattle property in someone’s garden in outback Queensland representing the oldest songbird known so far. The fossils were dated to 54 million years - nearly 25 million years older than the oldest previously known songbird fossils found in France. As well as this fossil evidence, scientists carried out the largest DNA study of birds to trace the origins of perching birds back to the super-continent Gondwana. Magpie Magpies produce some of the most complex songs and have one of the largest range of vocalizations of any songbird. ‘Warbling’ by lone magpies is probably the most tuneful of their calls, single songs have been recorded that go for 70 minutes. Carolling (singing in chorus) is unique to magpies and it’s all about ownership of territory. Magpie chicks can sing within 3 weeks of hatching. Magpies are exceptional mimics but only mimic what is permanent in their territory, and in doing so form a vocal map of their surroundings. They seem to be able to recognize individual humans in their territories easily. Bowerbird No other birds build bowers. Charles Darwin commented bowers are ‘the most wonderful instances of bird architecture yet discovered’. Male bowerbirds show their intelligence by building their bowers, and their strength and dominance by protecting their bower from other birds. So the female can visit a range of males and bowers and see which male will give the best genes for her offspring. Male bowerbirds attract females to their bowers, mate with them, then have nothing to do with rearing their young. The Great Bowerbird is the largest bowerbird. As with other avenue-building bowerbirds, the male paints the interior of the avenue walls. The paint consists of masticated vegetable matter and occasionally kangaroo or wallaby dung, mixed with saliva and applied with the bill. Lyrebird An amazing 1 in 4 songbirds mimic other birds in their calls, but there is one bird that stands out from the rest – the lyrebird. Lyrebirds are arguably the best mimics of all. From cockatoo squawks to kookaburra laughs and frog ribbits, they learn the calls and sounds of their surroundings and expertly replicate them. They can even mimic non-natural sounds - “Chook” from Adelaide Zoo had a repertoire which included hammers, electric drills, trucks reversing and two-way radio chatter. The Lyrebird mimic calls are so accurate, they even fool the bird they are mimicking when recordings are played back.
-- Background Information ￼RAPTORS MCG Eagle The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia – and also one of the largest in the world. With its wingspan of over 2 metres, and females weighing nearly 6 kilograms, they are an impressive bird. A Wedge-tailed Eagle is being used to keep the nation’s most popular sport – AFL – free from a pesky bird. Seagulls are swamping the MCG and the authorities want them moved on. The perfect solution is a trained Wedge-tailed Eagle – the mere sight of which scares them away! Black-breasted Buzzard The Black-breasted Buzzard is unique to Australia and is its third largest bird of prey. With a wingspan of over two and a half times its body length, it gives an impressive aerial display of dives and upward sweeps without flapping its wings. Black-breasted Buzzards show an unusual use of tools when feeding, picking up stones and using them to break open large eggs that are too difficult to crack with their beak. Emu eggs are prime candidates for this. Peregrine Chicks As city centres around the world grow upward and outward they create the ideal habitat for Peregrine Falcons. Skyscrapers mimic the cliff faces they are adapted to, with window ledges becoming roost and nest sites overlooking streetscapes and city parks full of easy pickings in the form of pigeons. New York is living proof of the importance of cities for peregrine falcons. It is now home to more pairs of peregrine falcon than any city in the world and has about 10 per cent of the total eastern USA's population. Like many raptors, peregrines nest with the same mate, year after year. They’ll return to the same nesting spot and go through their mating ritual, which includes amazing aerial spirals and dives. The male will catch prey and pass it to the female in mid air – a feat that involves her flying upside down to receive the food from his talons! Carnaby School Black cockatoos are on the brink in Western Australia. At Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Rehabilitation Centre in the hill suburbs of Perth they are trialing an innovative project to help young endangered black cockatoos who have become tame since being injured and undergoing rehabilitation. The concept is to use a Black Kite named Pandora to masquerade as a Wedge-tailed Eagle to train the rehabbed cockatoos to be fearful of a raptor as it flies overhead so when the juveniles are re- released into the wild they have a better chance of survival.
-- Background Information ￼PESTS Seagulls There’s an unusual situation on an island off Perth. Silver Gulls nest in large colonies on offshore islands – this is not unusual. But Carnac Island has a huge and expanding population of gulls because the birds are commuters. They scavenge at rubbish tips and food outlets along the coast and so breed in their thousands – in fact there are an estimated 3 to 4 thousand pairs on the island. As well as this large number of birds, there are also a large number of Tiger snakes – up to 400, that’s about 20 snakes per hectare. Making the island one of the most deadly in the world. The adult snakes feed on the Silver Gull chicks. Many of the snakes have wounds from being pecked by adult gulls, and 5 per cent are even blind, having their eyes pecked out. This doesn’t stop them, though! These blind snakes go on living year to year, with such easy pickings on the island. Myna Indian Mynas were brought to Melbourne in 1862 to control insect pests in market gardens. They failed at this, but they were still introduced into other places in Australia, including north Queensland, where it was thought they would control insect pests of sugar cane. They were introduced to ACT in 1968 – and by 2006, there were an estimated 93,000 birds. Local residents there banded together to form a huge trapping alliance and have since removed more than 42,000 Indian Mynas. This has allowed many native birds to get back to the hollows and breed successfully, because Indian Mynas are capable of evicting even large birds such as Kookaburras and Dollar Birds from their nests. Ibis Usually ibis breed in large colonies in inland Australia, but with areas increasingly drying out, ibis are moving to the east coast to set up colonies where there’s abundant food and water. One such colony has set up camp next to Brisbane airport, near the city’s tip. This is causing problems – because large flying birds and planes are not a good mix. One of the ways of controlling the numbers is to coat the eggs in the nest with oil, so the chick inside suffocates and dies. If the eggs were just removed, the Ibis would simply replace them. Eventually the ibis realize their chosen site is not a good place to nest... Pigeons Pigeons are an experiment in evolution that’s been going on for thousands of years. Not just in our cities and towns, but behind the scenes - in an obscure but ancient art form – Fancy Pigeon Showing. Breeding ‘fancy’ pigeons was an extraordinarily popular pastime in Victorian Britain, with enthusiasts spanning the entire social spectrum, from the poorest weavers to Queen Victoria herself. There are about 300 fancy pigeon breeds in the world, with a wide variety of colour and marking variations. All are derived from the common rock dove or city pigeon and bred for specific genetically inherited characteristics. Many of the breeds have a background stretching back hundreds of years - the Fantail can be traced back more than 800 years. Fancy Pigeons are bred purely for looks, and some are quite a sight: there are pouters, pigeons that look as if they're on stilts, pigeons with great curls of feathers sprouting from their feet and huge things, the size of a cat.
-- ￼￼￼Background Information TRAVELLERS Dr Duck Australia is one of the driest continents on earth and many native water birds, like the ibis, travel great distances in search of suitable freshwater wetlands and estuaries. One such place is Narran Lakes - one of the largest remaining semi-permanent wetlands in south-eastern Australia. It supports 190,000 waterbirds during major floods – including many species of ibis, egrets, night-herons and spoonbills, as well as Magpie Geese, Jabiru and Brolga. These birds are the ‘fly in, fly out’ birds of the outback. They fly in to breed when times are wet, and fly out again to more temperate climes when floods dry up. The mystery is how birds on the coast know when to fly over 1,500 kilometres to a wetland that has just been filled by rain that landed weeks earlier a further 600 kilometress to the north. Shearwaters All of the world’s 23,000,000 Short-tailed Shearwaters breed in Southern Australia, and most of the 285 colonies lie in Bass Strait – on the windy exposed islands and headlands of this channel that separates mainland Australia from Tasmania. The Short-tailed Shearwater is at present Australia’s most abundant seabird. The Short-tailed Shearwater annually migrates one of the longest distances of any migratory bird. It migrates trans-equatorially to spend May to September in the highly productive waters of the northern North Pacific, Okhotsk Sea and Bering Sea. The shearwaters live on average 15 to 19 years so over that time could clock up a mileage of 250,000 kilometres with their annual migration to Bering Sea being approximately 14,500 kilometres. Broome Waders Roebuck Bay near Broome in Western Australia is one of the most important migration stopover areas for shorebirds in Australia and globally, regularly supporting over 100,000 water birds. It is the arrival and departure point for large proportions of the Australian populations of several shorebird species. One of these birds, the Bar-tailed Godwit, clocks up an epic 11,000 kilometres in the air during its annual migration from Alaska to Australia/New Zealand. En route it makes unbroken flights of up to 8,000 kilometres - the current record, which is shared by 2 other waders, the Red Knot and the Great Knot.