Birds of Victoria
For those of us residing in the depths of suburbia with its manicured lawns, high fences and vast stretches of asphalt and concrete, it can feel hard to connect to nature. For some, all nearby parks are sporting fields and forests are out of reach. Despite urbanization placing a low priority on creating a harmonious environment to be shared among all species, some have succeeded in adapting to this new industrialized world. Birds are one of these success stories; filling the air with their song alongside the ever-present thrum of busy roadways.
Learning about the native species with which we share a home can be an empowering and rewarding experience. Standing outside on a pleasant sunny day and not being able to distinguish and name many of the subconsciously familiar sounds we hear is a symptom of the problem of the modern, urban disconnection from the natural world.
Australia has over 800 species of bird, almost half of which are found nowhere else in the world.
It can be tempting to view the natural world as distant and outside the boundaries of the mundane; the prevalence of birds are a reminder that we are part of a natural community of living beings. This season, why not join us in getting to know some of our feathered neighbours.
The Grey Butcher Bird
The grey butcher bird is a passerine bird (a perching bird with three forward facing toes, and one back) with a large head, black eyes, long hooked beak and plump body. Its monochromatic plumage features a black head with a white collar, dark wings and pale undercarriage. A close relative of the magpie and currawong, nesting butcher birds are known to swoop when they feel threatened.
A handsome, serious bird with a piercing gaze, butcher birds have adapted well to urbanization. An aggressive, territorial predator, the butcher bird is named for its habit of impaling and butchering its prey on thorns, crevices or tree forks. Prey may be then kept in such a larder for later consumption or used to attract mates.
The butcher bird fills a similar ecological niche to the Northern hemisphere shrike; although shrikes are sometimes referred to as butcher birds, the species are unrelated; one of Australia’s many examples of convergent evolution.
Often mistaken for the cuckoo shrike, butcher birds are smaller, rounder birds with an average length of 27cm. They have a magnificent, varied, fluting song, using their voices to demarcate territorial lines; putting their entire body to work in creating incredible volume.
Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike
Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes are shy, unassuming passerine birds who subsist mostly
on insects and occasional fruits and seeds, typically feeding on the wing. Continuing
the tradition of European colonists struggling to comprehend Australian native wildlife, Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes belong to the Coracina family; they are neither cuckoos nor shrikes. Preferring any woodland habitat except rainforests, Black Faced Cuckoo Shrikes are found Australia wide and are common even in the suburbs.
Elegant in grey with a black eye mask that becomes larger with maturity, they are slightly smaller than magpies, averaging at 34cm in length. Often mistaken for the smaller Grey Butcher Bird, the Black Faced Cuckoo shrike has a longer, sleek body and flighty temperament. They can be identified at a distance by their distinctive habit of shuffling their wings after landing.
If you’ve been out walking late at night and heard a soft, two-part call similar to that
of a dove, it’s likely to be originating from Australia’s smallest owl, the Southern
Boobook, also known as the Mopoke.
Named for the sound it makes, this charming, wide-eyed, true owl feeds on insects and small vertebrates, including mice, microbats and other small birds. An abundant and adaptable species even in the depths of suburbia, the Southern Boobook is 25-35cm in length with brown plumage with white flecks, with grey, green or yellow eyes.
While throughout history the owl has often been portrayed as a bearer of ill omens, the Southern Boobook is considered beneficial to human habitation by controlling rodent populations. The Southern Boobook can be found everywhere in Australia except for the most arid desert regions. The Southern Boobook can even be found in open farmland, requiring only a few high trees to provide sufficient roosting spots and perches for hunting.
This article first appeared in volume 3, issue 5 of our old newsletter, Spokes of the Wheel.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons