I am not a keen bird watcher. I was given lots of talents, but for me, being able to see ‘detail in the distance’ requires glasses or binoculars. It follows then, that if I can’t see the birds, I certainly won’t be able to watch them effectively either!
Having said that, I do have a few favourite Australian species, mostly because they are common in my garden and give me plenty of opportunities to observe their antics.
The subject of this post – the Magpie, was running late when the ‘feather colours’ were handed out by the great bird creator, and all that was left was black and white! In addition to having unimaginative colouring, they are not pretty birds either, probably the best description for them would be ‘practical’! Big beaks to catch insects, large wings on a medium sized body, piercing eyes and, well, that’s about it really!
The birds are strongly territorial during the breeding season and do not tolerate their offspring remaining in the territory once they have fledged. The young ones gather together and establish themselves in non breeding spaces. Our garden is in one of these spaces, so we get visits from lots of younger birds who gather and hunt for food together in small groups.
Magpies also do not approve of people being in their territories at breeding time. If you ever see an Australian cyclist getting around in springtime with spikes sticking out of their helmet, do not be alarmed! The spikes are only plastic cable ties and their function is to prevent Magpies from ‘swooping’ as the rider goes through Magpie breeding territories! (There are lots of other techniques used too – painting ‘eyes’ on the top of your hat is another favourite!) This swooping behaviour can be quite alarming, especially when one is attacked unexpectedly from behind!
Outside of the breeding season though, the birds are quite amiable and become accustomed to people quite easily, but rarely become pests like pigeons or sparrows. But this easy association makes them quite entertaining and their daring behaviours bring them so close that they are a delight to watch.
However, the thing I love most about these big birds is their song. They have a melodious warble that can continue for quite a long time and it is really, really lovely. When the younger birds take over the garden and all start singing together, it is so special and so beautiful. And often, it can go on for an hour or more.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens have recorded and published these beautiful sounds of the Magpie. About half way down the list on this webpage is a hyperlink to the song of both a group and a single Magpie.
This, to me, is the true sound of Australia.