Saturday, May 3, 2008


There are kookaburras around here. If I wake early enough (around 3 or 4 am) I can hear them laughing around the neighbourhood. If I get up and listen carefully I can track each couple as they mark their territory and warn other mated couples away.

I'm not up that early very often.

Yesterday the local couple were in my back yard. It was 6 am so too late for the territorial laughter. There was simply the gargling warble that usually precedes the full-throated laugh of the bird and then silence. They were hunting.

I looked out my kitchen window and there they were, one perched on the edge of the trampoline, the other on top of a lattice frame. Grey-winged kookaburras, of course. The blue-wings can't laugh at all - they cough. The bird on the trampoline gargled a few times, each time thrusting its long beak forward and arching its neck to make the sound. It's a magnificent thing to watch. At once graceful and instinctive, uncontrolled. They sat there in silence then for nearly an hour. A couple of times one of them would fly the short distance to the ground and return to their temporary perch with a worm or lizard in its beak.

It doesn't matter what they catch, it always gets thrashed against the perch, even the poor worms that couldn't possibly have needed much tenderising. I've seen a kookaburra do that to a mouse. Swing its head violently to the side, slamming the mouse against the branch of a tree. Even from across the road I heard the bones crunch. Swing, thwack, swing, thwack. Again and again until the kookaburra was finally satisfied and tossed the limp bundle down its throat.

I think kookaburras might be my favourite bird. They're loyal and protective, joyful and patient. They're large enough for me to see in a tree without having to search for ages with the binoculars. The colouring in their feathers is magnificent. Every shade of grey and brown and cream, and the blue-wings have the most magnificent electric blue streaks in the primary feathers. Their laugh is infectious. It makes the cool pre-dawn darkness a thing of joy; the day ahead something to be anticipated.


Jim Harris said...

What an exotic name, kookaburras. Very nice detailed image. I need to work on such descriptions. I have an odd bird in my life. As I type, I have a large wall-width picture window behind my monitor that faces on my back yard. So I get to watch the animals play. There's a tree about fifteen feet in front of my window, and squirrels, usually two, but just now three, chase themselves by running round and round that tree trunk.

Further in the distance, out in our parking area we have a basketball goal, and this crazy robin has made her nest on the part of the rim that attaches to the backboard. Robins are such dumb birds.

This goal has no protection from the elements and is right next to where I park my truck. She's been sitting on her nest for days. I haven't seen a mate yet, so I wonder if she's a single mom. I also worry about how the babies will fare when they hatch.

Other than the rim of the basketball net, they won't have any place to walk outside of the nest. I think this will be terrible for learning to fly.

I'm wondering if there is anything I can do to help this birdbrain mother.


glediar said...

I think the word 'kookaburra' is an adaption of an Aboriginal term. The 'kooka' part of it certainly sounds a little like the beginnings of the laugh.

We have a children's song about kookaburras. I'd sing it for you but I can't hold a note - well, I can but I'm never sure which note it will be or how long it will last! The song goes like this:

"Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry, merry king of the bush is he,
Laugh, kookaburra, laugh
Gay your life must be."

I obviously sang it a lot as a child as it's still very clear in my head.

Your squirrels and robin sound fascinating. We don't have squirrels here. Our closest would be possums. We have ring-tailed possums (clean and quiet) and brush-tailed possums (noisy and smelly) in this area. There's a brush-tailed possum living with her offspring in the ceiling in our building at school. The kids are fascinated - most of them are from other countries so haven't seen possums close-up before. They're learning about the foods they eat and their habits - as well as the smell they leave behind when they raid school bags for food!

We have a lot of possum injuries and deaths caused by cars, dogs and cats. The possums are nocturnal so a lot of people aren't keeping their animals confined at night time. It's irresponsible and such a waste of beautiful life.

There are a number of different types of robins in Australia but they're mostly in the southern states. I rarely see any - too small for me to see in the bushes without glasses or binoculars and I don't always have them with me. According to my bird book (always have it handy) they usually build nests in horizontal forks of trees. I can see how the basketball hoop could be mistaken for the fork part, but what about the rest of the branches? If you did try to put anything near it to help the chicks when they hatch you'd probably disturb the hen and she'd stop sitting.

Jim Harris said...

We have possums, but I seldom see them unless they are dead on the road.

I saw a red fox the other day. I've seen him before on my walks. We live close to a golf course, and the red fox travels into the neighborhoods via a culvert that runs near my house. I've seen foxes near other golf courses.

Raccoons are very common in the city but usually only come out at night. They travel by the storm drains. One night a noise woke us up. We thought someone was trying to break into the house through a window, so I ran over and looked out and it was a raccoon. A very large one. We stared at each other for awhile and then he waddled off.

It's getting to be more common to see hawks live in the city. And I often see geese and ducks. I love hearding the sound of the geese and seeing them flying over low on my walks. The golf course has a pond which I guess is a rest stop for them on their migrations.

I have been told people have seen coyotes outside of the city. It's fascinating how many animals have adapted to urban ways.

A week ago driving home at night I saw a small fireball shooting over the city, very low, maybe a few tree heights high. It was a small meteor, but blazing a green fire, and have a big tail. On the news there were several reports of people seeing it, but none about where it landed. I wanted to chase it in my truck because I've always wanted to find one that had just landed.


glediar said...

Wow, a meteor that clear. We don't get many of those here although I can't see any reason why not. They all seem to burn up before they get into the lower atmosphere.

That low you've have got the shock wave and noise blast as well. Perhaps it landed a long way away or got burned up. Distance is deceptive with things like that. Let me know if you ever track it down.

A lot of animals have adapted to urban life. It's good to see but it's also sad because there are many more that haven't and will eventually die out completely. I watched a dvd last night on things that caused extinction last night (I'm doing a unit on endangered animals with one of my classes). While two of the five things can happen naturally, we humans are causing all of them at the moment.

Instead of mass extinctions taking thousands of years and giving species time to create or find new habitats, it looks like it'll happen in 100 years simply because of the impact our lifestyle has on the environment. We really are a careless, self-absorbed species.

I know I'm no better. I have a huge list of things I want to do to make my house low or no-impact but haven't done any of it yet, so I'm still contributing to the destruction. I don't even have a water tank to reduce my reliance on town-supplied water. That's on the plan for the latter part of this year.

After that I'll look at ways of reducing heat inside the house, getting a solar hot water system and solar panels to feed back into the electricity grid.