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Currawong

This months Festival of the Trees is looking at food for wildlife.  Marrickville LGA has quite a lot of  wildlife for an inner city urban area, especially with the Cooks River, the Tempe Reserve & Wetlands & some of our major parks.   The presence of nearby Girraween Park  at Wolli Creek helps our urban wildlife enormously.  However, when we first moved into our home 15 years ago there weren’t many birds in our immediate neighbourhood.  There were some of course, but we were not as aware of them as we were in our previous home.  They were mostly Pied Currawongs in winter, Common Mynas all year round & a couple of Turtle Doves as well.  Over the years this has changed significantly.  Now birds feature strongly in our neighbourhood.  So what happened to bring the birds here?

The neighbourhood around us changed in that many new people moved in & they did 3 things.  They removed the cement from their garden, reduced the size of their lawn or did away with it altogether & they planted trees & shrubs, many of them Natives.  Some of my neighbours are spectacular gardeners converting their bare gardens into mini-botanical havens filled with a variety of bird-attracting plants.  The transformation has been dramatic & they still kept the lemon tree.

birds sunning themselves

The other thing I noticed was that many people started putting birdbaths and/or ponds in their gardens.  This combination of water & food brought the birds back in droves.

It also brought the frogs seemingly by magic.  We put in a pond & 2 days later a rare frog breed arrived.  Now we have small frogs that hibernate under our very small piece of lawn.  They wake up in summer & leave at night.  We hear them, but rarely see them.

At least 24 Turtle Doves live in our block now so their family extended. There are many White Eyes, Willy-Wag Tails, Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks, Australian Magpies, large groups of Noisy Miners, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Crested Pigeons, a Common Koel or two, Grey Butcherbirds, Olive-backed Orioles, Silvereyes, Figbirds & Pallid Cuckoos.  Masked Lapwings fly over-head on their way to the river.  Even a couple of Spotted Pardalotes have moved in.  This is amazing as they live in areas with many Eucalypts, not Sydney’s Inner West.

small part of a large flock of Cockatoos who visited

Large groups of Cockatoos fly over most days & when the nuts & fruit are ripe, they descend on mass devouring them.  It’s a gorgeous sight & they are very noisy.  The powerlines can be covered with white birds all with something to say.  Both neighbours who grow the food the Cockatoos like to eat do not mind the invasion of these birds.

We still have the Pied Currawongs & Common Mynas, but they are not so destructive now they are out numbered.  The Common Mynas tried to get everyone to move, but the sheer numbers of birds had their power reduced to almost nil.  They now just get on with living.  We also have native bees & a Ring-Tailed Possum or two.

From a reasonably quiet area in terms of birds, our neighbourhood has become filled with bird song & bird activity.   I love the change.  It seems somehow more like I remember things used to be when I was a child & the presence of birds was taken for granted.

The Australian Museum has a wonderful web-site called Birds in Backyards. They list 40 birds & provide a fact-sheet & a short sound-bite of each bird call.  It is a wonderful reference for school children as well as people like me who don’t know much about birds.  Through this site I have been able to identify 20 of the 40 birds listed that I can hear & many times see from our own back garden.  http://birdsinbackyards.net/feature/top-40-bird-songs.cfm

Birds provide white noise that is soothing & helps block out traffic & other noises that can lead to stress.  They also help you in the garden by eating the insects that eat your plants.

White-eye

If you want to attract birds into your garden & neighbourhood, all you need to do is plant a variety of bird-attracting Australian native plants & provide a source of water.  The water is best placed near other plants as this gives the birds a sense of safety.  They will use a birdbath in the middle of a lawn, but if there is another in a better location, they will use that one first.

Our birdbath needs filling often & sometimes daily during hot weather.  A wide range of birds use it to drink & bathe at many times during the day.  Sometimes there is a line up.  The larger birds go first with the smaller birds in surrounding trees watching & waiting for them to finish.  At night, much to my delight, the bats use it. I haven’t managed to see them yet, but I hear the “woop, woop, woop “as they take off vertically.

If you can, plan to plant a range of plants of different heights & thicknesses.  Some birds love to go into small shrubs & eat the nectar from flowers & insects while hidden from sight.   Others are not afraid to sip nectar from flowers high up & in open view.  A range of plants will ensure a variety of birds visit.

Cockatoo eating something from my neighbours garden

Native grasses offer a great source of food as well.  I have seen them used in very creative ways by my neighbours.  Most Australian Natives do not require much water once established & thrive in poor quality soil, though they do appreciate mulch & regular fertilizing with a Native fertilizer.

Native plants can be used successfully with a cottage garden if that is your preferred look.  Many are prolific flowerers & some have flowers all year round.  Most respond to pruning allowing them to be kept in a shape you like. Pruning encourages more flowers & bushiness.

From being a person who preferred cottage gardens I have become someone who would rather plant something that gives food to another.  I do think the long drought we had stressed the wild birds & animals, as their water sources shrunk & their food sources didn’t flower or simply died.  The Ibis who have decided to stay in Sydney are an example of this.  Even though it’s raining torrents in Sydney & parts of NSW have flooded, the drought is not over by a long shot.  16 areas or boundaries in NSW (a little over half the state) are classified Exceptional Circumstances. This is done when drought is regarded as severe.

As a number of people have indicated they want ideas for native shrubs & trees, I’ll do some research & put together a list soon.  It will be good learning for me as I am not an expert in this area either.

Kookaburra

This post is part of the Festival of the Trees, a blog carnival by tree lovers in celebration of trees & the benefits they bring. This post is about an ordinary tree with an extraordinary impact on urban wildlife.

week old palm fruit

In 1998 I decided that we should have an Alexandra Palm in our back garden.  I chose this tree because we don’t have much space.  Fortunately we have massive street trees in view so they give us the feeling of living amongst trees.

As is usual with everything I plant, the Palm has grown to double the size indicated on its ID tag.  At one stage I worried fearing it may fall on the house in a storm.  This fear went when I watched it barely move during severe winds that damaged some roofs in the area.  Around this time I met a woman who hated Palm trees.  “Why would anyone want a telegraph pole in their garden?”  This is why.

This single tree provides food for around 10 varieties of birds that come for its twice a year supply of food.  The seeds are ‘guarded’ while they are ripening for 2-3 months by many varieties of birds.  In the meantime, they build nests, mate & hatch their eggs.

In winter, this palm & others in the neighbourhood provide a source of much needed food for many varieties of native birds.  The Indian Mynas don’t eat from it often, the native birds come in droves.  They eat in cooperation, big ones with little ones.  There is rarely a fight.

At the summer fruiting the babies are brought to our tree to feed from its prolific fruit.  They leave their babies in the tree for some while to forage for other types of food, knowing they will be safe hidden amongst the spray of berries or high up in the fronds.  Sometimes there can be 2 different species of baby bird left in the tree.  They sit quietly & look at each other.  In winter these babies return as adults knowing there is a guarantee of a good meal.

a native bird eating the ripe Palm seeds

The small birds nibble on the riper seeds, the large birds eat the seed whole.  Then there are the fruit bats that come at night to feed.  I like the whoop, whoop, whoop of their wings beating through the air before they land in the tree.  Sometimes they come in too fast & crash.  Then all you can hear is tiny sounds of rustling while the bats are eating & the occasional seed that drops to the ground. Then whoop, whoop as the bats take flight again.

We get a lot of delight from the visiting wildlife.  The baby birds that sit for great chunks of time in the tree have long & enquiring looks at us.  By the time they return as adults, they show definite recognition of us even going so far to herald their return.  At times the nearby street tree is full of different species of birds checking out how their feast is cooking.  As the seeds ripen, the street tree gets busier.  We both think there are many more birds in our neighbourhood than there was before we planted this tree.

Many of the babies get flying lessons from the Palm to the neighbours’ roof, back & forth, back & forth until suddenly the little one takes off across the road & the parents madly chase it screaming commands.  The command must be to return to the Palm tree because they always do.

I used to worry that the neighbourhood would be inadvertently populated by Palm trees, that the birds would spread the seeds, but this has not happened.  For some reason most of the large birds that eat the seeds excrete the seed sans the meat around the seed within minutes of eating it.  Their digestive system must burn the meat of the seed because a good majority of the seeds that have been eaten land back in our garden.  By the end of the fruiting season, if we don’t remove them, there will be a couple of inches of seeds piled up like mulch around the base of the tree.  They are easy to scoop up & pop into the recycling bin.  A few have sprouted but their root system is not invasive & they can be plucked out with very little effort.

I have been told this is a White-Eye - 10 or more at a time arrive nightly at dusk

I guess for many people Palms would be a nuisance.  Not only do you have to remove the seeds after they have dropped naturally or been excreted by the birds, but there is also the casing of the seed branch, the dried out & empty seed branch which falls twice a year & the fronds which fall as the tree is growing.  The dead fronds can be quite large, but they are light to move & cut up easily with a pair of secateurs.

To us, the work this tree causes is far out-weighed by the increase of birds that have come to live nearby.  We also put in a birdbath in a safe place, so the day is broken up into bath time, meal time, bath time, meal time.  It’s nice for us & like a TV show for our cats who sit enthralled & fixated.

The latest addition to the neighbourhood is a Ring-tail Possum who has come to live in the street tree, within leaping distance from the Palm.  He came as a baby & sat on the fence.  At first we thought he was a rat until we saw his long curled tail.  I have been told possums eat bananas & apples, so it stands to reason he eats Palm fruit.  Clever guy has moved in next to a perpetual meal that lasts for months & happens twice a year.  I no longer worry about this tree nor care about the opinions of Palm tree haters.  It’s not a native tree, but I am convinced that this tree has helped much of the wildlife survive the protracted drought we are having. NOTE:  I have just been told the Alexandra Palm is native to the Queensland rainforest.  See comment by Bob & my reply.

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