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Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet drinking nectar 

When we first moved to Marrickville just over two decades ago, there were only Currawongs & Indian mynas in our street.  The Currawongs would leave in the morning & return at dusk.  The Currawongs would move somewhere else for spring & summer leaving the Indian mynas to rule.  What we heard most of the time was traffic & plane noise.  There were very few natural sounds.

New people started to move into the neighbourhood & we all started gardening.  Some of our neighbours planted cottage garden type plants, while others like ourselves went totally native & included some natives indigenous to this area.

We had a rule – unless it was spectacular, what we planted had to be able to provide food for birds or bats & at the very least, bees & other insects.

And then it happened….. the noise of our street changed.  All kinds of birds started to visit.

It was slow at first.  We started to identify different bird calls. Sometimes small groups of around 10-20 birds would visit.  The birdbath was used every day.  Evidence of their splashing was noticed & the water had to be replenished.  We would walk out the front door only to cause a mad fluttering of wings as bathing birds got interrupted.

Every year the sounds of birds were built upon.  A common question was, “What is that bird?”  The Birds in Backyards website was used often trying to identify the latest visitor.

A nest was spotted.  It turned out to be a pair Red Wattle birds.  Having been woken up by these flying alarm clocks for many years, I don’t feel like home is quite right unless there are Red Wattle birds around, so I was very happy about this.  Unfortunately, Ausgrid pruned off the branch that held their nest (in spring when they were breeding no less) & we feared we had lost them.   It was with much joy that we saw they had rebuilt in a branch of another street tree, closer to our house.  The branch is still at risk, but hopefully we will be able to convince Ausgrid to leave it be whenever they visit.

The Red Wattle bird pair have had three successful breeding seasons now.  They must like gardeners because they fly low over our heads when we are outside & even when they see our car.  We get greeted with a “Kuk Kuk!” most times we venture outside.

Little White eyes visit every day chattering at a million miles an hour when the right flowers are out.  They sound like a party.   For the last two years Rainbow lorikeets have visited the verge garden & their idea of party noise is much louder.  This season they come every 3-4 hours.  I imagine they circle the neighbourhood visiting known food sources returning after they have given the flowers time to replenish their nectar.  It is so much nicer than listening to traffic.

Someone else’s tree planting has attracted an Eastern Koel.  These birds migrate all the way from Papua New Guinea every summer.  Many people find these birds irritating, but I like the sound of his plaintive call calling for a mate.  I don’t find it too hard to go back to sleep after waking at 3am To “Kooel!  Kooel!”  The only time I had difficulty was when he sat in the street tree that was maybe 8-metres from our bedroom window.   I did mutter a bit that night.

One of the lovely things about living in Marrickville is the nightly wave of flying foxes that travel overhead at dusk.  I think they are beautiful to watch & especially like watching them from Turrella or from the Cooks River.  It’s a peaceful thing to do on a warm evening.

A pair of flying foxes have started to spend time eating from our street – the street trees & the trees in private gardens.   Their chattering sounds are quite lovely to hear in the background.   Flying foxes are experiencing a food shortage at present resulting in the death of many of their pups, so it is excellent to know that our effort is helping provide food for them.

There are bee hives in the area, which is great for our garden.  Bees are in trouble worldwide, so again, it is wonderful to know that we are doing our bit to help them survive just by making choices with what we plant.

We have a huge Salvia, which is totally inappropriate for our small garden, but we keep it because native Blue Banded bees come to feed from the flowers most days in the warmer months.    There are other native bees that hover & feed in this plant too.

There are lots of other species of bird that visit now & some are seasonal.  I can’t express how much better it is to live with a range of bird song & not just Indian mynas.  As an aside, I often read that Indian mynas chase away the native birds.  This has not been our experience.  The Indian mynas are still here of course, but they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of native birds that come here & that have moved into trees in people’s gardens.  The mynas no longer own this territory & they know it, so they quietly go about their own business.

If you want Indian mynas, lay a huge concrete slab driveway or concrete your back yard because they love concrete & bitumen. 

If you don’t want Indian mynas, plant a variety of food-producing native plants & trees & before long, the Indian mynas will be overrun by the new kids on the block.  You will be too busy noticing the native birds that you won’t see the Indian mynas.

In Part 2 I will write about ideas on improving biodiversity in small gardens & even balconies.

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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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