Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Postie Converted

Our postie has converted from Magpie hater to lover! He used to whinge and whinge about getting hit in the helmet by dive bombing Maggies. Last week we had a chat and he grimly told me how a group of wood ducks were "fouling" his swimming pool. "Bloody birds" he said, "I hate them!" I suggested he start feeding the Maggies at home and they just might chase off the pooping ducks.

It worked! Well, he told me today that the ducks are still hanging around but the Magpies are eating mince out of his hand. He was grinning from ear to ear as he described how they take the mince carefully from his fingers. Precision beaks at their finest....

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Peaceful Sunday Afternoon

It's a peaceful afternoon at the warehouse as most businesses are closed. The magpies are less grumpy, visiting at the same time as two butcher birds and didn't try to chase them off. I wonder if my young maggies are feeling a bit broody although I don't think they are old enough to lay eggs.

Baboo was off visiting other areas for two days. There are five or six butcher birds but it is hard to tell them apart by appearance. Baboo stands out because of her twisted foot. I get the feeling they have a large territory and visit different parts depending on food availability. If all else fails, they have the take away mince shop on Hurley Drive!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fighting Amongst the Birds

One of the butcher birds has done something to get right up the nose, so to speak, of one of the magpies. Last week one of the butcher birds flew in for brekkie and was very nervous, looking about constantly. Sure enough a magpie swooped in with beak snapping loudly and the chase was on. Eventually they both landed a distance apart on the edge of the roof. The magpie was all puffed up, wingtips pointed down and started marching sternly across to the butcher bird. The butcher bird sang out a few notes, flew up and over the maggie's head to the other side. The maggie turned around and resumed the march. This went on for about 5 minutes and my laughing seemed to break it up. It's been five days and the magpie has not forgotten.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Sweet Baboo

Baboo has grown up over the last year and now sports adult feathers. One of her legs/feet is a bit deformed or twisted and I think it is very lucky she grew up. Twice she must have landed wrong and the foot pained her but the little bird persevered. She enjoys sitting high on the ladder and flying down over my head as I walk past. She practised singing at the warehouse and seemed amazed at what came out of her beak!

Now she is around 18months old and I believe has found a mate. Well, at least she is always in the company of a new butcher bird. They seem to chatter to each other and stay together all the time. I've never been able to find any information on how old they must be before having young or how long they live.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not long after the magpies started coming around for a feed, a family of butcher birds arrived. They seemed a bit more shy and I've never tried to hand feed them. One day in March 2008 I saw two of them on the edge of the warehouse roof looking down at me. In between the two adults was a young butcher bird and it was obvious the parents were introducing the baby to the local take away shop!

I named the baby "Baboo" because she was ever so sweet. Never showing any fear of me, Baboo flies into the warehouse to perch either on my work table or on the big ladder. Her feathers were cream and brown as opposed to the adult black and white - good camouflage colours! One of the magpies tried to be a bully and take her mince but Baboo wouldn't let him. She backed up and sat down on the bit of meat and let out the loudest vocal objection. The maggie didn't know what to make of that and left her alone.

Butcher birds tend to all look alike and I can only tell them apart because of their personalities. Two of them were obviously the parents. One is quite shy and hangs back while the other (Father pehaps?) comes right up to the roller door. A third butcher bird must be a sibling to Baboo. He didn't seem all to happy to have a youngster around and would occaisionally try to peck the baby. Not much different from some human families!

Monday, August 3, 2009

I am in a unique position at work in that I can observe and interact with “The Hurley Drive Mob” all day and just about seven days a week. My partner and I wholesale computer parts from a warehouse that is part of a twenty-five unit complex. The complex has a garden, bush along the back of one side and a large grassy area along another. There are several high vantage points for the magpies to survey their domain and a supply of fresh clean water at our unit. Most of my day is spent at the open roller door filling orders.

Two years ago, a few magpies showed up and much to their delight, several people in the complex shared the remains of their lunches. Realising that a diet of chips is not good, I began bringing in little packets of mince. I was thrilled to be able to hand feed them and very excited when five juveniles joined the party.
It seemed so obvious to me that there is purpose behind their songs and they listen to what another is singing. In September 2007, my Mother became quite ill and there was a five-day delay before I could get a flight to the United States. I was in quite a state and even resorted to dusting to keep busy. One of the mature magpies perched at eye level at my work desk by the roller door and started singing ever so softly to me. She was singing so quietly, my partner in the office did not hear. Her song was so lovely and compassionate, interspersed with soft clicks and went on for several minutes. I was totally rapt. She was definitely saying something meant just for me – I do not know what but I fell in love with the little buggers.

After Christmas, the magpie population slowly decreased. I don’t know what caused them to leave but one by one they moved on. There came a day in February that not a one showed up for morning tea. I was devastated, hoping that perhaps come spring they would return. Suddenly with much fanfare, the five juveniles flew in together, looking for all the world like a group of naughty teenagers and belted out what I now know is their territorial song.

It is great fun being part of this clan of magpies. They enjoy resort style living and I am their pet human! Their behaviour is slightly different if I feed them in the garden instead of at the roller door. They tend to hide some of the mince and go to great lengths tearing up paperbark or dragging leaves over it.

After reading Professor Kaplan's book, I recognise the cranky, pecking behaviour to other magpies as defending their territory against intruders. Two younger magpies tried to join the group but were refused and eventually driven away. Interestingly enough, they happily coexist with a family of butcherbirds. It is so precious to see all ten birds lined up, waiting for their bit of mince. The youngest butcherbird refuses to give way to the magpies and will sit on the mince squawking loudly until they give up with the intimidation act. Since I feed them in turn, much like their Mum, I think they are pretty confident they won’t miss out.

They are very observant and intelligent. They have worked out that if the roller door is open I am here. Daily they have watched me walk down the aisle to the back and return with mince. If I am in the office and not at the desk by the roller door, they will come looking for me down the aisle. One adventurous fellow climbed over a box, stuck his head around the corner into the office and called out to let me know they were waiting for me.

Our pallet racking goes to the ceiling and we have a huge freestanding aluminium ladder for the top shelves. The magpies enjoy perching on the steps. One in particular gets on the highest step and waits for me to walk past. He glides down and goes just over the top of my head. I have never thought of his actions as swooping or threatening. He also does this when we walk to the garden – flies as close as he can without hitting me. They are hardly going to bite the hand that feeds them. Instead, I find this action more of an act of affection or pleasure/excitement.

I have lived in Australia for ten years and I must admit my introduction to magpies was not pleasant. I got a sharp peck to the head when I unknowingly wandered too close to a nest. It amazes me that such a fierce weapon can gently take the smallest bit of mince from my fingertip. They are incredible birds and do not waste a thing.

My Little Friends

I plan to use my blog to talk about my little friends, the magpies and the butcher bird family, that come to visit at our warehouse.

About two years ago, a group of magpies started to visit and I started feeding them bits of mince. They were a sorry looking lot, missing toes and a few were blind in one eye or the other. They looked as if they had been through some really tough times!

Every morning and afternoon, they would come running across the parking lot for brekkie and afternoon tea. It was easy to make friends with them and have them gently taking mince from my fingertips. If I wasn't at the front of the warehouse, they would come looking for me - even into the office. Since it was a hot summer, I put out fresh cool water every morning for them to drink. And they loved it! If the water was dirty, I'd get a stern look as if to say, "You need to get us fresh".

At one point, twenty of the little buggers were showing up including their young. What a sound they made when they would sing out together in chorus! I had to learn more about magpies and purchased a book about them by a Professor Kaplan.