Observing bird-life in wonderment (2)

A number of plovers occupy the ground opposite my home. They are garbed in the manner of the scholars of the Middle Ages of Europe; what looks like a brownish overcoat gives them the appearance of dignity as they walk. They do dart here and there each morning though, feasting on the insects which seem to be active then.

I do wonder: are insects only intended to be fodder for birds? What else are they good for? But then, the same question could be asked about crocodiles and alligators.

Digressing, I recall that, in my boyhood, my family would holiday at a place named Port Dickson on the west coast of British Malaya. We bathed standing up (we did not, could not, swim) in the mud-tainted water off the Straits of Malacca. For our safety, a cage of solid timber poles protected us from attack by crocodiles. With all the navies passing through the Straits today, the risk of being chemically poisoned should be high for anyone wishing to cool off there from the heat.

In September, each female plover will produce 4 eggs. When hatched, the tiny chicks will forage for themselves! The mothers are fiercely protective. Anyone walking or cycling too close runs the risk of an ear being sliced by a cutting spur at the end of each plover’s wing. Their swooping, as they call a warning to their chicks, can be threatening to intruders.

In the first few weeks, the chicks will forage near their mother. When she sits and spread her wings, at least two of the chicks will sit under her wings, while the other(s) forage nearby. Soon, the tiny chicks will chase insects here and there. They will wander on to the road, with the mother making frantic protective calls when she sees a potential threat.

Currently, there are more than 4 cats living very close by. I doubt if any of the chicks will survive the local dogs and cats. Why do people bring cats into bird-land?

I have noticed 2 interesting behaviours by the plovers. When a strange bird flies over them, a mother and her chicks will duck close to the ground. I wonder if this action, like the foraging, is instinctive. The other behaviour of interest is an adult tapping the ground with a foot, while looking a little ahead. Moving forward, the plover is able to drive out of the ground its target. That is, it behaves like a calculating hunter, as well as a casual chaser.

In spring, magpies are seen to attack cyclists passing by on the road. I have watched a magpie keep pace with a fast-moving helmeted cyclist on the main road to the city centre in Canberra. It did not attack him. Perhaps it was doing what American planes were doing recently flying beyond North Korean waters: signalling a warning!

Then we have the galahs. Strangely, the term galah has pejorative implications when directed at humans. This bird is light grey with pink. A flock will attack our lawns, digging up new shoots. They are not interesting to observe. They are always too busy feeding.

It is the cookaburra which is interesting. Its call demands attention. Two or three calling together is quite exciting. It can sit still on an electrical wire for quite a while; then suddenly swoop to the ground to collect its prey. Its eyesight must be fantastic.

The nearest comparison is the little eagle. It hovers, then suddenly swoops onto its prey. Its eyesight too is impressive.

I find bird behaviour more interesting than the behaviour of humans – except for babies and little children.

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