Air ControlTwo flocks of cockies –one black, the other white- swoop and squawk, circling in opposite directions in the swirling wind above the fruit trees that grow behind my home. Each species shrieks its native dialect, whether in defiance of The Others, or encouragement of their own kind, both asserting their right to farm the ripening almonds and the budding figs below them.
For a time, there is a kind of contrapuntal balance –an aerial Yin-Yang- until the White-Eared Black Cockatoos descend, when their lighter-weight Sulphur-Crested White Cockatoo cousins decide to cede this bout and flap away at rooftop height to search elsewhere for uncontested fruit.
This is only one of many battles for control of the airspace above the suburbs of my city that I have witnessed during four decades of bird-watching, carefully observing the diverse characters, behaviours and interactions of dozens of species, both native and introduced.
Sadly, many of the birds I knew well in my youth are no longer to be seen in the Perth metropolitan region. Where are the Golden Whistlers, the Silver Eyes, the Bronze-Winged Pigeons? Where are the Red-Capped Sitellas, the Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrikes and Blue Wrens? Gone, likely forever, from the suburbs, driven to the fringes by the pressures of urban development, of cats both feral and domestic, of black rats, and of competition for feed and nesting resources from introduced bird species.
Australia’s iconic Kookaburra is not native to this Western side of the continent –a thousand-kilometre desert called the Nullarbor Plain being an insurmountable natural barrier to their migration here. But some homesick Eastern Staters, who missed its crackling cackle and its raucous laugh, released some imported birds into the wild over a century ago, and now Kookaburras occupy a wide range of the South-West coastal fringe, usurping native birds’ nesting hollows and outcompeting them for food. Their laughter seems to take on an evil edge when one observes Kookaburras’ raiding other birds’ nests for eggs and chicks.
Rainbow Lorikeets –beautiful, colourful little parrots from the South-Eastern coastal fringe- are also interlopers, introduced into the Perth area only two decades ago when a research aviary was damaged in a storm. Those two dozen escapees now have an estimated 50 thousand descendants in the region, and have almost eradicated the gentle ring-necked Twenty-Eight Parrots that used to flourish here.
The one characteristic all the remaining bird species have is aggression, in one form or another. From the tiniest freckle-feathered New Holland Honeyeater to the sickle-beaked Straw-Necked Ibis, right up to the majestic Black Swan, all of the birds that ply my local skies are of the types that will defend their territories –often against far larger birds- with a ferocity disproportionate to their size. I have watched, amused, as Wagtails and Wattle-Birds suspended their eternal feuding for a time, to team up and drive away a flock of startled Ravens, and seen a White-Breasted Sea-Eagle chased and harassed by a family of magpies.
I guess aggression is essential for survival -for birds, as much as for people- in The Big Smoke.