I talk with ecologist Sue Stevens about three well-known Australian native birds – a spectacular raptor, the whistling kite; the squeaky-winged crested pigeon and a duck with unusual quack, the grey teal.
Imagine you’re looking up into the sky and you see a largish bird, gliding slowly, high in the sky. It flaps with slow wing-beats and when holds its wings horizontally; they’re bowed downwards at the tip. As it flies it sometimes makes a loud whistling call but it doesn’t twist its tail when manoeuvring. The Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) is a gingery brown colour and generally untidy or scruffy looking.
The head and underparts are light brown with pale streaks and the wings dark with pale wing linings. The Whistling Kite has a characteristic, long, rounded tail in flight and is plain sandy coloured with paler tips – other kites have straight or forked tails.
Looking at the Whistling Kite from below, the outer wing feathers are dark coloured and widely fingered. Outer wing rear feathers are pale in colour, inner wing rear feathers are darker brown. The Whistling Kite grows 50 to 60 centimetres long, wingspan 1.2 to 1.5 metres.
Did you know that Australia has native pigeons? Not all the pigeons you see come from oversees, nor do they congregate around eating areas and create a mess on the pavement. Some pigeons, are extremely well behaved, and it turns out, are native to Australia.
The crested pigeon is only one of two pigeons endemic to Australia with an erect crest. It’s usually not far from water because it needs to drink each day. You’re likely to see it quite a bit in the urban environment, on reserves, golf courses, gardens, and sports grounds as well as pastoral areas. I’m sure I heard the whoo-whoo of the crested pigeon in my garden only yesterday, and sounding exactly like the call you heard. It took off with that familiar whistling sound before I got to see it.
Are you in the habit of feeding wild or native ducks white bread? Did you know their diet is plant matter, insects, snails and crustaceans in the water? While white bread does its job of filling up the tummies of the ducks, geese, swans, and other birds seen around lakes, it doesn’t do a good job of giving them any nutritional assistance. Birds quickly get full from the bread, so they can’t eat anything else that may contain the nutritional value they need to breed and raise their young. But let’s find out about the duck with the unusual quack…
The Grey Teal is on the available list of game shooting. Despite thirteen years of drought that reduced water bird numbers dramatically, hunters have increase the numbers of birds killed and taken home from 270,000 in 2010 to over 600,000 in 2011. Birds are often just wounded and left for dead, with shooting groups admitting that this amounts to one in four birds.
Click here for more information on the adverse affects of game shooting wild ducks