Amazing bird behaviour

We don’t habitually think of birds as being very intelligent but sometimes we see behaviour that makes us re-assess them. Video cameras are ubiquitous these days and social media shares anything noteworthy with amazing speed, so more of us see more examples now than ever before. Whether that will lead to a cultural shift in our perception of bird intelligence remains to be seen … let’s hope it does, because we only protect what we value.

These three video clips all appeared in my Facebook feed in the last few months. The first two show swans and a crow indulging in sports we consider specifically human, surfing and tobogganing, and there is no doubt at all that they are doing so for our own reason – it’s fun!

The swan footage was filmed by a local on the Gold Coast, shown on Channel 9 News and quickly went viral, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin. By the time I saw it, Channel 9 had been edited out and the information about location lost, but I tracked down the original:

The crow is using a ‘tool’ for entertainment and that’s pretty impressive but we always knew that crows were among the smarter birds. What about herons?

As one commenter on the YouTube page noted, this goes beyond using a tool for purely mechanical advantage (e.g. a monkey using a stick to increase the reach of his arm) to exploiting predictions about the behaviour of another animal. It’s not unique to this individual bird, either, as I found when looking for the original video: typing “heron fishing bread” into the YouTube search box got me over 100 results and, even allowing for duplications and irrelevancies amongst them, at least a dozen birds of several related species showing similar skill.

“Bird-brain” may take some time to become a compliment, but I do think we need to stop using it as an insult.

Striated Heron

Here are a couple of photos of a bird that was new to me at the time, a Striated Heron, Butorides striata.

dark bird on boat railing
Striated Heron, Butorides striata, at the Ross Creek marina

Ian Montgomery of Birdway, who was kind enough to identify it for me, mentioned  that it is rather similar to a Black Bittern (my first guess) and that Striated Herons are often more reddish brown in NQ than elsewhere.

Heron on railing - closer view
The same bird in a little more detail

I took these photos eighteen months ago but mislaid them. In the circumstances, a further delay of a couple of weeks doesn’t seem to matter so I have set up this post (and a few more) to appear automatically while I am away on holiday, discovering unfamiliar parts of SE Asia.

Birds of Rainsby

Rainsby is the Western Queensland cattle grazing property I visited over Easter and described here. There were lots of birds and I managed to capture a good number of species with my camera, though not all at a quality I would inflict on innocent browsers.

The species fell neatly into two groups with little overlap. The lightly timbered grassland around the house supported one group, Torrens Creek had all the waterbirds, and the birds of prey (at least two species) soared high above both areas. Small photos on this page are linked to larger versions, as are most of the photos on Green Path – as usual, just click on them.

Around the house

A flock of Crested Pigeons in dead trees
A flock of Crested Pigeons in dead trees near the house

• Crested Pigeon, Ocyphaps lophotes
• Black-faced Woodswallow, Artamus cinereus
• Yellow-throated Miner, Manorina flavigula
• Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
• Willie-wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys

Crested pigeon
Crested pigeon
Black-faced Woodswallow, Artamus cinereus
Black-faced Woodswallow
Yellow-throated Miner, Manorina flavigula, on hibiscus
Yellow-throated Miner
Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
Red-backed Kingfisher
Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
Red-backed Kingfisher

I also saw Magpies, Magpie-larks, Galahs and Hawks (Black Kites, I think, and one that may have been a Peregrine Falcon) but don’t have satisfactory photos for one reason or another.

Beside the creek

Herons perched on dead branch
Three kinds of heron on one high branch: White-necked Herons, a White-faced Heron, and a juvenile Nankeen Night Heron

The photo above is a somewhat fluky capture of three species of heron together – two White-necked Heron, Ardea pacifica; a White-faced Heron, Ardea novaehollandiae; and a young Nankeen Night Heron, Nicticorax caledonicus. For good measure, there was an adult Nankeen Night Heron on the branch below these four but it was obscured by leaves and therefore cropped out of the image.

Chicks in nest

There were lots of nests in the trees along the banks of the creek and in one of them, just above our picnic spot, I noticed two large but still very immature nestlings. I’m not at all sure of their identity but they must belong to one of the larger species – White-necked Heron or Australian Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, perhaps.

Australian Darter
Female Australian Darter

Very late in the afternoon I saw a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas, Platycercus adscitus, flying in to a big old gum tree on the far bank of the creek and enter what was obviously their nesting hole. I would have loved a photo but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light.

Billabong: waterbirds

Magpie Geese and Plumed Whistling Ducks
Magpie Geese and Plumed Whistling Ducks

Getting back to the abundant bird life at Billabong Sanctuary …
Whistling Ducks were everywhere, by twos and threes and tens, sometimes foraging alongside the Magpie Geese as in the photo on the left. The Magpie Geese were, I think, the largest birds there. The two pictured are not quite adults – they will soon lose the brown tinge to become pure white and black.

The beautiful Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), quite a bit smaller than the common White Ibis, were new to me, but I have known Moorhens since I was a child in Victoria. Billabong also claims to host one of its close relatives, the Purple Swamphen, but we didn’t notice any during our visit.

The third of the pictures below shows a Heron, characteristically perched on a branch overhanging the water and surveying it for prey. It is grey and it is a heron but it isn’t a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea): it’s a Pied Heron (Ardea picata). We also saw pure white Egrets, although I didn’t get any photos worth sharing.

Glossy Ibis, knee-deep in the lagoon
Glossy Ibis, knee-deep in the lagoon
Moorhen swimming amongst reeds
Dusky Moorhen swimming amongst reeds
Dark grey Heron perched on a branch overlooking the lagoon
Pied Heron overlooking the lagoon







That only leaves my puzzle picture, doesn’t it?

Congratulations to anyone who recognised the feathered football as a sleeping Magpie Goose. If you are still having trouble seeing that it really is a natural posture, this shot of a pair I had seen earlier may help:

Two sleeping Magpie Geese
Two sleeping Magpie Geese