Bird Behaviour Breakdown – Double-eyed Fig-parrots

Birds have one of the most evolved and complex behavioral systems of any animal group. This is due to the extra dynamics birds face living in the skies in comparison to terrestrial animals. Birds need to keep a high metabolism, with higher body temperatures than most terrestrial animals, to upkeep their insatiably high activity rates. Birds also need to keep their feathers in the utmost perfect conditions to ensure that their are no problems during flight. If a bird has damaged wing feathers and attempts to fly, it can cost them their lives.

However during my travels I have observed quite interesting and less obvious behaviors of birds, which often left me scratching my head with confusion until I researched it a bit. The first odd and memorable behavior  I witnessed was that from a Double-eyed Fig-parrot (Cyclopsitta ) I was taking photos of at Gordonvale just south of Cairns.
Cyclopsitta diophthalma race macleayana - Double-eyed Fig-Parrot

At first I though this fig-parrot was eating something growing on the branch of this rainforest tree. I thought it was most likely the lichen. But even from the limited knowledge I knew of Double-eyed Fig-parrots, I knew this could not be the case. Fig-parrots like other parrots, are mainly granivores, meaning they mostly eat seeds.

IMG_0698As I went through the photos it became apparent that the parrot was chewing on the wooden structures of the branch and not actually consuming anything. This is actually a behavior that most bird keepers would know well. In captivity, bird keepers are required to include a cuddle-bone shell for their bird to sharpen their beak on. Wild birds however do not have access to a cuddle-bone and prefer to sharpen their beaks on branches.

IMG_0697This behavior I observed of the Double-eyed Fig-parrots is completely normal for wild birds and not as bizarre as I initially suspected. This parrot was prepping his beak ready to crack some rainforest plant seed shells. Which rainforest plant seed does this parrot species prefer? Figs ofcourse! This is where the Double-eyed Fig-parrot gets its common name from.

There is one other explanation of this behavior, which is more exciting! Fig parrots actually chew holes in trees to make their nests. Instead of waiting for fungi and termites to erode away a tree hollow they take it upon themselves to masterfully excavate their own tree hollow. This fig parrot could have been testing the branch to find dampened weak spots to dig a tree hollow in.

Based of the fact this parrot was gnawing on on both the branch and the twig jutting out from the branch, I’d say we were observing the first behavior. It’s still exciting to decipher and ponder this rarely seen behavior in wild birds!

Double-eyed Fig-Parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)

To find out the next strange behavior I encountered, follow the link at the end of this post.




Click here for the next bird behavior breakdown!

Why are old trees so important?

Many animals use trees for habitat in Australia, with animals from all major fauna groups solely depending on them for shelter, refuge and food. Possums eat Eucalyptus leaves while birds, flying foxes and small tree-dwelling mammals feed off flower nectar of many different tree species. Trees provide shelter via hollows, which are an essential habitat feature for birds, arboreal mammals, frogs and some tree dwelling snake species. Some hollows even naturally store water which has been shown to be important drinking sources for Feather-tailed Gliders and tree frogs. Some tree species found locally around Sydney, such as the Smooth-barked Apple (Angophora costata) and the Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) are able to produce large hollows which are essential nest habitat for the Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua).

 

Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus): A bird which is entirely dependent on tree hollows for shelter | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus): A bird which is entirely dependent on tree hollows for shelter | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

So where does tree age come into the picture? Tree age is important as for hollows to form a tree must be very mature. The age at which hollows to naturally form varies among tree species. For example, Blackbutt hollows start forming around 100 years old. At 140 years of age, the average Blackbutt will have numerous smaller sized hollows which are usable for small mammals and birds. For larger hollows to develop to accommodate larger animals, a Blackbutt will need to reach an age of around 210 years of age.

 

Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps): Require old growth trees for shelter | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps): Require old growth trees for shelter | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

The process that occurs for hollows to form is one of natures many fascinating processes. Firstly a tree must receive some kind of damage, which occurs naturally from twigs or branches breaking off. This unprotected scar then becomes infected by fungus which proceeds to rot the wood. This fungal infection enables easy access for termites which then make a nest in the rotting wood and feast on the fungus and the lignin in the wood. Once termites have established a nest, loose bits of the wood and termite nest will dislodge and thus form a hollow. Once again it must be remembered that this process cannot happen over night and requires decades to create viable habitat hollows.

 

 

Now given all these facts, it really puts perspective on current law practices which involve trees. Given how vitally important old growth hollow bearing trees are to a huge amount of different species, including many threatened species, why does the law make it so easy for trees to be cut down? While some trees may be a hazard for property, many of these laws are being abused just so a property owner can get better water views in attempt to get better property value.

 

A stand of Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) coexisting fine in suburbia | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

A stand of Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) coexisting fine in suburbia | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

In conclusion, we must pay respect to trees and pay even more respect to elderly trees! Instead of cutting older trees down to mitigate potential property damage, first seek other potential options, such as pruning more hazardous branches, leaving the tree to stand. Also be on the lookout for illegal tree lopping which is becoming a bigger occurrence these days with our out of control property market.

At the moment, there are hundreds of trees threatened to be cut down in Centennial Park. Heritage listed figs which line the streets are at risk of the new light rail that is proprosed. To find out how you can make a difference please visit Saving Sydneys Trees, and attend the protest on the 1st of May!




Conservation Cafe – Backyard Conservation by Chad Beranek

This Saturday I will be presenting at a Conservation Cafe for the Sydney Society for Conservation Biology. In this presentation I will be delving into one of the main projects of Gumnut Naturalist, which is backyard conservation. I’ll be exploring the fine details of how to attract local Sydney wildlife back into suburban areas and go into why it is important that we coexist with local wildlife. I’ll show you how you don’t need a large block of land to promote biodiversity and give examples of small reserves around Sydney which have become biodiversity sinks in the urban landscape. These areas become essential for the long term conservation of the wildlife of Sydney. Ultimately learn how to turn your backyard into a biodiversity sink which will enable wildlife to continue to exist in urban areas of Sydney indefinitely.

For more information please see:

Conservation Cafe April 2016

IMG_5003

SAVE KUARK – GECO Citizen Science Forest Camp

The Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) have been running citizen science camps in Goongerah and Kuark Forest for multiple years. These camps captivate and connect environmentalist from all over Australia to highlight the pristine beauty of the rainforest in the East Gippsland and also reveal and publicise the conservation issues these areas face. The camp is run free of charge in an area of bush approximately 2 hours from Orbost and is family friendly and also provides $ 5 vegan friendly meals which go towards conservation of Kuark Forest

 

The group in the bush

Preparing for forest surveys

 

 

The citizen science forest camps usually consist of 4 days over a long weekend and is run multiple times a year. Volunteers assist in camera survey techniques, vegetation surveys, rainforest plant ID, spotlighting surveys and creek surveys, all for endangered species found in this area. Volunteers also get to engage in seminars on different threatened species found in the area, rainforest plant evolution in Australia and environmental policies, which is held in an outdoor style lecture theater. This event is especially relevant for environmental science students who wish to gain in field experience in these skills, and is also very eye opening to witness environmental conservation issues first hand.

 

Forest lecture theater

Forest lecture theater

 

The habitat found in Kuark Forests are so unique and awe inspiring. This location boasts a collection of rare fauna and flora species, as well as being one of the only places in Australia where cool temperate rainforest intermixes with warm temperate rainforest. The symphony of a multi-species quire of birds can be heard echoing through the rain forest in the misty mornings and as dusk descends, the avian songs are overtaken by frog choruses and owl calls. Its hard to grapple and wrap you’re head around the sheer diversity of plants and animals in this region. Every ten steps you take, you become surrounded by a new set of plant species.

 

The unique Victoriana Smooth Toadlet (Geocrinia victoriana) which is common through the Kuark Forest | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The unique Victoriana Smooth Toadlet (Geocrinia victoriana) which is common through the Kuark Forest | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

Unfortunately VicForests does not do comprehensive environmental impact surveys which often leaves threatened species and protected old growth rainforest in the wake of a forest demolition crew, which leaves GECO and other keen environmentalist scrambling to survey the scheduled logging coupes properly before logging takes place. Almost in every area to be logged, volunteer ecological surveys reveal threatened species and threatened plant communities.

 

Logging destruction

Kuark Forest logging destruction

 

In the most recent field trip, multiple threatened species were found in an area scheduled to be logged by VicForests, some of which were critically endangered. Threatened species found included: Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunninghamii) ENDANGERED, an unsubscribed crayfish in the Orbost Spiny Crayfish Complex (Euastacus sp.) ENDANGERED, and a healthy population of the East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) CRITICALLY ENDANGERED. It just goes to show that if this particular citizen science camp did not take place, the East Gippsland Galaxias could’ve been a step closer to extinction, with a reduction of the already narrow distribution of this rare fish species. These finds of threatened species will result in a report which will conserve 20+ hectares of forests.

 

Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunnghamii), main ID feature is having a trunk < 10 cm | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Slender Tree Fern (Cyathea cunnghamii), main ID feature is having a trunk < 10 cm | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Undescribed Orbost Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus sp.) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Undescribed Orbost Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus sp.) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

East Gippsland Galaxias (Galaxias aequipinnis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

It’s tough to deal with such senseless destruction first hand, especially when you are hit with the facts:

  • VicForests is a government enterprise which means that they have a certain amount of government protection and have only been brought to court over the multitude of threatened species habitat destruction breaches ONCE.
  • The government has enforced laws to try to stop environmentalists surveying their logging coupes so that their breaches aren’t identified, with on the stop fines for anyone who enters areas to be logged.
  • VicForests logging turn high quality rainforest habitat into low quality products such as wood chips and paper.
  • Companies from Japan, China and Korea buy these wood chips off us because it is cheaper for them.
  • Despite all the destruction and removal of threatened species habitat, VicForests still have been loosing money with losses of 22.1 million dollars (of tax payers money!) in the last few years.
  • VicForests never run comprehensive surveys of the areas proposed to be logged and rely on outdated and inaccurate vegetation maps on GIS programs. Do to this kind of devastating and invasive work in pristine forest habitat, their needs to be comprehensive surveys of these areas for threatened species and for rainforest habitat with independent ecologist. 
  • The old growth forests (which are meant to be protected by law) still get logged unnecessarily which will never recover to that state again. Old growth forests take hundreds of years to develop and have extant trees which can be up to 700 years old.
  • The unique beauty of this area has the potential to make far more money via ecotourism and is a conservation tourism franchise waiting to happen.
  • The bottom line is the wood harvesting industry is a dying business. Email replaced paper years ago…

 

I encourage all Sydney siders to get down to Victoria and experience the amazing old growth rainforest for yourselves! To help in conservation of the unique rainforests of East Gippsland donate or volunteer with the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO).

Other simple steps you can take to help conserve the forests in East Gippsland is to ensure you purchase sustainable and ethically produced paper, or primarily use email, as a lot of the forests which are logged in the Gippsland are ultimately turned into paper for the company Reflex Paper. Click here for more information.

Comment below if you have explored the forests in East Gippsland!

SAVE KUARK

 

Snakes are Friends – The Break Down to Dispel Serpent Hysteria

Snakes have a fearsome reputation for being among the worlds most dangerous animals, with numerous species being the cause of death of many human lives. This reputation has created a hysteria and has generated a far reaching snake phobia. This phobia is especially evident in Australia, which is known to be home to some of the most venomous snakes in the world. This hysteria surrounding snakes has led to many common myths and fears which simply are not true. This article will debunk common myths, identify the most common situations of how people get bitten, how to stay safe, and we will also delve into the snakes mind of how it is perceiving each situation so you understand its reactions and behaviors in response to your actions.

 

Eastern Marsh Snake (Hemiaspis signata) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Eastern Marsh Snake (Hemiaspis signata) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Disclosure: All photos of snakes being handled were for scientific or rescue orientated purposes and were preformed by experienced snake handlers that have undergone venomous snake handling training courses. Please do not try any of the mentioned techniques of venomous snake handling. If you wish to learn the skills mentioned, please apply to do a venomous snake handling course. Email gumnutnaturalist@gmail.com for information. Even the most experienced snake handlers are putting themselves at risk when handling venomous snakes so do not handle them if there is no need to!

 

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

The biggest myth is: Venomous snakes are aggressive.

This statement implies that the snake is out to get you. This simply is not true. Snakes are not aggressive they are defensive. They will defend themselves against a perceived threat. A snake will only strike you for one reason: If it feels its life is in danger. If a venomous snake bites you there is a chance it will give a dry bite. A ‘dry bite’ is a bite where the snake does not inject any venom as venomous snakes can control the amount of venom it injects. But once again the more in danger it feels, the more likely it will strike to envenomate. The fact of the matter is that a venomous snake will only use its venom in self defense if it feels there is no other way, as it is incredibly costly to the snake to waste its venom. The reason behind this is because venom is essential in the process of digesting food and takes a lot of time and energy to create.

The most common scenarios people get bitten by a snake are:

1. When attempting to kill the snake – Of course the snake will try to bite and envenomate you if you are attempting to kill it. It has perceived that it is in a lie or death situation and will proceed accordingly: by trying to bite and pump as much venom in you as possible. Wouldn’t you expend all the resources you had if you were faced with a life or death situation? This is the most common way people are bitten.

2. When attempting to pick up the snake – Once again the snake feels it is in a life or death situation. It isn’t aware that your intentions are to simply pick it up. How would you feel if a lion grabbed you in its paws? The lions intentions may only be to play with you and not kill you but you would regardless have a large shot of Adrenalin pumping and rightly so feel like you are in a life or death situation, and defend yourself accordingly.

Snake handling needs to be left to the professionals. If you don’t need to pick up the snake, then don’t. Even the professionals usually get bitten one day. There are techniques which snake handlers use to capture venomous snakes which include ‘heading’ or ‘necking’, ‘tailing’ and ‘hooking’. The risk is greater when heading a snake (grabbing it behind the head) than tailing a snake (grabbing it by the tail). Snakes like the Death Adders should never be tailed but can be caught with a snake hook. Catching a snake is incredibly risky and requires intensive venomous snake handling training to properly master. If you want to learn this skill it is highly recommended to attend a snake handling course before attempting to handle any venomous snakes.

 

George Madani demonstrating the heading or necking technique of snake handling. Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

George Madani demonstrating the heading or necking technique of snake handling. Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Chad Beranek using the tailing technique of handling a snake. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Chad Beranek using the tailing technique of handling a snake. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Chad Beranek demonstrating how a Death Adder can be picked up with a hook. Please excuse the excited look on my face, Death Adders are exciting | Copyright Brooke Thompson 2015

Chad Beranek demonstrating how a Death Adder can be picked up with a hook. Please excuse the excited look on my face, Death Adders are exciting | Copyright Brooke Thompson 2015

 

3. When accidentally disturbing the snake – This one sometimes can’t be avoided but can be minimised by paying particular care when working out doors or strolling in the bush. The most common scenario of accidentally disturbing a snake is when you step on a snake. When this occurs it is often that the snake could sense you approaching and decided to stay still to avoid your attention, sometimes though the snake is oblivious to your approach. Both instances are very frightening to the snake and often warrant them to attack in self defense, often striking the object that lands on them: your foot. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to wear protective shoes.

Other instances of accidentally disturbing a snake include while gardening or lifting up an object a snake is under. Both of these can, once again, be avoided by ensuring to wear proper safety apparel and being careful and perceptive in areas that are known to be home to snakes.

4. Cornering a snake – Many people often accidentally corner a snake and then interpret the snakes reaction as being aggressive. The snake in this situation feels it is a life or death situation as it is cornered, or it’s main escape route is being blocked, and feels it has to fight for its life. Once again you behave in a similar manner if put in the same situation. If you encounter a snake, ensure to step back to give it plenty of room so that the snake doesn’t feel cornered.

 




 

Southern Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Southern Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

So what should you do if you encounter a snake in the bush, or better yet, in your backyard?

In most scenarios the solution with the least amount of risk and danger is to leave it alone. If you are in the bush and run into a snake, if you keep your distance an just leave it alone it will just go on and keep doing its own thing. If a snake enters your garden, ensure that you inform all persons in the residence of the snakes presence and make sure to keep kids and pets away from the snake. Monitor the snakes movements from a distance. Almost every time the snake will leave at its own accord. Occasionally snakes can accidentally find themselves wandering indoors. If this occurs, once again inform all residents and keep an eye on the snake from a distance. Call a wildlife rescue organisation or a professional snake wrangler and be sure to show them where exactly the snake is.

Some last tips and summary

  • Don’t try to identify the snake if you have limited experience. Treat all snakes as potentially deadly and be cautious. It’s only a white facial marking that can determine a Whip Snake from a Brown Snake!
  • Don’t attempt to kill or pick up the snake if you don’t have to. These are by far the most risky actions you can take!
  • Be aware of accidentally cornering a snake or blocking off it’s escape route if you encounter one
  • In almost all scenarios it’s best to leave it alone
  • If it enters your house: alert residence, keep kids and pet away, watch where the snake is at all times and call a professional to handle it

 

Snakes are friends! Not the kind of friend you hug but they hunt pests like rats and mice, and often form an important link in the food chain. I have a challenge for you for the next time you encounter a snake: Simply keep a far distance and follow it around and watch its behaviour. They really are fascinating creatures which deserve more respect and less fear. Many of them are cute! Surely you can’t say this Bandy Bandy isn’t cute?

IMG_4213

Comment below on any close encounters you have had with snakes that tried to bite you and see if you can categorise it in the four categories above. I am confident every situation where a snake is attempting to bite you falls into one of the four categories. In a months time we shall look in depth at venomous snake identification and shed light on other less known species which are otherwise harmless and cop harsh punishment for being wrongly identified as Brown Snakes!