Heidi Padain: Entertainment in your Garden

It would be fair to say that a great many of us have some preconceived thoughts around certain bird species and we most definitely have our favourites birds.

I was recently taken aback at the sight of two starlings who made an appearance on my deck. My understanding is that starlings can be rather aggressive and a threat to some of our native birds because they compete with tui and bellbirds for the nectar of flax, rata and other native plants. I wasn’t pleased to see them to be honest, but at least it wasn’t a flock of starlings, just the two of them.

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I watched nervously as the two starlings investigated the fruit treats that I put out at various points along the deck rail and centre table. At the time of their surprise visit I also had a large number of waxeyes, three tui birds, two blackbirds, and a male chaffinch. The large male tui, King Tui, behaved as expected, swooping down on a large round of orange in his usual regal manner. A tui has special notches in the eighth primary feather of each wing, which is why you can hear that distinctive creaking sound they make when they fly. It has been my observation that they also use their wings to make a short sharp clapping sound, as if to warn other birds that they’re on their way. The starlings heeded this noisy warning and politely moved to one side, but they were not so intimidated as to leave the area altogether.

The next encounter the starlings had was with the waxeyes. The waxeyes are, without doubt, comedians. I liken them to pesky, cute Minions. If I were a bird I would find them as annoying as a swarm of flies. I see them flit around the heads of the tui, or the blackbirds. They’re fast enough to distract with a feathery breeze, but try as they might, even the tui can’t seem to catch them.

Initially I witnessed a squabble between one of the starlings and a waxeye. There seemed to be a lot of verbal threats and posturing taking place. Posturing for a waxeye is often a display of rapid beating wings and with beak wide open they occasionally let out a high-pitched annoyed screech. In the blink of an eye, it seemed to me that they must have negotiated a deal because the starling, and the waxeye ceased their dramatic display and shared a piece of kiwifruit.

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No physical contact took place. I was delighted. What surprised me, was that the two starlings spent more time fighting with one another than they did any other birds. They were very vocal. I delighted in the range of sounds they made even when they were not being aggressive, they really are quite stunning to look at too, so much colour and detail in their feathers. They’re artwork on wings. I really rather like them after having had this close encounter.

As an avian enthusiast and a photographer, I can honestly say that on the whole, I have seen more notable aggression among same bird species than I have between differing bird species. Waxeyes can be particularly nasty. Just the other day Martin found me on the deck, hands on hips, yelling a pair of waxeyes. They were literally rolling around on the floor of our deck pecking at one another viciously.

Early on this year, we had an injured female tui that was constantly being attacked by the other tui birds. I’m pleased to say that not only has her injured foot almost healed, but there seems to be a little romance between her and King Tui. Things always work out in the end. Needless to say, I’m so looking forward to spring. (HEIDI PADAIN)

To see some of Heidi’s other photographic work go to www.flickr.com and type Heidi Padain into the search box or you can contact Heidi by email hidihi@xtra.co.nz