Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ernie and Bert(ha): a tale of Australian Magpies (sort of)

Having moved out into a rural area north of Brisbane, we found that there's no need for pets. Indeed, they'd be in the way, chasing birds, or killing themselves trying out their ill-luck on the local population of the very ugly and very poisonous Cane Toad. Ugly buggers and they're all over the place around here.

But a cat or dog for sure would get in the way of our relationship with the local birds, which range from several members of the 'parrot' family, to a whole bunch of honey-eaters, plus Kookaburras, Butcherbirds and, of course, the Australian Magpie. The picture at the top is of a male of the variant that lives around our area.

Magpies and Butcherbirds (picture below) belong to the same family of birds. They are highly intelligent and can become casual pets; meaning they come and scrounge for food and expect you to deliver it. The other day I saw a Kookaburra (picture below) doing the same, in a very friendly but insistent way, at the place of some neighbors a few miles away.

The local pair of Magpies, who are currently in the final stages of building a nest in a nearby gum tree, have adopted us as their food-provision-fallbacks. I named them Ernie and Bertha, because I was thinking of Ernie and Bert—and not of 'Ernie, who drove the fastest milk car in the west'! Some people did, of course. It just goes to show how people's associations differ. I still think Sesame Street is the best of kids' programs around, even after all these years and all the PC-fying it has undergone.

Ernie was the forward one, who ended up taking food out of my hand (very gently and delicately), while Bertha hung back and was a bit of a scaredy-cat. Ernie was also very jealous of his food, and when I threw stuff to Bertha, he used to run over and grab all he could, leaving Bertha somewhat deprived. I always thought that was rather un-husbandly-like of Ernie, and I have been known to have scolded him on occasion. Not that it made a difference.

And, yes, then there was the embarrassing revelation...

Because I looked the species up on the web. And, oops!, it turns out that Ernie—the forward one, the bold one, the greedy guts, the one that sits there on the banister and sings away until we drag ourselves out with a morsel or two—was actually Bertha and that Bertha was Ernie. Which means we're dealing with a severely hen-pecked—literally!—husband. Whimpy-puss metrosexual no-good-for-anything scaredy-ass loser. And she's a bossy boots that's got to be seen to be believed.

There's something else I don't get, and that's bird psychology. Inter-bird-species psychology, I mean. The Rainbow Lorikeets are the definite bossy-bullies around here. They screech and dive bomb other birds when it comes to getting to the food dispenser.

Never mind that Magpies, for example, have beaks that could spear the little colorful blighters without any great trouble. Still, the little things rule the roost, and woe to those birds that get in their way.

Still, in the interaction with humans, Magpies are far more courageous, while the Lorikeets are very cautious and take much, much more work. Besides, I don't really want to get too friendly with them, because they can become serious pests. With the Magpies you can establish a well-defined relationship that includes "Shoo. Get out of my space!" and they will behave. Parrots are a tad more pesky, and besides there are a shitload of them; so I'm keeping my distance and avoid too much pal-dom.

So, what is it with these birds? Maggies are scared of Lorikeets, but get pal-ly with humans no problem? Bertha has been known to hop over the threshold into out kitchen and have a careful peek around to see if we're getting her the soggy bread she so likes. That's pretty gutsy, I think., Mind you, not that I could see Ernie doing it. They also adapt themselves very much to the humans they interact with. There is a definite capacity in them to sort out different human individuals and assign different behaviorisms when dealing with them.

I wonder if it has to do with the fact that Maggies are much more solitary than many of the parrot species. It makes for a different kind of 'socialization' I think. Maybe there's some stuff we can learn here for human psychology, who knows?


pandi merdeka said...

are that means the rabbit loose his job cause we change it with a bird .. lol .. nice post .. keep da spirit to blog ;)

Till said...

OK. 8)