22 May, 2011

"Currawong! Currawong!"

Pied Currawong
One of my favourite bird calls is that of the Currawong. I have read that the name is onomatopoeic, meaning that it derives from the sound of their call and it doesn't take too much imagination to translate the repetitive, double-barrelled "caw-aw, caw-aw" into "currawong, currawong". It has been said that in the early days of European settlement in Australia, the unfamiliar calls of the Currawong were mistaken for the voices of ghosts, so haunting and unfamiliar were they to those who did not know the environment.
Grey Butcher Bird
The species of Currawong most commonly found on the Barwon is the Pied Currawong which at first glance is similar to a Crow or Raven but is only distantly related. Currawongs are actually more closely related to  Butcher Birds and Australian Magpies, all being from the same family group, however the Currawong is generally larger and has less white on its body than a Magpie - parts of the wing tips and tail - and a yellow eye.
The diet of these birds is broadly similar too, with Currawongs feeding on insects, small animals, berries and some smaller species of birds. Its propensity to eat fruit makes the Currawong responsible for a significant amount of seed distribution within its habitat. In addition, I have first-hand evidence of their taste for Sparrows, having watched from my back doorstep as a Currawong made a meal of one such unfortunate creature, sitting in a tree and spitting small feathers all over my backyard.
Like Butcher Birds, who are named for the trait, Currawongs will sometimes use the fork of a tree or a convenient hollow to store food for later consumption, even hanging it on on a convenient branch.
Australian Magpie
Another, quite eerie experience with Currawongs occurred on a still, overcast day last year. It was one of those days when the atmosphere felt so heavy you had to push your way through it. I was on one of my regular walks around the river, camera in hand. What sounds I could hear were muffled and most of the birds seemed to be in hiding. As I made my way upriver towards Queen's Park the weather became increasingly gloomy.
There is a section not far from the bridge where a stand of sheaoks line the path on either side, meeting overhead in places and on this occasion, further adding to the dim, oppressive atmosphere. As I approached, I could hear Currawongs calling from up ahead. Once inside the stand of trees, I was greeted by the sight of a dozen or more Pied Currawongs perched on the branches of one of the sheaoks. For the most part, they remained where they were, looking at me with their yellow eyes, not moving, just watching, seemingly unconcerned by my presence. There was no doubt in my mind at that time that the Currawong is a bird of prey.
Pied Currawong eating
a Sparrow
Like Crows, Ravens and other similar species, they have the long, curved beak which marks them as a meat-eater and their predominantly black plumage on this occasion added to the foreboding atmosphere. In combination with their unearthly calls, this created a distinctly eerie scene. I in turn stopped to watch them for a time, before moving on and heading up and across the bridge. As I once again passed by that section of the river - this time on the opposite bank - I could still hear them calling from amongst the branches. I find their call one of the most evocative sounds of the Australian bush - a call I have known for decades, even before I knew what Currawongs were.
Whilst I have never again seen them congregate in such numbers in any one place, I occasionally hear them calling from those same trees and sometimes in my backyard - no doubt looking for another Sparrow or two.

2 comments:

  1. Have justr discovered this delightful blog, on the very day I decided to keep a similar blog of my own, on Tamborine Mountain. Shall read your future blogs with great interest. As I write, the pied currawongs are calling, as they have been doing for much of the day. Prevailing wisdom is that they call before rain but as a birdwatcher for most of my life I suspect there's rather more to it than that. Certainly we could do with some rain right now. Thanks for your most interesting article. Julie Lake....Tamborine Mountain, Queensland.

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  2. Hi Julie,
    Thanks. Glad you like the blog! Would definitely recommend you start one of your own. It's great to do and amazing what you learn in the process. Mine has built slowly over the last 20 months but continues to grow. This month has been the busiest for hits so far. It's also quite interesting to see what people search for who find my blog.
    Let me know when you get your up and running and I'll have a look!

    Cheers,

    Jo

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