From the time of the Aborigines to the present day, birds have been important to the Darling Downs’ history and culture.

Goondiwindi means ‘the resting place of the birds’ and the local Bigambul tribe’s totems include the brolga. The Darling Downs is home to several rare and endangered birds, including the glossy black cockatoo. This cockatoo feeds exclusively on sheoaks. They have red panels on their tails, which are shorter than the more common red-tailed black cockatoo. They will sit in a tree cracking the nuts for hours at a time and are quite tame, allowing bird watchers to approach to within a metre or so of their feeding tree. The main threat to this beautiful cockatoo is loss of habitat.

A number of pigeons are found on the Downs, the most common of which is the crested pigeon. Bronze-winged pigeons, peaceful doves and bar-shouldered doves also call the region home. The rarest is the squatter pigeon, which is threatened by feral cats and foxes.

There is a wide variety of water birds around our rivers and streams. These range from the majestic white-bellied sea eagle, which nests on the Condamine, to the small jacana, or lily trotter. We also have visiting jabiru or black-necked storks, spoonbills, pelicans, magpie geese and many duck species.

The latter include whistling ducks, black ducks and wood ducks. Wood ducks nest in tree hollows and when the ducklings hatch, they have to make a leap of faith and ‘helicopter’ down to their parents, who sit on the ground calling them. They have up to 12 ducklings, but many fall prey to crows and feral cats.

Birds are important to tourism as many twitchers travel far afield seeking out new birds to add to their list of ‘lifers’, birds seen and photographed for the first time.

The Pittsworth U3A conducts a bird watching class taught by Alastair Silcock. On one bird watching trip, we were treated to the sight of more than 20 channel-billed cuckoos in one tree. These are the largest cuckoo in the world and migrate to the Downs from New Guinea.

They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, normally ravens, currawongs, butcher birds and magpies.Birds are an indicator of a healthy farming ecosystem. Several years ago, Greg Ford and Nicci Thompson wrote a book for cotton farmers explaining which birds were important in habitat management. Recently, this has been turned into an app where you can find photos of birds and their calls.

Not all of the Downs’ aerial residents are friendly. The worst feral bird is the Indian myna, which takes over nesting sites of parrots and other birds and is very aggressive. In the past few years, Indian myna eradication programs have been successfully carried out in Inglewood and Yelarbon. In Millmerran, the local Scout group has made traps and a successful trapping program is carried out by local Landcare volunteers.

 

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