Death & sibling rivalry

Both birds eyes crop better again

The sibling sparrowhawks in their favourite tree… in my backyard!

It’s happened. Our babies, only three weeks or so out of the nest, are now out there in the big wide world, killing for themselves.  It brings a tear to your eye.

Distant with second bird flying crop

Keeping an eye on little brother or sister

But it’s not all cheery dismemberment:  there’s trouble in the nest.  The siblings to have an uneasy relationship.  I often see them perched on adjacent branches, and when they’re further apart they call out to each other every now and then.  And when one takes off to hunt, the other often falls into line, disappearing suddenly in a simultaneous dive.

But there’s also a certain amount of what might be described in human siblings as petty jealousy.

Yesterday I stood on a chair on the deck for an hour watching one of the sibs engage in  a comprehensive preening session / extended tai chi practice.  I wonder whether this serious self-care might have been the consequence of getting tangled up in one of the humungous org spiders webs stretched out between the trees to catch dragonflies, cicadas and, for the really ambitious arachnid, a passing sparrowhawk.

Preening headless profile tail out crop b&w

… and the headless sparrowhawk

I found the “revenge of the headless raptor” impressive, but his nestmate, looking on from a high branch, seemed rather unimpressed.

Distant top brother looking down b&w

Jeering at silly sibling

But both martial arts and sneering were set aside when the fledgling in the upper branches spotted something tasty beyond the neighbour’s yard.

Juvenile sparrowhawk wings raised square

I’m off…

There was a simultaneous stoop, and then a fracas in the jungle at the bottom of the garden.

White cheeked honeyeater crop

Dinner… a white cheeked honeyeater I prepared earlier

I don’t think the squawking was the work of dinner – an unfortunate white-cheeked honeyeater (rarely seen in our yard.  I wonder why…).  I reckon the ring-ding battle was between the sibs.

The winner landed, very conveniently for me, right next to my washing line, showing the total indifference to human proximity that seems to characterize most young raptors.


Sparrowhawk profile left with untouched prey

The lucky sibling with significantly less lucky white cheeked honeyeater

This diffidence did not extend to the presence of little brother or sister though.

Juvenile looking behind for rival

Keeping an eye out


















Juvenile with head turned mouth open amended


Just a few moments after the winner landed with their prize, there was another skirmish.  Luck favours the prepared, and this youngster was in position, with wings spread out protectively around the prey like a sort of meat umbrella. Ew, what a nasty image.

The hungry one had another go, and to be honest, I’m not really sure who was successful, since neither juvenile has any distinctive marks (like a scar over one eye or a dragon tattoo or anything) I am completely unable to tell them apart.

Juvenile plucking the prey

Settling in for a good plucking

Anyway, someone had a lovely meal of raw songbird and someone sat nearby looking on and feeling sorry for themselves.

Sibling watching

Luckless sibling looking on at the feast

Nevermind, buddy.  I’m sure there’s be some tiny, tasty, rather slow birds on the menu for you sometime soon.

The backstory of the serial killers in our backyard…

The new generation of sparrowhawks emerges from the nest…

Baby brush turkeys versus nestling sparrowhawks… the battle of the backyard baby birds

The collared sparrowhawks return to our backyard… or are they brown goshawks?

A first glimpse of the sparrowhawks… and a beautiful white goshawk visits the washing line

Autumn on Hawkesbury sandstone

A grand day out

Time to get the fully feathered chicks – all of 6 weeks old – out of the brooder in the kids’ bedroom.  To my amazement the new coop, which weighs the same as a gas giant, does actually fit under the chook dome.   After Donna’s departure, I’m a bit worried about plunging the peepers straight into the fowl-and-brush-turkey-ordure-rich environment of the run, so we’ll give them a few weeks in the chicken tractor, getting a garden bed ready for brassicas.  They had a first scratch around this afternoon, ready for the big move tomorrow.

Andy is looking very miffed by these developments.  I caught her lurking in the new coop – I think she envisages it as her own personal quarters.  She was transfixed by the sudden appearance of the new girls, so I was able to grab her and turf her out before any argy-bargy.  However, Snowball and Andy have been using the top of the dome as a perch, so they were wandering around the run at something of a loss at sundown tonight.  They have a whole series of dry places to sleep – under the granny flat, in the wood-shed – but since they seemed to favour a spot underneath the neighbour’s horrible coral tree, we leaned a ladder (a previous craft project) against the outside of the woodshed, exactly where the chicken dome used to be.  I tried to give Andy the idea but she wasn’t having it.  Hope they are somewhere out of the rain tonight….

Killing your babies

So, poor little Donna the Barnevelder died.  Despite the medicated water and the vaccinations, the expensive rented brooder with its profligate wood shavings, the mercy dash to the Pet Barn for pharmaceuticals.  She heaved her last, suddenly, huddled in RB’s hands, before even losing her last baby fluff.  People wiser in the ways of poultry than we may know why.   Obviously, we blame ourselves.  She became RB’s favourite chick posthumously.

Now we are watching the remaining two chicks like hawks.  No, that came out all wrong. What I’m trying to say is: we are watching them anxiously for signs that they might be poorly whilst, at the same time, trying to remember that infancy is a numbers game.  And consoling ourselves that, for all our inadequate husbandry, at least these are not McNuggets.  If only you make it through the tough early days, girls, there’s a promise of near-infinite insect prey and greenery. Hang in there!  Wrangle that microbiome!  The sunny uplands of maturity await.

Ok, so the news hound metaphor may be redundant, even tasteless.  But there’s so much more I could say here: about the cruel elisions of a “dolphins will nudge out your baby” view of reproduction; or the fundamental unpredictability of gardens and the things that live there, fairly large and very very small; or the not entirely perfect miracle that is vaccination. But enough.  Goodnight Donna, you are not just a metaphor, not at all.

Chicken real estate

Andy Ninja has started crowing at dawn. Well, too early in the morning anyway. It’s a reasonable hobby for a post-menopausal chicken without a flock to keep her entertained. However, I fear those living nearby may view poultry crowing at daybreak, regardless of equipment, as in effect a rooster and invoke the “no cockerels in the suburbs” by-law.

She chooses a spot on the rim of an artificial well (one may ask!) right beside an adjacent henhouse to make her morning pronouncements. We suspect she likes an audience and may be pining for company, given her reported daily outings to our neighbours’ shed to watch him welding and her watering the garden. So I decided to make good on a longstanding promise to the kids and buy some day-old chicks to add to the flock. For the mental health and long term survival of Andy and her sexually harassed companion Snowball, rather than any self-centred reasons of future egg-thievery. Obviously.

Turbo the dinosaur       Andy inspects Palm Beach

Three weeks on, Turbo the Plymouth Rock (pictured), Shyla the Australorp and Donna the Barnevelder seem to be impatient to be shot of their brooder despite its comforting heat light and round the clock child companionship.

So I spent the weekend making “Palm Beach”, a pullet hangout and future nesting box out of an ikea footstool, two ancient shelving units, the lid of an aquarium, a panel of hardwood fencing from the last council clean-up and an assortment of fixings.  I’m going for beach-shack cum vernacular modernism, orchestrated with “chookhouse tolerances” (a phrase I plan to deploy as often as possible).  Here’s a picture of Andy making an inspection.  She looked it over, front and back, top and bottom and then briskly hopped out, not even using the steps. “Not enough storage”, was the look in her eye.  Yes, it is a bit small but it has to  fit inside my existing chicken dome (three years young, and primarily used as a roosting spot for the older gals).  The idea is to give get Andy and Snowball time to acquainted with the new posse with a minimum of pecking and, in Andy’s case, mounting…