Mist Netting and Bird Banding Workshop

Mist net glistening in the morning sunlight (Image C. Appleby).

As part of National Bird Week 2017 (inspired by the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count), Land for Wildlife conducted a mist netting workshop for members on a rural property in White Gums. Bird banding is an activity that requires the bander to be trained to handle birds and trap them in an ethical and humane manner with mist nets. Bruce Pascoe, a local bird bander with an A-Class authority, conducted the mist netting and banding and explained the processes to the keen birders in attendance.

The mist netting workshop started shortly after sunrise, on a cool October morning, with the intention of seeing some birds up close and personal. A secondary intention was to observe and survey some of the species that can be found in the region. The final objective was to place band the captured birds so that they can be released and potentially recaptured down the line.

Three nets were set up from the evening before the workshop. On arrival, attendees were shown how to unfurl a net in preparation for a survey and the reasoning behind mist netting and banding captured birds. Mist netting and the subsequent bird banding allows us to see how many species and individuals reside in an area, their lifespan, migration habits, movement to feeding grounds and other long-term demographic questions. The data obtained is important for bird conservation, as well as help to guide habitat preservation activities.

Bird banding in Australia is governed by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS), who supply numbered metal bands to registered and qualified banders. These bands are fitted around the tarsus (lower leg) of the captured bird. The process is painless and doesn’t cause distress to the birds. According to the ABBBS, over 2.6 million birds and bats have been banded Australia-wide, with 140,000 having been recaptured.

Bird bands ready to be applied to little legs (Image C. Appleby).

Other detailed information such as physical characteristics (sex, age, moult), and body length measurements (beak, wing) are obtained from the bird before it is released. For example, the head length can be used to determine sex in some species, but also age. The sex of a bird can also be determined from the plumage colouration or cloacal protuberance and brood patch shape. Feather wear and shape is a good indicator of the age of the bird, but many other characteristics can also be used. Anatomical features of birds, their moult and how to age birds can be found in an excellent section of Birds of the World.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater having some head measurements taken as part of the recent mist-netting survey (Image C. Heenan).

While the going was slow to start, a fourth net was set up to the north of the property and this was successful at capturing three birds – two Yellow-throated Miners (Manorina flavigula) and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis). Both species received size 05 alloy bands and measurements were taken. You can view summaries on the capture/recapture history of the Yellow-throated Miner and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater on the ABBBS website.

Two Yellow-throated Miners were captured in the mist nets in the recent Land for Wildlife survey (Image C. Heenan).

To learn more about the species biology, head to the Birdlife Australia listing for the Yellow-throated Miner and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.

Interested in birds and don’t know where to start your journey? Get in touch with Birdlife Central Australia (centralaustralia@birdlife.org.au) or follow their facebook page to keep posted about bird sightings in the Alice Springs area.

This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals). An A-Class bird banding ticket was held by Bruce Pascoe, who oversaw the survey.

We thank Cyd Holden and Peter Latz for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird populations on their property. Appreciation goes to Bruce Pascoe for the use of mist nets and assisting with the workshop proceedings.

A thornbill, among many small birds that eluded the nets on the day of the survey (Image C. Heenan).

Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017

A hawk (Accipiter sp.) visits a Garden for Wildlife bird bath while a Kangaroo watches on.

Land for Wildlife has conducted biodiversity surveys on member properties since 2007. They are an important tool in determining the success of land management activities carried out and to create a better understanding of species population dynamics in areas of mixed land use. The information gathered from the surveys adds to the knowledge of species distributions in areas that may otherwise pose access issues to do with land tenure and ownership.

Traditionally, the biodiversity surveys are conducted on Land for Wildlife properties only and involve trapping for a range of wildlife, including reptiles, frogs, mammals and invertebrates, as well as conducting visual transect surveys for birds. In 2017, as part of National Bird Week, Land for Wildlife took the aim of conducting a biodiversity survey targeted only at birds that visit the water baths provided on both rural and urban blocks so that Garden for Wildlife members would have an opportunity to take part in the process.

The survey was conducted using camera traps, which are small cameras housed within a pelican case that is responsive to movement. The camera is operated through infra-red sensors that detect movement and initiate recording. Three brands of camera trap were used for the survey, which included Reconyx (4), Bushnell (7) and Faunatech (1). Reconyx cameras were capable of taking still images, and were set to take 10 consecutive images following the detection of movement. Bushnell and Faunatech cameras were capable of taking moving footage, and were set to take 30 seconds of consecutive footage following the detection of movement. While Reconyx, Bushnell and Faunatech cameras are often called camera traps, they do not in fact capture the animal, but rather record its presence.

Cameras were set to run for a full day for each property. A total of 12 Garden for Wildlife members (including six in Eastside, three in Braitling/Northside, two in Larapinta, and one in Desert Springs) and seven Land for Wildlife members (including three at Ross, three at Ilparpa and one at Connellan) took part in the Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017.

The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 was an interesting exercise, highlighting the diversity of avian species that visit artificial or semi-natural water sources provided on urban, peri-urban and rural properties. A total of 566 visits to bird baths were recorded over the monitoring period. Overall, 22 species were observed in the camera traps, of which 16 were observed visiting Garden for Wildlife bird baths and 14 were observed visiting Land for Wildlife bird baths. The most common visitor to bird baths was the White-plumed Honeyeater and the Crested Pigeon, recorded at 10 properties each, whereas the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater was the most persistent visitor to bird baths, visiting 111 times across all properties.

Table 1. Avian species visiting Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife bird baths (^ Indicates an introduced species). Number of properties visited by species is recorded as all properties (Garden for Wildlife properties, Land for Wildlife properties). The list is ranked according to the number of properties visited.

Common Name Scientific Nomenclature Number of Properties Visited by the Species Total Number of Visits to Bird Baths Across All Properties
Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica 1 (1,0) 1
Grey-headed Honeyeater Lichenostomus keartlandi 1 (0,1) 1
Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti 1 (0,1) 1
Mulga Parrot Psephotus varius 1 (0,1) 1
Hawk Accipiter sp. 1 (1,0) 2
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae 1 (1,0) 2
Diamond Dove Geopelia cuneata 1 (0,1) 2
Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys 1 (0,1) 3
Galah Eolophus roseicapillus 1 (1,0) 12
Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata 1 (0,1) 12
Australian Ringneck Barnardius zonarius 2 (1,1) 4
Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca 2 (2,0) 85
Peaceful Dove Geopelia placida 3 (1,2) 4
Crow Corvus sp. 3 (3,0) 8
Western Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus guttatus 4 (4,0) 10
Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens 4 (2,2) 11
Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta 4 (3,1) 67
Spotted Turtle-dove ^ Streptopelia chinensis 6 (6,0) 22
Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula 6 (3,3) 33
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis 9 (7,2) 111
White-plumed honeyeater Lichenostomus penicillatus 10 (7,3) 64
Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes 10 (5,5) 110
Total Species Count 22 (16,14)
Total Visits to Bird Baths 566

The Spotted Turtle-dove, an introduced species, was ranked 5th most common visitor at bird baths, recorded at six of the Garden for Wildlife properties monitored. Garden for Wildlife members can loan traps for free to help actively manage feral bird populations, as well as receiving instructions on how to make your own. Head to our website to see more information on feral dove control.

Several species were observed on only one property, which included four visiting Garden for Wildlife properties and six visiting Land for Wildlife properties. Of the species that visited several bird baths, the Western Bowerbird and the Spotted Turtle-dove were the only ones to visit Garden for Wildlife bird baths only. While the Western Bowerbird is known to visit rural bird baths, it wasn’t observed in this case. On the other hand, Spotted Turtle-doves are rarely seen south of Heavitree Gap and therefore their presence at the Land for Wildlife bird baths is not expected.

Garden for Wildlife properties recorded 10 species on a single property, with the Crouch and Heller properties coming out on top. The Land for Wildlife properties recorded 11 species on a single property, with the Kenna property taking the lead. While it is sometimes expected that there would be fewer species observed in urban areas, this was shown not to be the case in this survey. The Sweeney property received the most visits by birds to Garden for Wildlife properties, totalling 101 visits, irrespective of species. The Kenna property took the prize for most visits to Land for Wildlife properties, totalling 171 visits.

Full details on the Biodiversity Survey 2017, including images and species summaries for individual properties can be found in the survey report.

All the birds recorded in 20-minute intervals on Garden for Wildlife properties were entered into the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count to provide the national group with some interesting data from our little central Australian town.

The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 showed that there is a range of species that visited bird baths around the Alice Springs area within a one-day monitoring period. However there are over 200 species that can be found in and around Alice Springs. A comprehensive list of birds likely to be observed in the region is given in the Land for Wildlife fauna list.

If you feel that you could be attracting more birds to your garden, you could try some of the hints and tips from Land for Wildlife on the biodiversity fact sheet.

Are you interested in taking part in the next Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife biodiversity survey? Head to the Land for Wildlife Biodiversity Surveys Page to find out more information.

Until next time, happy bird watching!

This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals).

We thank the survey participants for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird baths on their property. Appreciation goes to Parks and Wildlife Commission NT for use of several additional camera traps. Thanks also go to Birdlife Central Australia for identifying several bird species.

Property Planning for Wildlife

 

We all love the plants, animals and other aspects of the natural world that we are surrounded with and want to learn how to protect them – the best that we can. You can aim as high as you like – or as humble as you like. Just do what you can. At the basic level, it could mean increasing your own awareness of wildlife and its needs. At a moderate level, it could mean installing a bird bath and providing fresh water to those in need and removing a few weeds. At the upper level, it could mean planting out your property and designing it in a way that maximises wildlife habitat.

The environment has been changed drastically with European arrival and increasing population levels. Much of the remnant vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, housing and infrastructure. In addition to habitat loss, there are many species that were introduced that subsequently became pests, causing enormous environmental and economic loss. Such species include rabbits, cats and foxes. At an invertebrate level, the European Honeybee, while providing economic benefit for pollination of crops, is a threat to native pollinators and ecosystems. The extreme changes to the environment have resulted in severe species loss, with 1 bird and 11 mammals having become extinct in the Northern Territory. In addition to the loss of fauna species, we are also experiencing a loss of plant species and erosion problems.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With advances in research, we have come to understand the unique qualities of our native flora and fauna and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Wildlife is an asset that we should strive to retain. Landscape planning is important for flora and fauna considerations. In addition, biodiversity is important at many levels economically – environmental restoration, ecotourism, bush food cultivation, carbon credits, plant propagation and provision to the public, parks/reserves, environmental education to schools… and the list goes on!

Rural communities play an important role in protecting and rehabilitating the environment through groups such as Landcare, Land for Wildlife and other community based programs. Many parcels of land are locked up in pastoral leases, residential freehold and crown land. Remnant vegetation is often only visible on roadside verges and uninhabitable hillsides. As a result, National Parks are often preserving the extremes – ranges, gorges, valleys. The flat and degraded landscapes are often overlooked and require private landholders to get involved, especially if the land includes precious remnant habitat.

3 R’s – The priority for conserving flora is to Retain remnant vegetation, Restore the quality of degraded habitats, and Revegetate cleared areas.

There are a few general considerations when it comes to property planning for wildlife, including integration of land uses, time, space and species thresholds, and quality the habitat available.

Integration of land uses

Ensure you are meeting all your needs with respect to land use. Do you need space for working outdoors? Relaxation spaces? Active spaces for sport? Cover your needs and work with the rest.

Time

Time is required for habitats to develop, for pioneer species to be replaced by those of older stages, and for trees to develop hollows. Plan and be patient.

Quantity and Space Thresholds: Connect and Consolidate

The bigger the better! Larger and more compact areas support a greater diversity of habitats on different land systems, more species due to quantity and diversity of resources (see the species to area relationship), larger populations, and a greater chance of linkages between habitats. A space threshold is the minimum area required for a certain species to establish. If you are targeting selected species, ensure that you have the space required to support it before dedicating planting and planning activities towards it. For example, the Hooded Robin requires a territory of around 5 hectares, so many rural blocks may not be sufficient in their own right. Remember, getting your neighbours involved helps to widen the habitat corridor and larger patches are achievable with coordinated efforts. Complex large patches are integral during drought, as many bird species congregate in resource-rich sites in poor conditions, known as drought refuges.

For vegetation, compact areas are important as there is a greater core area away from edge disturbance (weeds, predators, surrounding land use). In the undergrowth, there are usually more weeds around edges, so smaller forbs and native grasses are likely to thrive in the core area of a larger patch. For larger trees, there is often more Mistletoe found in trees around edges that can put stress on large trees. Many species of fauna avoid edges due to the risk of predation and prefer core areas that provide safety. Yellow-throated Miners may dominate in linear patches of habitat and out-compete other smaller White-plumed Honeyeaters, Babblers etc, that prefer to take safety in core areas. Having some larger core areas will enable the wildlife to reach a balance.

On the other hand, edges offer a greater variety of resources for some fauna species that are able to utilise the adjacent habitats equally and can result in greater species diversity. For example, Kangaroos benefit from edges as they can take protection in woodlands and graze in open paddocks and dusk and dawn. The aforementioned Mistletoe, common around edges, is also necessary. It is native and has a symbiotic relationship with native Mistletoe Birds and the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, so don’t be hasty to remove it.

To help alleviate the effect of edges on remnant habitat, start by increasing the core area by undertaking revegetation activities around narrow areas. You may also wish to separate two differing and incompatible land uses with an intermediate complementary land use – a buffer. For example, if a portion of your property is being used for livestock and an adjacent patch of remnant vegetation has a significant edge, consider planting alongside the edge with an intermediate habitat to lessen the edge effect.

There is an increased risk of impact from random events in small and isolated patches, and limitations on dispersal of wildlife may be an issue. Therefore, if you have several small patches of habitat and no opportunity to expand them in size, you may wish to consider connecting the patches with wildlife corridors or stepping stones. Connected habitats protect area-limited and dispersal-limited species by providing an avenue for secure movement.

Remnant vegetation is represented as dark green; Edges are represented as yellow borders; Revegetated areas are represented as light green; Buffers are represented as pale orange; Movement by wildlife is represented as black arrows

 

How much you can achieve will depend on how large your property is. If you have the time, space and resources – aim high! If you have a small area and are unable to increase patch size, you can adopt alternative management strategies such as restoring cover and connectivity to improve habitat for various species. Start with realistic goals, you can always expand if time and space allows it.

Quality

The quality of the habitat, the degree of degradation, and how well it functions are all important aspects to consider. So once the major aspects have been thought through, you can make your way down to the nitty gritty. What are you aiming for? For many, a generally healthy ecosystem is the goal. A healthy habitat is one in which most of the layers of vegetation are present and dominated by native plant species typical of the region. It is also a system that is free from disturbance, including introduced weeds and feral animals. High ecosystem function includes adequate pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and birds, natural wood decay for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows, as well as the presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area.

Vegetation Layers and Habitat Diversity

Adding layers of complexity in the garden increases the diversity of life that uses it as habitat. At a large scale, complexity can be in the form of different habitat types such as woodlands (many bird species), grasslands (Zebra Finch), creek lines (Kingfisher, Frogs, Fish), caves (Bats), gullies (Frogs), and hillsides (Euros, Wallabies).

Most species are highly dependent on water availability and quality so ensure you include water courses in your plan where possible. Protect existing watercourses and avoid modifying them to allow them to remain natural. If degraded, consider revegetating with native plants to prevent erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and encourage healthy water. In areas that don’t have natural water courses, you may consider installing a bird bath that can provide a water source. A bird bath that is raised above the ground and abutting shrubbery on one side will protect small birds from predators. Ponds are also suitable water sources for reptiles and frogs. Water baths can be topped up manually, or via a drip irrigation system as part of the whole garden. Install water tanks and a method of catching excess rain water to make the most of the water available.

Within a habitat type, complexity includes the provision of large canopy trees (Parrots, birds of prey) with tree hollows (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Bats) and loose hanging bark (Shrike Tit), complemented by a protective understorey (Rufous Whistler, Robins), ground cover, herbs, grasses and soil-crusting cryptograms. For example, a minimum of 30% tree cover is needed to maintain woodland birds. Smaller bird species are not as abundant in areas with little understorey, rather such open and scattered habitats favour the more aggressive Yellow-throated Miners. Healthy habitats include flowering trees and shrubs to support native pollinators (Honeyeaters, Invertebrates) and Mistletoe (Mistletoe Bird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater), and provides logs (Treecreepers, Reptiles), termite mounds (Perentie), rocky areas (Reptiles, Frogs), sandy areas (Snakes, Goannas), and mulch or groundcover (Reptiles, Invertebrates).

In terms of structure, the complexity of a habitat should provide breeding and sheltering sites, foraging sites, basking and hibernation sites, perching sites, runaways and refuges, camouflage, nurseries, and leaf-litter traps.

Native Plants

In Alice Springs, there are more than 600 native plant species, distributed over 27 individual vegetation types (as classified by Albrecht and Pitts in 2004). The vegetation present at a particular site is a result of regional and landscape factors such as rainfall, temperature, altitude, and topography; local factors such as soil type, geology, slope, aspect, and prevailing weather; individual factors such as environmental tolerance; and historical factors such as fire, disease, human impact, evolution, and species introductions. Local native species are best suited for revegetation activities as the wildlife has coevolved with the plant life – they often rely on each other for survival.

In arid Australia, it’s important to conserve water. You can do this by planting wisely. Local native plant species require less water than introduced species and lawns once established. Native plants are also hardy, giving you ‘bang for your buck’.

Be sure you keep updated about when the plant sales are on and what to buy – get in early to avoid missing out on the appropriate plants of your choice. Consider propagating your own plants to save money if revegetating large areas. This requires good timing and patience, as many native plants take many years to establish. If planting young individuals, choose your timing to avoid hot days and stress to plants, avoid planting before going on holidays or have a house-sitter that can look after them.

Plant wisely – use local native species where possible, account for growth of tree roots and canopy size (some species may interfere with each other or disrupt infrastructure), avoid lawns (they are water thirsty and don’t really add to the biodiversity – consider Lippia or Creeping Boobialla as an alternative), consider irrigation planning before planting (applies water where it is specifically needed, reduces water loss through evaporation, and encourages deep root growth). It’s a good idea to include wattles (Acacia sp.) in your planting plan for their nitrogen fixing abilities.

Free from Disturbance

Weeds and feral animals can have a serious impact on native flora and fauna populations. Invasive species often out-compete native species for resources, thereby reducing their chance of survival. The removal of Buffel Grass (not a declared weed) will often result in the reestablishment of a host of native forbs and grasses that act as a food source for native wildlife. Purchase plants, soil and mulch from local retailers to minimise the introduction of weeds. Protect seedlings from rabbits and other herbivores with guards and protect seedlings from water loss with mulch. Remove feral species such as Cats and Spotted Turtle-doves with an active and ethical trapping program. The establishment of feral and pest bird populations can be prevented by enclosing chicken feeders to eliminate access to seed.

Wood Decay

Natural and termite-induced wood decay is important for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows. Avoid pruning dying branches if safe to do so to ensure adequate perching sites and to allow decay, in turn providing habitat and nesting hollows for diversity of bat, insect and avian species. Leaving fallen branches to decay naturally will not only provide habitat for native reptiles and invertebrates, but allow Termites to feed and recycle nutrients back into the system.

A Healthy System

Successful pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and nectarivorous birds will enable plants to come into fruit and seed and therefore self-generate in the system. Some seed can then be collected for propagation, and the rest allowed to fall and natural regeneration to occur.

The presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area is indicative of a healthy working ecosystem.

Help the Needy

It’s important to protect threatened fauna species and their habitats where possible. To do this, you need to know where individuals occur and what habitat they require. Resources for this include Fauna Atlas records on NR Maps and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as the NT Government Threatened Animals and Threatened Plants pages.

The NT Register of Significant Trees has a list of some of the territory’s most significant trees, but access to AAPA can also highlight other culturally significant trees or sites that are worthy of protecting.

Summary: Make a Plan

Begin by mapping or drawing your house and block. Google Earth, Google Maps and NR Maps can help you to get an idea of the shape and layout of your property.

Identify any significant sites that need protection.

Where are the water courses and wetlands?

Identify the remnant habitat patches. Which ones can be expanded?

What is the distance between healthy patches? Where can stepping stones and corridors be placed to increase connectivity? Where can buffers be placed to reduce effects of surrounding land use?

Improve the quality of degraded vegetation. Enlarge, widen or create linkages?

Revegetate areas of concern with local native species, including endangered species where possible

What is the percentage cover as it stands? How much do you want to add and where? Plan ahead to avoid overcrowding and competition for resources.

Are the needs of the desired wildlife species being met? How can this be improved?

Consider smart fencing – allow for movement by wildlife.

Encourage Others

Display your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife sign – this shows others in the area of your commitment to wildlife habitat preservation and restoration and helps to encourage others to follow your lead. This in turn creates a vegetation corridor or network of properties for wildlife to move between.

Tim and Jannah Leane are Land for Wildlife members in the rural area of Ross (Image T&J Leane).

 

 

This workshop was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management with funding from the National Landcare Programme.

Backyard Barnyards!

By Candice Appleby

 

Chicks huddling to keep warm under the lamp (Image C. Heenan).

 

Chickens make great mates, to you and to your garden. They not only provide you and your family with a wealth of freshly laid eggs. They also produce incredibly nitrogen rich fertiliser and reduce the amount of household waste in the form of food scraps heading to landfill at the tip. It is now approaching the time of year when the chicks you purchased at the Alice Springs Show are starting to get big enough to be moved out to your chicken run. Have you got everything ready, and how can you maximise the benefit from your new family member?

Here in Alice Springs there are a few things you need to consider when constructing and maintaining an outside chicken run!

Weather conditions can be quite variable. Summer is quite the character-builder and our chickens respond to the heat in much a similar way to us. Ensure you provide adequate shade and a sufficient water supply. A little trick I use is hooking up the chickens’ water supply to the garden irrigation system, much like you would with a bird bath, this ensures the chickens water gets topped up daily and your chickens are happy!

Winter nights can also get down to seriously cool temperatures. Provide an insulated nesting box made of wood for your chickens to keep warm and lay eggs. Chickens will also tend to eat more in winter (don’t we all) so don’t worry if you are finding them going through more food.

Something that can often be overlooked in the backyard chicken run, but is vitally essential, is a good old-fashioned dust bath. A dust bath is great for prevention of parasite infestation in the chickens’ feathers and legs. The simplest way to provide this is just a small cleared area covered with some dusting material; sand is the best for this purpose. Remember to keep this area moderately clean of faeces and food scraps by raking it out and adding fresh dusting material regularly. If, however, you want to treat your ladies to a day at the chicken spa, add a few herbs like rosemary, lavender, thyme and mint. This will leave them feeling pampered and smelling lovely, while utilising the herbs’ natural insecticide and anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re finding mites, fleas and ticks are still becoming a problem, you can also try popping a handful of garlic husks in the chicken nesting boxes to help prevent infestation.

Feeding your chickens is quite easy, they eat everything right? Well, somewhat, but not exactly. It’s important not to over-feed your chickens. Typically only feed your chickens the amount they can eat in ten minutes. Also, be sure not use food scraps that are showing signs of rot, as rotten scraps can be a source for botulism disease.

Foods not to give to chickens:

Decomposing material or maggots

Meat or bones

Tea leaves

Coffee grounds

Citrus fruits

Onion

Rhubarb

Orange

Banana

Raw potato peels

 

The outcome: So many Eggs!

Now that your chickens are happy and settled into their new home it won’t be long until they start popping out eggs left and right (unless you have yourself a rooster!). Keep in mind, in order to sell your chickens eggs, you will need to be registered as a food business. However, for private consumption simply ensure your eggs are thoroughly cleaned, throw away any cracked eggs not suitable for consumption and store the rest in the refrigerator below any cooked or ready to eat foods. It is important to also remember that over the counter wormers and medicated feed have the potential to transfer to the eggs. Take note of any warnings on packaging and the respect egg ‘Withholding Periods’ (WHP).

Everything is fair in love and chickens; however it is important to be aware of legalities. Luckily for us here in Alice Springs there aren’t too many restrictions regarding keeping chickens on your premises, for either rural or suburban properties. Alice Springs by-law states that “chickens have to be contained in a securely fenced yard or run which is no closer to a house than 12 metres”.

Northern Territory Government also requires properties with poultry to be registered with a ‘Property Identification Code’ (PIC) regardless of the number of animals on the property. This PIC is a biosecurity tool to help the government manage any outbreaks of disease by quickly and efficiently notifying anyone who may be effected. Registration is free and can be completed online at www.nt.gov.au/industry/agriculture/livestock/get-aproperty-identification-code

Enjoy your new garden friends!

~ Candice Appleby

 

Chick (Image C. Appleby).

The Structure and Insulation of Avian Nests

Birds’ nests have evolved into many shapes and sizes, but they all function to provide a secure substrate for eggs and hatchlings, camouflage and defence from predators, as well as protect the eggs, hatchlings and incubating parent from harsh climatic conditions. My doctoral studies focused on understanding the factors influencing the structure and insulation of avian nests and hence the manner in which a nest may influence the energetic cost of incubation.

Nest materials can range from natural plant items (sticks and grass) and organic material (mud), to animal materials (hair, fur, spider silk) and man-made items (wool, wire and cloth). This nest is made completely from horse hair and a few strands of grass.

FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST SIZE AND SHAPE

Parent mass

Comparing the size and shape of nests of 36 Australian passerine species against parent mass reveals that nest surface area increases in direct proportion to the size of the parent. Nest diameter and height increase with parent mass but as nests become larger in line with increases in parent mass, the nest cup also becomes shallower and the opening becomes wider than expected, which allows for the space that the chicks will occupy.

Nest mass increases with parent mass at a rate that matches that of a supporting structure, suggesting that structural considerations of nest construction are of primary importance to nest design. The requirement for structural support is also evident for nest thickness, which increases more than proportionally expected as parent size increases. Structurally adequate nests become thicker than expected for their size in larger birds.

The clutch

Of interest is how the size or number of eggs in a clutch relates to the size of a nest. The clutch surface area and the internal surface area of the nest increase simultaneously; and the clutch volume and volume of the nest cup are also associated. Since nest design for the majority of birds in the study is in part influenced by the male and egg shape is controlled by muscles in the pelvis of the female, it is likely that one does not control the other. However, nest and egg size/shape are influenced by body size and ancestry. Therefore, it is likely that the nest and clutch are in fact independent, yet matched secondarily due to the shared influence of body mass and genetic ancestry.

The delicate nest of a Singing Honeyeater is decorated with Emu feathers and held together with spider silk and hair.

FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST INSULATION

Nest structure

As we know, the nest surface area increases in proportion to bird size, however nests become much thicker than expected as bird size increases. The thick walls provide structural support for the parent and clutch, with the consequence that structurally adequate nests achieve greater insulation than expected, as they increase in size. Nests are often viewed as objects that are designed to prevent heat loss from the clutch and incubating parent; however the requirement for adequate structural support is the primary selective influence on nest construction, not the requirement for insulation.

Nest microclimate

By assessing the insulation of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) and Yellow-throated Miner (Manorina flavigula) nests under varying wind conditions, I found that wind enters the nest material and dissipates heat, resulting in a decrease in thermal insulation with greater wind speeds. The consequence of increased wind currents around and through the nests would be a near-doubling in heat production required by the parent when incubating.

While ambient temperature does not influence the structure of nests in my study, it does influence the insulation of nests and the thermal efficiency of the material. However, temperature and precipitation (henceforth referred to as climate) act in combination, indicating that the response of Australian passerines to one variable depends upon the level of the other.

 In sites with low temperatures, nest insulation may be important to maintain an appropriate microclimate for offspring and therefore birds construct nests with good insulation, irrespective of the rainfall at the site. For nests constructed in warm climates but at the two extremes of rainfall, there is a pronounced decrease in insulation for nests built in areas with high rainfall, compared to areas with low rainfall.

The effect of climate extends to the thermal efficiency of the nest materials, indicating that not only the ambient temperature, but also the precipitation of the breeding site, influences material selection during the nest construction phase. Birds breeding in warm and wet climates construct their nests with materials that have a poor thermal efficiency compared to those in dry climates. The warm temperatures may cause a relaxation in the need for insulation, and poorly insulating materials (such as sticks and grasses, rather than fur and wool) are possibly less absorptive and able to dry out faster following a rain event, to restore the insulating function of the nest.

To determine the effect of water (from rain, dew or absorption from the nest substrate) on the heat loss from the nest, I measured Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Gliciphila melanops) nests under varying water content levels (from dry to saturated). Water penetrating the nesting material increases conductance of G. melanops nests by up to two and a half times the rate seen in a dry nest – a consequence of the decreased thermal efficiency of materials in a wet nest. As a result, additional energy is required by the incubating parent to keep clutches warm when nests become wet. Individuals should be capable of obtaining additional floral resources to deal with an energy deficit in cold and wet conditions. However, if floral resources are poor and an individual is unable to meet such energy demands, it may abandon the nest altogether.

Not all nests seem to be sufficient – this nest has large holes but is strong and doesn’t absorb water – but they have functions other than insulation of the young.

SUMMARY

My studies highlight the importance of nest design and construction for the thermal properties of nests – small variations in nest design can have significant impacts on the insulation value of a nest, which will in turn influence the energetic cost of incubation. The effect of rain and wind on nest insulation, and the consequence of this for the energetics of the incubating parent, reinforces the view that appropriate nest site selection that provides additional shelter is crucial for avian reproductive success.

Variegated Fairy-wren Snapped Taking a Bath at the LFW Office

A Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) was snapped in a compromising position at the Land for Wildlife office. A group consisting of one male, a female and many juveniles (being a highly sociable species, this group structure is quite common) were seen fluttering about in a Witchetty Bush (Acacia kempeana) and Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia subsp. nummularia) in search of a drink and bath. Hot tip: The juveniles are characterised by a pink-orange eye ring. Within moments of the birdbath getting topped up, the family made a rushed and chattering B-line to the water source. The male, however, managed to stay clear of the camera (see the December Newsletter for an image of the male at the Water Stabilisation Ponds). You can head to our YouTube channel to see the video of a juvenile making a splash and below for the snapshots.

 

 

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Birdlife Central Australia Shorebirds Survey at the Ponds

waterbird-feather

Birdlife Central Australia ran a summer Shorebirds count at the Alice Springs PowerWater stabilisation ponds on the weekend. The surveys are a part of the Shorebirds 2020 program, which aims to raise awareness about how incredible shorebirds are by engaging the community to participate in gathering the information required to conserve shorebirds, by conducting national shorebird population monitoring at over 150 key sites around Australia. You can follow Birdlife Central Australia on Facebook to see what other birds they find around Alice Springs.

Pam Walker and Jocelyn Davies spotting birds on the far side of the pond.

Pam Walker and Jocelyn Davies spotting birds on the far side of the pond.

Barb Gilfedder, who was organising the event, states that the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) was the most significant bird seen on the day, with the Grey Teal (Anas gracilis) coming out on top as most common (500!) and runner up of White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus; marked on the graph under the previous name of Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus).

Data property of Birdlife Central Australia, data within graph provided by Barb Gilfedder.

Data property of Birdlife Central Australia, data within graph provided by Barb Gilfedder.

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) juvenile

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) juvenile

My personal favourite was a toss-up between the Red-necked Avocets (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae) that were swooping overhead, and the Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti), which is of course not a shorebird but is utterly delightful. Plus, there were a couple of visiting reptiles, such as the Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)… not a bird at all!

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

 

Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) being chased around by three very keen females.

Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) being chased around by three very keen females

 

Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)

Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)

As coordinator of Land for Wildlife, which is hosted by Low Ecological Services P/L, I am fortunate to enjoy visits to the PowerWater stabilisation ponds on a somewhat regular basis to conduct water testing. It’s difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when there is such an amazing array of birds around. A few chicks have been making their way into the world of late (see last month’s Bird Breeding Bonanza post and the October/November newsletter).

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) and chicks

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) and chicks

 

Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) and a massive brood

Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) and a massive brood

 

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) family

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) family

Birdlife Central Australia has also helped me to identify some of the more common species that I have noticed around the ponds, including the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and the Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). A large Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) is sometimes seen at the ponds (see the video), along with many Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus). If you want to visit the ponds for birdwatching, see the PowerWater factsheet for more information.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

 

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

 

This showy one was swanning around for a good while trying to look pretty

This showy one was swanning around for a good while trying to look pretty (pardon the pun)

 

... and had left it's print for sure.

… and had left it’s print for sure.

Wildlife Videos

Batchelor Institute Alice Springs camera trapping session in November 2016 shows a cat going into a trap for a feed and a couple of inquisitive crows.

 

Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) seen feeding on some kill at the Alice Springs wastewater treatment ponds.

Bird Breeding Bonanza

Many avian species are breeding in town at the moment, with young chicks and fledglings making their way out into the world. Several Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chicks and Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) cygnets have been seen at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds over the last couple of months.

In my own yard, I have had a pair of young Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) that recently fledged their sturdy mud nest and the family of four have been busy catching tasty insects in the lawn ever since. There is also a diligent Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) sitting on a nest with its chicks and other young nearby – who look rather gangly and awkward but delightful none the less! The White-plumed Honeyeaters (Lichenostomus penicillatus) reported in the last newsletter are still hanging around and are now just as vocal as their parents, though no doubt they will eventually go off to find their own territory.

What have you got breeding in your area? Send your photos in to share with the members!

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) fledgling sits nearby the nest for safety.

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) parent on a nest with two chicks.

 

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) parent on a nest with two chicks.

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) fledgling sits nearby the nest for safety.

 

Magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca) getting ready to fledge the nest last month, now free-roaming and learning to feed on their own.

Magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca) getting ready to fledge the nest last month, now free-roaming and learning to feed on their own.

 

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chick at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds, one of several being guarded diligently by the parents.

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chick at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds, one of several being guarded diligently by the parents.

Parks and Wildlife NT Lorikeet Survey

By John Tyne

On September 28th, eight volunteers assisted Parks and Wildlife to conduct a census of introduced Rainbow Lorikeets in Alice Springs. The volunteers came from a number of organizations including Birdlife Central Australia, Alice Springs Field Naturalist Club and Land for Wildlife.  Thirty nine locations were surveyed for rainbow lorikeets, with volunteers recording the times, location and number of birds seen and heard at each survey point.  Despite the damp conditions many birds were out and about. After reviewing the data, I would conservatively estimate that there are at least 17 individual birds. The main population of birds appears to be focused in the Gillen area near the local primary school, which then probably disperses throughout Alice Springs during the day to feed. What is especially concerning is that two nesting hollows in the Todd River and a third in town are currently being used which may indicate an imminent increase in bird numbers.  I would like to thank everyone very much for their help with this survey, and please keep the sightings coming in!  They can be submitted to the NT Wildwatch website (http://root.ala.org.au/bdrs-core/nt-dlrm/home.htm), E-bird (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/) or submitted to me directly (John Tyne, John.Tyne@nt.gov.au ).

~ John Tyne, Parks and Wildlife NT

Survey map of the locations where lorikeets were and were not observed (Map provided by John Tyne).

Survey map of the locations where lorikeets were and were not observed (Map provided by John Tyne). Click on image to enlarge for ease of viewing numbers.