Where Song Began

Monday, 6 April 2015

Where Song BeganTim Low’s popular book Where Song Began tells the story of Australia’s big, noisy, aggressive and colourful birds. ‘And how they changed the world’ according to the sub-title. I’m no bird expert or even real bird enthusiast, but they do intrigue me and I do regularly encounter interesting examples.

Earlier this year I posted about the cockatoo invasion of the Victorian coastal resort of Lorne. I hadn’t been to Lorne for several years and on my last visit the town certainly wasn’t full of cockatoos. It is now. Tim Low comments on how cockatoos have invaded all sorts of places in recent years and while they look terrific they’re also terrifically destructive. They like to sharpen their beaks on anything wood, like your window frames. So while they’re hanging around between free feeds they can tear your house apart.

IMG_9957 - Sydney cockatoos▲ Sure enough when I was in Sydney 10 days ago I looked out from my room at the Blue Hotel and there was a flock of cockies on a neighbouring apartment balcony. Probably turning up for breakfast.

The author also writes about Australians ‘using’ birds whether it’s eating them or, once upon a time, plucking lyrebird feathers to decorate ladies’ hats. I encountered a surprising use of Australian bird feathers when I visited the BMW factory in Munich. As new BMW car bodies come down the production line at ‘body in white’ stage before painting they’re dusted off with emu feathers to remove any specks of dust. Emu feathers, the BMW engineers informed me, are the absolute best way of dusting a car. They don’t import their emu feathers from Australia, however, BMW have their own emu ranch in Bavaria.

Tower Hill emu 542▲ An emu I spotted at the Tower Hill reserve near Port Fairy in Victoria last year.

Tim Low notes the intelligence of Australian birds, parrots in particular, but also crows. Crows anywhere are noted for their high (for a bird) intelligence, but it appears Australian ones score even higher on the bird world Mensa tables. So why am I still plagued by a crow which persists at appearing at my bedroom window soon after dawn and pounding loudly on the glass?