NATURE

by VIC JAKES

I love this time of year. The gradually lengthening days have encouraged so many of our local birds to turn their thoughts to activities that will ensure survival of their species. Now is the time I start to look around my property for early signs of nesting behaviour, so I may appreciate the incredible skills that birds bring to nest building. 

As a boy growing up on the edge of Sherwood Forest in Britain, birds’ nests could be found with ease simply by bending down and looking skywards through the hedgerows. Here, it is much more difficult to discover them. Our birds here on the Sunshine Coast and all over Australia have developed highly sophisticated nest-hiding techniques in order to breed successfully. The need to avoid detection of the nest sites is due to the enormous range of predators – snakes, mammals, reptiles and other birds – all too eager to make a meal of any eggs or nestlings. Nests are carefully disguised, some with vegetation matching the surrounds, others buried within naturally accumulated mounds of forest debris, a few dangled precariously from the very ends of slender branches out of reach of anything but the lightest creature, as well as other ingenious methods. 

One bird, however, sometimes amazes me with its ‘hidden in plain sight’ approach and is usually one of the first birds ‘off the blocks’ during the nesting season. This delightful bird is the eastern yellow robin (Eopsaltria australis).

In theory, the nest of this colourful bird is designed to be ‘invisible’ due to moss, lichen and strands of bark being woven into the outer face of the neat cup nest, which is built of grasses and fine plant material and bound together with spider web. In some cases, this works very well. However, on several occasions I have come across nests so blatantly exposed that it is hard to believe they could be missed by a potential predator. On one occasion the nest was wedged, just above head height, between the two remaining stumpy branches of a long-dead sapling, the trunk girth of which was probably only about 5cm. Think of a pitchfork pushed into the ground, handle first, and you will get the picture. Although under the canopy of other creek-side trees, the dead sapling was in a totally isolated position. On another occasion the nest was somehow attached to the leafless bough of a vine, totally visible from front and behind, in the manner of a child sitting sideways on a hammock. In both cases, young fledged from the nest, although I do know that one of the chicks in the ‘hammock’ nest was predated.

These most attractive robins, which can be found along a wide coastal and sub-coastal band of eastern Australia from around Cairns to Victoria, prefer shady and damp locations in which to live and build their early season nests. The two, sometimes three, pale blue eggs, blotched with brown, purple and green, are incubated by the female, hatching after about 16 days. The chicks then grow quickly as they are fed enthusiastically by both parents and after about 12 more days are able to leave the nest. After this, the parent birds will continue to feed them as the youngsters gradually develop their own skills in hunting the insects, spiders and other small creatures that form their diet. An ideal breeding season might see a pair of robins raising three separate broods.

Keep your eyes peeled now and enjoy the sight of these wonderful birds as they create life anew.