Tag Archives: parrots

The trouble with possums

This is a female. See the pouch under her belly?

It’s been quite the saga with our local possums lately. For my non-Australian readers, possums are native Australian marsupials about the size of a cat. They are mainly vegetarian, eating leaves, fruit, flowers and grass. But they’re not averse to insects and bird’s eggs, and have become opportunistic foragers in towns. They’re nocturnal and sleep away the daylight hours in a dark place such as a hollow log.

And that has become an issue. With increasing urban sprawl, trees are being cut down in record numbers. This has led to a serious shortage of hollow branches for parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras and the like, which use them for nesting, and for possums and other nocturnal creatures who need them as homes.

When we arrived in Hervey Bay we found a large hollow log in one of the out-buildings. It seems a previous owner of the property had been a wildlife carer and I think the log had been used as a nesting box for something like a sulphur-crested cockatoo. We like birds, so we put a lid on the log, fitted a perch, and hoisted it up onto a palm tree near the house.

What are you doing in our house? Note the board to try to limit the size. And the chewed edge.

All was well. The nest box received almost immediate interest and a couple of lorikeets moved in. But after some time this up-market accommodation attracted the attention of a possum, which moved in and has been there ever since, despite our attempts to discourage it by reducing the size of the opening. The tenant just chewed the edges to fit. So we gave up and constructed bird boxes. They were never as popular as the real thing, though. And I confess I enjoy watching the possums in the evening. One regular visitor was a female who brought her latest baby on her back to see if there was anything on the bird table. I often put a mandarin or a piece of orange out for them.

Mum and Bub

A few months ago we returned from a trip to find the possum peering at us in daylight, from inside the log. That’s unusual because they’re nocturnal, and also, they attract the fury of many of the small birds – butcher birds, noisy miners, magpie larks and the like, who gather around the box and yell. The reason for the possum’s appearance became apparent when we noticed the base had fallen from its house. So Pete took the log down (sans possum), fixed it, and put it back.

All was well.

As I sat in my office some weeks later, I heard a very loud crash from outside. It was unusual enough to cause me to check on the reason. The whole possum house had fallen to the ground – with the possum inside. I saw a little pink nose and a swarm of mosquitoes which must also have had their slumber (or their dinner) interrupted. Pete and I looked up the tree and decided we weren’t going to try to get the log back up there. After some discussion we closed the hole with a piece of tied-on wood (keeping poss inside) and took the whole shebang to a different tree in a more heavily wooded part of the garden and hoisted the log up there. Not as high, but safe and sound within the large pool enclosure.

All was well

Not long after that we noticed thumps and noises from the ceiling just before dawn, and again after nightfall. Possums have learned to live in suburbia. They had to. Ceilings are a popular housing site, and a homeless possum had found its way into ours. There are two problems with that. Possums are not house-trained, and they have been known to cause electrical fires (by damaging wires etc). So, much as I like wildlife, poss had to be evicted.

But before we got around to arranging that, we had a truly memorable morning. I was awake early, jolted out of snoozing by a loud thump from the direction of the kitchen. I didn’t bother investigating because it was probably some critter on the window ledge. Around 5am, with light graying the sky, Pete got up for a pee. He saw an animal dart into our bedroom and under the bed. “There’s a cat in here. Or a possum.”

That was that for an early morning snooze. Picture this, if you will. A couple of people well past their best years, dressed in their night attire, chasing a small furry animal around the house. The possum bolted out of the bedroom and into the lounge. We both followed, closing doors as we went. We opened the front door and the back sliding glass door, then we played sheep dogs, gently herding the little creature out into the garden. It immediately charged up the nearest fence, up onto the roof and dived into the ceiling cavity.

It’s not the same possum as the one in the log. Like I said, there’s a housing crisis for possums. This might have been a juvenile, no longer wanted by mum and looking for its own abode. We several times had junior possums using the nest boxes we’d built for the birds, but they soon outgrow them.

The obvious question was how did it get in? There’s a cat flap in the laundry door, set up so a cat can go out, but not come back in. We don’t have a cat so tended to ignore its existence. We think the possum levered a corner of the flap up. They have long, powerful claws for climbing, and they don’t need much wriggle room. Judging by the paw prints, it wandered around the kitchen, jumping up on benches and fridge magnets to get on the little ledge which was the protruding part of the fridge, just outside the cupboards around it. The thump I heard from the kitchen was the possum jumping down. I suspect it came to the bedroom because it occupied the upstairs apartment and was looking for the stairs.

Pete taped up the cat flap to prevent further visits.

We had one more bit of morning excitement before we got our act together. One morning after I’d brought him his cup of tea (yes, I do), Pete said, “Have a look in the en suite.”

Okay. I did as I was told. There was a reddish mess dripping down the cistern. Thinking Pete must have hurt himself, I asked, “What’s that?”

“Possum shit.”

I looked up at the vent for the exhaust fan which is above the toilet and saw some remnants up there, too.

That, dear reader, was the final straw.

I cleaned the mess up. It wasn’t poo. Possums do little pellets like rats and rabbits, and there was nothing like that in sight. I *think* the possum must have cut itself or something. Either way, it had outstayed its welcome.

Like all native species, possums are protected, so we could evict, but not harm. We borrowed a cage trap from a friend and baited it with an apple. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Pete went up on the roof and put wire mesh over all the gaps into the roof cavity – except the one we knew the possum used. By this time, we had decided there was more than one possum up there. The poss(es) went out foraging after nightfall, and Pete went up and plugged the last hole.

There are no more night time noises in the ceiling.

 

 

My little mates

Alarm call!

Rainbow lorikeets are without a doubt colourful birds, all wearing the same uniform with gay abandon. But they’re not identical, even to our human eyes. Over time we’ve started to recognise individuals, but I confess only if the element that sets them apart is distinctive.

Spot the variations

The most obvious difference is the breast patch, which can be anywhere from almost entirely yellow to almost entirely red. The lower belly, which is predominantly purple, also varies according to how many red patches are in the mix.

Backs are mainly green

Then there’s the back plumage. It’s predominantly green in all birds, making them almost impossible to spot in their favourite trees. But even the back feathers have variations. There might be a sprinkle of orange dots across the shoulders, or a line of yellow at the base of a lower wing feather. One of our regulars we’ve called Nike, because he has a distinct ‘Nike’ shaped tick on his back. Another has a shallower scoop shape.

They’re not dumb birds – parrots never are. And although they don’t match the big parrots in longevity (they can reach their sixties and seventies) lorikeets can live into their twenties, although seven to nine years is quoted for wild birds. They come to our yard for food, obviously. But they also come because it’s safe. No kids, no pets. They’re not the only ones – we get injured birds coming here for that reason, like a magpie which had hurt its leg. (It recovered) The lorikeets are interested in us, too. When they get to know us, they’ll come and look in the French windows to see what’s going on. Often I suspect it’s just, “ahem, we’re here. Any spare food?” But on one occasion we left the glass door open because one individual so often came up to the glass, peering inside. He came in, flew around the room a bit, perched on a chair, then flew outside again, curiosity satisfied. I’m not sure I’d want them doing that as a habit, mind. They shit a lot.

Keeping dry

Another way in which the birds – not just the lorikeets – find our house useful is protection from the rain. They perch along the fence under the veranda, mostly in their usual pairs, preening each other.

The bird bath, of course, is very popular. Lorikeets tend to dunk a lot of themselves in the bath, splashing water everywhere. Unlike the miner birds, kookaburras and blue-faced honey eaters, they don’t bathe in the swimming pool. One did drown, but I think that was a young bird that happened in accidentally. Even so – curiosity can be dangerous. I noticed one bird showing a lot of interest in the pool, looking over the edge into the water. Not long after that I rescued a lorikeet who’d gone in and managed to struggle up onto one of the pool hoses. Unlike every other bird I’ve rescued from the Big Blue Monster, this little bugger wasn’t even grateful. He bit my hand before he waddled off into the hedge to dry off. (He never tried the pool again.)

So there you are – a bit more information about our little mates. They’re a lot like us – can’t tell them apart – until you REALLY look.

I’ve posted a bunch more photos to Dreamstime. And I’ve added some words to the developing new book. Read a little about that at Spacefreighters.

Keep well, folks. See you next week.

Afternoon tea

Line-up on the pool fence

Strange fruit

They start to gather a couple of hours before sunset, when the shadows start to lengthen and the light takes on that late afternoon glow. Sometimes there’s a line-up on the pool fence, sometimes it’s a couple of stalwarts clicking their claws at the feeding table. When I appear the tension ratchets up. As I pour the juice into the two bowls a couple of the bolder ones will sidle up, one red eye fixed on me, to steal a sip before the crowd arrives. But they’re already gathering, landing just outside my field of vision in a flurry of sound. I step back and there’s a rush, everyone trying to get their beaks into the juice. They drop down from the fox tail palm above the table, or the trees on either side where they’ve been waiting patiently. Bossy boots and his missus try to claim both bowls as their own, but while it works for small groups, the pair is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Afternoon tea time

A flurry of golden wings

The din is incredible, a cacophony of screeching that reverberates in my head. There’s more than thirty birds trying to reach two bowls of juice. They argue, push, shove, take off for a break or try to fit in, a sea of heaving green backs and golden wings. The light from the lowering sun is at just the right angle to make their wings shine golden, like bad impressions of angels. Drops of apple juice sparkle in the air. I swear half of it isn’t drunk at all. There are too many birds, too close together, so we toss out other enticements – apples cut in half, or a slice of multi-grain bread. That gives them something else to fight over, and lessens the crush at the table.

Sometimes one smarty-pants sends up an alarm signal and they take off in force, only to return in minutes as they realise it’s a false alarm.

Alarm call!

It’s almost hovering, looking for a spot to land

We’re out of juice (This Winky s/he only has one eye)

It’s over in ten or fifteen minutes. The juice is gone. Some hopeful souls bend over to look under the table to see if more is forthcoming. Others repair to the bird bath for a drink of water or a splashing soaking. Yet others return to the trees for a preen, with each couple doing that hard part at the back of their partner’s neck.

As the warmth of the day fades they’ll leave in groups of six, or four, or two, heading North to the trees along the foreshore or the major road, where they’ll roost for the night. There are a few more raucous fly-bys with their mates, a bit more pushing and shoving for the best roosting spots. Then after the last light has drained from the sky, the noise ceases for another night.

 

It’s time for the bats to venture out.