Saturday, September 22, 2012

Aussie birds

Wedge-tailed Eagle - no prizes for guessing the shape of its tail! Commonly called a Wedgie, it's a striking bird in both senses of the word. In the air, they're elegant and graceful; their 2 metre wingspan catches any updrafts or breezes and they appear to glide without effort high in the thermals. However on the ground, when feeding on road-kill and carrion, they're often killed by rapidly approaching cars or road-trains as their heavy bodies are unable to move quickly enough to escape a vehicle bearing down on them. They hop awkwardly, lumbering and slowly flapping their large, apparently heavy wings.
We have friends who (before they began travelling) planned to move all carcasses off outback roads to help protect these magnificent birds, but their good deed went unfulfilled as there were too many bodies to shift in any one day. They'd never have gone further than a few kilometres before stopping, donning protective gloves and dragging heavy, distinctly odorous carcases off the road.

Males weigh around 3 kilos, and females around 4 kilos - the wing-span can be up to 2.5 metres helping them soar up to 2 km and stay air-born for up to 90 mins. Wedgies mate for life, but will rarely produce young during drought. I love their delicate feathery pantaloons which are at odds with their hard sharp claws and strong beak.

The Emu is more commonly referred to in picnic areas as "that bloody bird that tried to pinch my lunch".  In picnic areas where they scavenge for food, they can become aggressive, demanding and distinctly intimidating at a robust 2+ metres (6'6") high.

In the bush, however, they're shy, timid, fast and possibly stupid as they seem to try to run alongside a vehicle moving at around 70kph (40+mph), sometimes veering off-course in front of said vehicle to be splattered messily on the roadside. There, they become a feast for birds of prey, dingoes, some lizards, insects and assorted other creatures that clean up carcasses.
The males generally incubate their large eggs, and are the primary carers for the chicks. As they become teenagers they have that distinct gawky, gangly appearance and seem to trip over themselves and each other as their curiosity gets the better of caution. Domestically, emus are farmed for their eggs, their leathery skin and their oils.
I've just had a look at some information on the web about emus. They're described as "very docile, curious, playful and friendly". Where do these people get their information? Don't believe it. In the bush, they are a wild bird and should be treated a such.

Emus can be curious, but you're the intruder into their territory and they shouldn't be approached as if they're a domestic pet. They aren't. They're powerful, have sharp claws, very strong legs for kicking and a strong beak.

Coming face to face with an emu at a picnic is not always a charming, fun experience. They're big and ugly. OK, that's possibly an unfair value statement about beauty, but finding yourself unexpectedly close up, you'd never use the word friendly. When you've got that head and beak coming at your lunch from over your shoulder, you tend to have a lot of respect for the power available to them. They can be very focused on a free feed and don't always take kindly to a refusal to share your lunch. They'll protect themselves their interests and their young, just the same as we will when threatened.
Delicate emu feathers with a found gold ear-ring on the largest, heaviest red-gum sleeper picnic table I've ever seen. Farina Station & historic town SA.


1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. loved seeing this .. love eagles and that Emu feather - great photo .. cheers Hilary