Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Summer Wildlife in the Suburbs

A grey, brown and white koala - Phascolarctos cinereus - sits in the fork of a eucalyptus bough, resting it's forepaws and head on one of the branches, its body facing towards the camera. Meanwhile its left leg is hanging outstretched with its claws around a tiny shoot.
Sleepy koala.
(Phascolarctos cinereus)

Summer has arrived. 

The neighbourhood creatures 
are on the move …

… well … some are moving more than others …

Look at this koala
that's exactly how I feel after a session of hydrotherapy!

This koala was snoozing in the tree just outside the pool window. 

This is the time of year that koalas are on the move, looking for mates and territory.  Like wombats, they can be set in their ways and if you place an obstacle in their way, they are likely to go over, under or straight through it!  

We cross paths with koalas in our neighbourhood during December and January. They are usually most active from dusk until dawn.

One year, in broad daylight, we spotted a koala playing 'Frogger' to cross a six-lane highway– never mind the concrete barricades dividing the traffic.  That koala must have done this crossing before too, as it knew to stop at each painted lane marking line and wait for the lunch-time traffic to pass before leaping across the next lane! I could not believe what I was seeing in my rear vision mirror. Thankfully it crossed the road successfully.

We have had koalas wander down the footpath of our street, including one year when a joey was in our street tree while mum was fossicking in the neighbour's shrubbery. It was a hot day so we left some water at the base of the tree for them but kept our distance.

They might appear cute and fluffy but the adults are formidable when you are face to face with a wild one.  The males can be as big as a large dog and all koalas have prominent, sharp claws (all the better to climb trees with).  You don't want to mess with them.

When I got home from the pool, I stepped out of my car to a loud rustling of dried leaves as another regular garden visitor dashed away from underfoot.

A blue tongue lizard - genus Tiliqua - resting on a bed of dried fallen leaves. It's light-brown head is at the top of the photo, a striped body in the middle with a tapered tail towards the bottom of the photo.
Blue-tongue  lizard in the leaf litter.
(Tiliqua scincoides)
This blue-tongue lizard has made daily appearances around our garden.

It's regular haunts include: 
  • garden leaf litter
  • afternoon sunbathing on the concrete path
  • hiding under the concrete slab of one neighbour's shed
  • keeping warm under the other neighbour's hot water service
  • burrowing under my compost bin which has a thriving little ecosystem of its own, including geckos, woodlice, cockroaches and slugs–lots of food for lizards (not to mention sweet human foodscraps like greens, berries and other lizard delicacies).
This is a different blue-tongue to a previous inhabitant. I'm advised that this blue-tongue is a youngster–barely 1 year old.  It is very brave because it was cautious but not afraid of me. There was no puffing up to look bigger or hissing; not even a flash of that blue tongue towards me (common defensive behaviours).

Once it was a short distance from me, it played the "sit still and blend in with the scenery" defence which allowed me to take a lovely photograph for you.  Both lizard and I sat very still to observe each other. After about 3–5 minutes, and a satisfactory risk assessment of me by the lizard, it nonchalantly moved off and climbed the small retaining wall to investigate the offerings of the neighbour's front garden.

My household has another daily wild visitor who seems to have adopted us (not the other way around):  a cheeky magpie!

A black and white South Australian male magpie - Gymnorhina leuconata - is on the inside threshold of a sliding door.  Its sharp, pointed beak is white with a black tip. It has white feathers on iits back and nape with a black head and body. The wings and tail feathers are white with black tips.
Maggie in the doorway
(Gymnorhina leuconata)

Look how cheeky he is!
Here he is crossing the threshold to see what we are doing. "Do those humans have any food for me?"

He is so tame and brazen, he will come along and peer through our windows to see what we are doing.

One day, he sat on the side fence and followed me (watching through the windows) from the dining room to the kitchen!   
I'm sure he knows where the food is kept.

It looks like 'our' magpie (which the children named "Maggie"–original, hey?) has been getting meals from humans before because he will let us hand-feed him.  

Magpies' regular diets consist of beetles and grubs etc. which are high in protein. That is why many people think minced meat is a good food for magpies but mince alone will not provide a complete or balanced diet. If magpies fill up with minced meat, they will miss out on vital nutrients and get sick. We don't want that to happen to Maggie.

Magpie - Gymnorhina leauconata - perched on a horizontal railing,leaning forward to take some minced food from an outstretched human hand.
Hand feeding 'Maggie' with
lean minced meat blended with insectivore mix.

After enquiring with our local veterinarian, we obtained a special 'rearing mix' especially formulated for magpies and other insectivorous and carnivorous birds. It can be mixed to various consistencies, from a slurry for baby birds to a paste which can be formed into pellets.  We use it as a nutritional supplement and mix it into minced meat to make sure that we have something healthy to give Maggie when he comes looking for a treat.

We don't feed him very much because we don't want him to become dependent on us or to forget how to hunt for his wild food.  He is a wild bird after all (and he does a good service in my lawn and vegetable garden).  It is such a privilege to know that a wild bird feels safe around us and freely chooses to visit.

I love the sound of magpies carolling and warbling around the house (and sometimes they mimic other birds and dogs barking). I hope that our little treats are extra incentive for them to drop by.

Even when we have no food to offer, he will often sit on the railing, outside the door, happily sitting with one leg tucked up underneath him. 

He seems to like listening to music and watching our activities through the window. I wonder whether he likes the company too because he is often happy to sit on the railing right next to us if we are standing out there leaning on it. Perhaps he is just a hungry optimist with lots of patience!

A South Australian male magpie - Gymnorhina leuconata - is sunbaking on an outdoor chair cushion on its belly, wings and tail outstretched. The wings and tail feathers are white with black tips. It has white feathers on iits back and nape with a black head and body. Its head turned to the  right, resting on the cushion.  Its sharp, pointed beak is white with a black tip but not visible in this photo..
Magpie sunbaking on top of a stack of chairs in a sunny corner.

There is a corner by the door that catches the morning sun. Maggie will often perch on top of a stack of outdoor chairs there to make the most of the radiant heat from the brick walls.  He must feel safe enough to let his guard down and stretch out to sunbake. 

This magpie has been 'casing' our garden for a couple of seasons together with his partner.  They would tamely fossick for bugs around one end of the veggie patch while I would be busy working at the other, barely a metre and a half away.

Once they worked out that our garden was safe from predators, they began bringing their young to visit as well!

Two magpies perched on a beige galvanised fence facing each other. Juvenile magpie is on the left with father on the right. The juvenile's feathers are fluffy and speckled with grey. Its beak is black.
Father magpie (right) on the fence
after feeding baby magpie (left).
Usually mother magpie will sit on a high vantage point (e.g. TV antenna on the neighbour's roof, overlooking our garden) while father magpie will get the food. Then he will take the food to the mother and feed the babies.

Our local magpie family introduced us to their youngest fledgling when it was barely weaned. We were fortunate to witness Maggie feeding his baby in our garden. 

Two magpies perched on a shrub. The father magpie brings food to the juvenile magpie that is calling with a gaping red beak. One can see the minced food hanging from the father magpie's beak.
Baby magpie's beak is wide open, flashing its red throat to its parent.
Father magpie holds food in his beak at the ready.
Like other baby birds and animals, baby magpie will whine incessantly
until a parent drowns the noise by shoving the food in!
Maggie nests at the top of an extremely tall tree approximately 100 metres away from our home ("as the crow magpie flies") in a line of sight from our back door.

Tell me about your wildlife encounters!
Have you ever made friends with wild animals?

Related Posts on Lupey Loops

"The Latest Visitor to my Garden!", 30 September 2014:  https://lupeyloops.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-latest-visitor-to-my-garden.html

"Spring Stories & Spider Stitches", 22 November 2015: https://lupeyloops.blogspot.com/2015/11/spring-stories-spider-stitches.html

Further Information

Adelaide Koala & Wildlife Hospital: http://www.akawhospital.org.au/

Australian Museum, "Common Blue-tongue Skink - Tiliqua scincoides", New South Wales Government, 2018: https://australianmuseum.net.au/eastern-blue-tongue-lizard

Australian Museum, "Koala", New South Wales Government, 2018: https://australianmuseum.net.au/koala 

Birds SA, "Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen": https://birdssa.asn.au/birddirectory/australian-magpie/

Good Living, "Your guide to the koalas found in South Australia", Department for Environment and Water, Government of South Australia, 2 November 2018:  https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/goodliving/posts/2018/10/koala-differences

Hutchinson, M. & Williams, I., Key to the Skinks of South Australia, "Key to the South Australian Species of  Tiliqua", page 48, South Australian Museum, Government of South Australia, 2018:

The Magpie Whisperer, "Australian Magpie 101", 2018: http://www.magpieaholic.com/magpie-info/
"…maggies actually just want to be our best friends." 

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges, "Reptiles", Government of South Australia, updated 9 Nov 2018: https://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges/plants-and-animals/native-plants-animals-and-biodiversity/native-animals/reptiles

Royal, Simon, "Rare white leucistic magpie found in Adelaide Parklands", ABC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 22 July 2018:   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-22/what-is-a-leucistic-magpie/10019352


  1. I love magpies. We have a different breed here. I love listening to all the sounds they make. I love that Maggie comes to visit you and trusts you so much. It's absolutely amazing!

    1. Hi Tammy, thank you for your greetings! I have been trying to find out which species of Magpie visit you and have narrowed it down to the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) or the Asir magpie (Pica asirensis), the latter being an endangered species. Do you know which one is in your neighbourhood? They do make lovely sounds and all breeds are known for their intelligence. Do your magpies swoop? Australian magpies are notorious for swooping and attacking passers by to defend their nests during breeding seasons.

      Our magpies seem to find shiny bike helmets particularly threatening or attractive to swoop. Some people draw pairs of eyes on the back of their hats on the premise that magpies won't swoop at you if you are looking at them but I am not too sure of the validity of that theory!

      I do remember a story about one poor school that had a pair of butcher birds nesting in the grounds. The children drew eyes on ice cream containers and then donned them as hard hats to protect them when walking across the schoolyard from one lesson to another!

      Recent research shows that magpies do recognise and remember human faces and they will know who belongs and who doesn't belong in their territory. The new theory is that magpies will swoop people they don't recognise. This might explain why some people seem to always get swooped during their travels and others don't.

    2. Hi Jodie, I got my birds wrong. We have the Common Myna here which I just read is a common pest in Australia. :)

    3. Hi Tammy, it's so interesting to learn about your native bird species. Thank you for sharing. Are your Mynas affected by the many cats in your area? Uncontrolled cats have devastated Australian wild bird populations.

      Many Australians confuse the introduced Common or Indian Myna (Acridotheres tristis) with the native Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). The Indian Mynas are highly invasive and outcompete the native birds for food and habitat. I have the native Noisy Miners in my garden. They are a form of honeyeater but they can be very aggressive (like many honeyeaters) and loud (as suggested by their name). Often a magpie will have a Miner following nearby. I am not sure about the dynamics of this relationship. I have observed the Miners picking up the magpie's leftovers.

  2. O I love to read about the animals in your area. Thank you so much. I never had a friendship with animals around our house.There are a lot of crows in the oak next to our house, to the annoyance of my husband. They make a lot of noise.

    I personally love squirrels. For that I have to go to the forest (15 minutes by bike). Thank you for your nice blog post

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write, Aritha!

      It is nice that you can enjoy wildlife close to home. I have never seen a squirrel in real life. They look cute in films and pictures - are they? What do you like about them?

      I can understand your husband's annoyance with noisy crows. If one crow's call is loud enough to be heard across large paddocks, imagine the din of a flock as a morning alarm clock. You have my sympathy.

      We have about five different species of the Crow family (Corvus) in South Australia and our local Aussie rules football team has a crow for its mascot (Adelaide Crows). You can find my posts about the footy if you do a search for "crows" or click on this blog's "sport" tag.

      Crows are the mascot because South Australians became known in other parts of Australia as "Crow-eaters". Here's a link to a newspaper article from 1927 explaining the origin: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/54089651

      The crows we see in the city of Adelaide are named ravens and the larger crows are in the country areas further north in the state. The one that we see is the Little Raven (Corvus mellori): https://birdssa.asn.au/birddirectory/little-raven/

      They like to play and also destroy things! We once had a family of crows near my workplace that liked to look at their own reflections in the office windows. Then they took a fancy to the black rubber strips that secure window panes in their frames after one of the crows discovered a loose end sticking out. Then the game became "who can pull out the longest black 'worm' from the window frame"!

  3. I love that koala photo and can't wait to see some next year when I visit Australia. The wildest animal we've had was a fox, quite a feat for him to make it into a fully enclosed garden over a six foot fence and grey squirrels which like to dig up the spring bulbs before deciding they aren't that tasty after all. We also have lots of little coal tits and a fierce robin which are lovely to watch. H

    1. How exciting for you to be visiting Australia, Helen! What parts of Australia do you plan to see?

      Believe it or not, we have also had a fox wander down our street late at night. Sadly foxes were introduced into the country in the 1870s for recreational hunting and they are now a big menace. We have a railway corridor near us and the foxes use that to move through the suburbs.
      They are a big feral pest. I'll leave you with some links at the end of this reply in case you (or other readers) are interested.

      I didn't know that squirrels were pesky in the garden. They always seem to be portrayed as cute and harmless over here.

      Like you, I love watching birds. I have tried to get my own photos of all the bird species that visit my garden and neighbourhood but without success. Thank goodness for the internet which allows us to look up each others' wildlife to learn what they look like!

      Wishing you safe travels to and through Australia. Please keep me up to date with your plans. xx


      Williamson, Brett, "Foxes Prefer City Living" 7 Jan 2010, ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2010/01/07/2787351.htm

      Natural Resources Adelaide & Mt Lofty Ranges, "Pest Animals" 2013: https://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges/plants-and-animals/pest-plants-and-animals/pest-animals

      Broadstock, Amelia, "Adelaide vets say increased food source is drawing foxes into the suburbs", Advertiser, 19 Nov 2014: https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/adelaide-vets-say-increased-food-source-is-drawing-foxes-into-the-suburbs/news-story/6c6e87a44effa74bd03e2fe28f3aa523

  4. Hi Jodie, urban foxes are a pest here too. I'll be visiting relatives in Melbourne then we are going on holiday together to Sydney and NSW coast. There are a couple of big birthdays while we are there too so it will be a celebration. Hubby has never been and I haven't been back to Australia in 36 years so we are all excited! Hx

    1. The south coast of NSW is a beautiful part of the world. I love it.