The spooky black birds of South Hobart

Part 1 of my Field Notes for the Animal Behaviour MOOC

After much agonising, weighing up of pros and cons, and general procrastination, I’ve decided to make the local spooky black birds – forest ravens and currawongs – as my chosen study animals.

For those of you who just follow my regular blog, this is the first of a series of “Field Notes” posts I’ll be writing, as part of my assessment for the Animal Behaviour course I’m doing (which is ace, by the way, and also, free!).

Setting the scene…

I live in South Hobart (SoHo to the locals), a bush-fringed suburb of Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, in Australia. For those of you unfamiliar with us, Tasmania is the little island off Australia’s south east, famed for the now endangered Tasmanian Devil, the great drinking feats of our cricketers, and more recently, our alleged cultural renaissance in the form of MONA.

The forests which surround my suburb are variously dominated by a range of eucalypts; Eucalyptus viminalis, the white gums so beloved by many of our small foraging birds; stringy barks (Eucalpytus obliqua), a fire loving species common throughout the state; and silver peppermints (Eucalyptus tenuiramis), whose elegant pastel tones reflect the colours of the mudstone on which they grow. The understoreys of the areas dominated by the first two gums tend to be thick with a mix of local bracken fern, shrubs, and broad variety of introduced weedy species, like blackberry, tagasaste and english broom. The silver peppermint forests tend to grow on harder country – often mudstone thinly veiled with poor soils – this tends to exclude many of the weed species, and as such, generally supports a sparse array of hardy, sclerophyllous native shrubs.

I also live near the Hobart tip – it’s less that a kilometre as the corvid flies from my house, but hidden behind two forested ridges. The “waste transfer station” supplies ready forage for mixed, squalling flocks of gulls, ravens and/or currawongs. I’ll be taking a stroll down there later in the week to see exactly what it is they are scavenging from there.

There are three spooky-looking black birds common to this area, all of whom look more or less like they’d be a shoo-in for a bit part in an Edgar Allan Poe poem.

The most common are the forest ravens (Corvus tasmanicus) but we also have black as well as grey currawongs (Streptera fuliginosa and S. versicolor). I’ll discuss the individual species in further detail in later posts, and pick one as my focal species as my observations progress.

My web-browser isn’t letting me upload new photos for some reason, so until I clear this up, here’s a picture of a very unspooky bird – my chicken, Little.

Non-spooky black bird

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