Saturday, September 29, 2012

The drought is severely affecting the local Australian Magpie family

The drought began back sometime between 1998 and 2001. By 2001 it was noticeable that the rainfall was decreasing. That year brought many major outbreaks of bushfires to the area, 7 bushfires in total surrounding Tenterfield itself, and more than 15 burning throughout New South Wales within days or weeks of each other being put out. Lightning was to blame for most of them but humans started some of them as well. Outbreaks of bushfires became increasingly common until about 2005 when they seemed to stop.

About a month ago I noticed the adult male Magpie began roosting in a new area, down by the creek to the left (looking east) of the Douglas Street bridge. This is where his mate has always roosted from the moment she came into his territory as his new mate. It is on that block of land where their new territory seems to be centered, and not their old territory anymore.

For about a week and a half now I have not seen the adult male Magpie that has made this territory home for about 14-15 years nor have I seen him nesting. His territory, like that of other Magpies in town, are approximately one to two street blocks of land in size (or approximately 300-400 by 300-400 metres in size (Is that squared metres?)).

Last Thursday when I was walking along Pelham Street toward Miles Street I saw an adult Magpie with 2 juveniles on the ground in the High School's Agricultural Property (2 paddocks) where this block of land had been abandoned by Magpies for several years. The adult Magpie was obviously a male as it was being aggressive toward one of the juveniles which was upside down on the ground. The adult male stopped and looked at me as I spoke to him - only the local male Magpie behaves in that manner. The other juvenile was just standing around watching on. Even from a 50 metre distance from the birds I could tell the juveniles were a male (the one upside down) and female (looking on) just by going on their behaviour in reponse to the adult male's aggressive behaviour - exactly what the local Magpie pair had last Spring.

Update: I have just had the juvenile 12 month old male come beggiing for some food. I threw out some mixed nuts and he ate some. Within minutes the adult female showed up, and she came flying in from across Douglas Street, from where she normally roosts. Not long after that the 2 year old juvenile showed up next but no sign of the adult male on my front lawn yet.

So why has the adult male extended his territory and relocated his home to the creek? Firstly, despite the fact that the paddocks surrounding his new home are empty, they normally contain domesticated animals (cows and sheep). There is always a lot of manure laying around on the ground. There may be an untapped source of Dung Beetles in those paddocks too. Secondly, birds are birds and they must follow and locate food sources if none are no longer available in the immediate area of where they live. The insects the Magpies eat have obviously been exhausted and the Magpies are now rarely seen finding insects in their old nesting territory area. Their old territory, like most of Tenterfield itself, is suffering from a severe drought. It barely rains in Tenterfield anymore (perhaps several times a year at best) and as such the insect populations have dropped to an alarmingly low level. Obviously the insects that they eat have been extremely difficult to find, and to locate a consistent amount of food to sustain young babies for a whole year, let alone for themselves as well.

Unless conditions improves in Tenterfield I do not foresee any Magpie families breeding this year. Even though it has begun raining in Tenterfield a bit more consistently this month this does not help any bird species to recover from the drought. Unless the rains become regular, and the drought breaks, and the insects recover and begin breeding again, it is possible that the Magpies could literally starve to death in Tenterfield, or be forced to move out of town.

2012 will be a first for the Australian Magpie species in Tenterfield to put off breeding for a full year. No nesting birds have been sighted in town as yet, and it is almost October.

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