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Animal Friendings

Brushtail Possum

Brushtail Possum

Judy and I live on the outskirts of Brisbane and are fortunate that the area still retains some of its original bushland. During our occupancy we have had the pleasure of many “friendings” by wild birds and other animals. Some have sought us out while others have shared accommodation in what could only be described as ephemeral, opportunistic encounters.

Of course there are the usual geckos and huntsman spiders, which often put on better entertainment than TV as they play “catch me if you can” across the living room wall, but some of our encounters were memorable and some long lasting.

Butcher Birds

In our area the Grey Butcher Bird is the predominant species and we rarely see a Pied Butcher Bird. Strangely on one day each year in spring a Pied Butcher Bird would suddenly appear inside the house and happily sit near you wherever you happened to be. It would also seek you out in the yard and sit beside you and sing sweetly. We suspect that it must have been fed by someone in the district, but as to why we were blessed for one day each spring – who knows. Unfortunately we lost this little guy two years ago when he became a victim of a strafing Kookaburra in full breeding agro. One wing was severely damaged and the vet could not do anything to save him.

Being entomologists, and loving all things with exoskeletons, we have on one wall of our family room three small display cases with a freeze dried tarantula spider, another exotic arachnid and some jewel beetles. Recently as we were reading the Saturday papers we were surprised by a loud tapping noise. It took us a minute to discover a Grey Butcher Bird clinging onto the front of one of the display cases savagely “beaking” the glass trying to get at the spider within. How it even knew the spider was there we don’t know, but it entered the house again over several days before it finally got the message that it should desist.

Blue Tongue Lizards

One winter Judy discovered a clutch of three Blue Tongue Lizards overwintering behind our fireplace. We left them there until it warmed up in spring and then served eviction notices. What a circus that turned out to be. We didn’t notice that the door near the fireplace was open a crack and as quick as we tossed them out they circled back around the house and took up residence again.

Brush Tailed Possums

Possum mother with twins

Possum mother with twins

Brush Tailed Possums are one of our long term friends, but not in the house thank goodness. It has been a long friendship through several generations and is a bit of a love hate relationship. They persist in eating our mangoes and other fruit even before they are ripe. They also have a taste for Parsley.

During our association we found that nothing fazes them. They are really the Racoons of Australia. Each year the females have babies and we watched the young emerge from the pouch. They quickly become self sufficient after a brief period serving as jockeys on Mum’s back. One year we had the surprise of seeing one female with twins (apologies for the quality of the photo but it was taken years ago on a snap shot camera with film). Mum could hardly walk with the hugely distended pouch and one twin became self sufficient early as mum could only carry one on her back.

Occasionally when we are sitting in the family room at night a possum will walk through one door and out the other with a pause, looking back at us as if to say “evening”, then slowly proceed with its bandy, pigeon-toed walk out the other door. None has decided to stray and sample our fruit bowl thank goodness.


By far our most lasting and informative “friendings” have been by birds – a scrub turkey and a crow.

Scrub Turkey

Scrub Turkeys have never been a presence in our area until a few years ago when a male suddenly appeared and adopted our mulch heap as his mound. We christened him Homer and he proceeded to add to the mound with the ground cover and litter on the floor of our rainforest patch – what a mess that became. Homer had many other habits that drove us mad. Every day he would go through our garden and kick over the few Gnomes we had and root out our carnivorous plants. Also at dawn each morning we would hear a clunk and that would be a small variegated fig in a pot on the patio going over. Eventually we had to quarantine the carnivorous plants and fig behind a solid wire screen.

Homer's mulch trail

Homer’s mulch trail

Any new plant we introduced into the garden was inspected and rejected if Homer deemed it to be offensive. We never did figure out his judging criteria. Nothing escaped his inspection, not even a newly planted submerged water plant in our rainforest pool that appeared on the ground beside the pool the day after it was planted.

For some unexplained reason Homer would spread a wide line of deep mulch from the back yard to our back door. We would rake it up and dispose of it only to find another lot back again the next morning. It is amazing how industrious Scrub Turkeys are and how much material they can shift in a short time.

In spite of these frustrating habits Homer had some endearing features. He was very companionable and would follow you around the yard like a dog inspecting anything you did. When we came to sit outside out for lunch or morning tea Homer would appear and sit near us often amusing us with his sunning antics. It was nothing for us to look up and see him either on his side, wing up, or on his back, wings out flat and legs up, sunning himself. He looked like road kill. You also had to be wary as he would sneak up with a cross-eyed gaze fixed on your big toe and severely peck it.

Homer developed a liking for soccer when he discovered an old small soccer ball in the bushes. He would pass it backwards with one of his large feet and chase it or stand beside it and roll it about with his foot. This could occupy him for up to 15 minutes several times a day.

Scrub turkeys are not very good fliers but like to roost high above the ground each night. At dusk each evening Homer would begin his roosting ritual, gradually ascending through adjacent tree branches until he reached an outer branch in the crown of a large Blue Quandong. This was about 10 metres above ground and we could see his silhouette hunkered down on the branch. Some mornings if he was still on his roost we would call to him and he would launch himself, wings spread and glide down to our feet.

Homer would disappear for a few days every so often and on one occasion he came back damaged from what looked like an encounter with a car. He recovered but some months later he did not return from one of these excursions and we fear he lost this encounter.

Crows

Hoppy the crow on rock at backdoor

Hoppy the crow on rock at backdoor

We had a long-time association with a crow whom we called Jeckle (yes, yes I know, corny). How this “friending” came about is lost in the cobwebs of time, but it was initiated by Jeckle and lasted for many years. We learnt a lot about crow behaviour from him and from his replacement Hoppy.

Jeckle began hanging around the house and displayed no fear of us and we began to provide the occasional piece of meat. He grew more friendly over time and whenever we appeared in the yard he would follow us and sit close observing what we were doing. On occasions when we were returning from an outing he would appear as we opened the gate and follow us up to the house.

During the day he would check up on where we were in the house by sitting on our exposed beams outside the rooms he learned we frequented during the day – the kitchen, Judy’s Den and the family room. He would appear at the family room glass sliding door and sit sadly on the back door step. If we took no notice he would gently lean forward and tap the glass with his beak or make soft arking noises or a clicking call that appears to be an intimate call used between crow couples. He really was a companionable bird and he kept our yard free of other crows.

On one occasion we thought we had lost him. He appeared suddenly pursued by other crows and flew under a bench near where we were sitting. It was clear that he had a leg injury. We saw the other crows off and he remained under the bench for some time. He disappeared after that and we thought he was gone for good, but he reappeared some months later and resumed his dominance of the yard and his friendship. His leg however remained damaged. Many years later he disappeared while we were on holidays and we lost him for good.

He has been replaced by another crow also with a damaged leg, hence the name Hoppy. We can walk right up to him on the ground and he will sit there unafraid. He seeks us out in the yard as did Jeckle and sweet talks with low arking and clicking. He also seems to enjoy our talking to him. The damaged legs look like hip joint displacement from fighting. We notice that opponents tend to jump up and foot-fight which leads to twisting of legs. Both Jeckle and Hoppy didn’t seem to be too impaired by this damage.

Crow facts we have learned –

Both Jeckle and Hoppy enjoyed a small helping of Purina Mini Lucky Dog dry food each day and we noticed that they ate some but stashed the rest for later. Occasionally other crows would invade the feeder while Jeckle or Hoppy were away stashing food and did the same.

We have observed Hoppy stashing. He fills his throat and beak with as much as he can fit in then deposits this in a plant pot or crevice between rocks and places leaves over the stash. Interestingly Hoppy seems to stash by pellet type, reds first then grey. We have also observed him retrieving food from his stashes although occasionally he comes up empty as other crows and butcher birds keep an eye out for his stashing trips and raid his supplies.

Occasionally at dusk all of the crows in our district congregate in the tall spreading crown of an iron bark in our back yard. We refer to this event as a convocation. There is much calling and many crows taking flight briefly and landing again. There seems to be some competition about who can perch the furtherest out on slender branches; behaviour that Judy and I have observed also amongst Corellas at Tugun at dusk. Several times during the convocation the whole murder of crows takes flight cawing loudly to do a tight circuit and then land in the tree again. The convocation can last for up to half an hour.

Other occasions for convocations appear to be crow fights. A gang gathers around the combatants shouting what appears to be “Fight” “fight” in crow language or perhaps it is the equivalent to “kick him, gouge his eyes” etc. Whatever it is it’s pretty loud but is quickly over.

Crows are very intelligent. We have discovered toads lying on their back completely devoid of innards. Crows have learnt to eat them by flipping them over and extracting the non-poisonous innards through the toad’s mouth. A habit not doubt learnt from eating road kill toads.

The language of Crows is extensive and we wish we could translate it. They sit in pairs, and from our observations the couples seem devoted. Calls between them are muted, almost murmuring arking sounds and loud clicking sounds made with beak fully open and neck arched. The clicking reminds us of the noise made by Predator in the movie of the same name. These are the same noises made by Jeckle and Hoppy to us at our back door.

Then there are the mournful arking sounds almost an OOOhhhh as if they are very sad about something. Mostly there are the loud variations on ARK some of which are obviously territorial, but we can’t think of reasons for others. Occasionally two crows will sit in a tree near each other and ark loudly and alternately – who knows what that is all about?

Judy and I continue to be intrigued by crow behaviour, but their invasion of Brisbane during the recent long drought has come at a cost. They are nest raiders and their presence together with habitat destruction has seen a serious decline in song bird populations in our area. One bonus though has been the annual arrival of Channel Bill Cuckoos with successful rearing of chicks by crows over the last three years. Judy and I have also been able to observe the strange mating ritual of these birds as described in an earlier post on Channel Bill Cuckoos (posted 4 October 2011 under the Category Observations/Birds).

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2 comments to Animal Friendings

  • Kim Smith

    I live in SA on a 5 acre property.Over the past 5 years or so I have had the joyous pleasure of befriending a gorgeous female brushtail & her babies.She answers to the name of PEACHES as this was the first fruit she ever took from my hand.She has visited with her babies on her back several times over the years & has allowed me to handfeed them also.Now she has become a darling regular & comes when I call her in the late evening.She wi?l sit up next to me while I chop up her fruit & I even get to pat & stroke her,On one occasion she sat on my lap & munched away.What a sweet creature!I treasure my interactions with my little girl.

    • Ted

      Hi Kim thanks for sharing your possum possum affair. Brush Tails are very friendly and unafraid of people. Currently we have a family that tramps through our family room each night getting from one side of the house to the other, and they do this right under my feet as I sit in a recliner.

      We have an open barbecue that consists of some bricks on the ground and cast iron grates. We start the fire with lumps of hardwood and sit around the open fire for abut an hour while the heap burns down coals. The possums hang about and when we have guests the possums move about amongst them being hand fed. This makes for a great night especially with the children.

      Our possums have been around now for several generations (of possums) one of which involved twins. They are great animals except when they my eat my parsley. I hope they continue to give you much pleasure. Ted

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