Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Bathing in the creek

Thigh-deep water is just the perfect depth for birds to bathe in and have a good splash around.

The wet Spring in Canberra continues, and the number of birds visiting the garden pond for a drink or bath has dropped dramatically. Few birds are using it, mostly the local residents such as the Red Wattlebird, Superb Fairy-wrens and the Crested Pigeons. When it is hot and dry, birds from all around seem to drop in, but the ground in the nearby nature reserve, at the top of our street, is saturated with puddles lying all over the place. The dams are full and the water courses are all running and bubbling. So there is no need for the bush birds to go elsewhere to seek water.

The rosellas could immerse their bellies with a gentle dip, their tail lies softly on the surface and they can jump straight into the air and fly off if any predator approaches while they are otherwise potentially vulnerable. Consider this when you set up a bird bath in your garden. Provide gradual edges, not steep edges for birds with different leg-lengths.

I heard these two Crimson Rosellas splashing when I was out walking through the woods the other day. The creek line they were in is usually a dry ditch for most of the year. This Spring it has been full of water every day. It wasn't the perfect picture opportunity, with branches obscuring the view - which was a probable reason why the birds were using that spot. However, as they were happy to bathe a few metres from me I grabbed a few shots.

Overhanging or nearby branches are valuable assets as they provide cover from predators
 and safe perches for the birds before and after entering the water. 
The rosellas were so confiding in me that they flew up onto a perch to dry their feathers while I stood watching. Although they did keep watching me too, just in case I was a predator.

The water ran off the birds backs, like snow-melt running off a well waxed snowboard. 

The waterproofing on the birds' feathers is provided by the preen gland (uropygial gland) which is below the feathers at the base of the tail, just about at the bottom the bird's back in the image above. Birds collect oil from the gland with their bills and spread it over all their feathers when they preen. Not all species of birds have this gland, some rely on powder down for a similar purpose, but more on that in a later post. For now, just look at how well the oil system works as the water runs off the tip of this rosella's tail.

Meanwhile the rain is hammering down again...........

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