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Predators and the food chain and preventing the suburban extinction of small native creatures

By Valerie Yule - posted Monday, 31 August 2015


It is springtime here in Mount Waverley, close to the Reserve. The air is filled all day with the anguished squawks of smaller birds vainly trying to divert enormous crows from taking babies from their nests. Pairs of noisy miners are squawking at crows; by dusk, they must be exhausted. In our reserve, the Australian raven terrorises the other birds and dive-bombs the smaller dogs. The bellbirds keep their portion of the reserve, and will not let other birds colonise their areas.

Every spring there are fewer little birds. Wrens and tits, which were quite plentiful in our garden twenty years ago, seem to have gone. Crows can be seen sometimes flying down the street with little birds in their beaks. We had no crows twenty years ago here. They are out of their ecological niche, whether native or exotic. The little birds have an ecological function in getting rid of noxious insects and other garden pests and these proliferate without them.

Surely small birds have enough predators with cats, foxes and cars. Surely there is no need to protect all of the growing hordes of native crows or Australian ravens, on the grounds they have an important role in the food chain and they are native.

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While we mourn forall the wildlife extinctions we cannot personally stop, surely we can do something about what is happening in our own backyards.

The suburban environment poses many challenges for native birds. Introduced species of birds (starlings, common mynahs etc) and introduced predators (cats, dogs, foxes) must all have an impact, and there is the overwhelming issue thatnative bush land habitats are now scarce.Changes to habitats are the main driver of change for native species. However, for those native species that can survive in the highly modified environment of houses, gardens and street trees, there havealso been some benefits - more productive environments due to fertilizers and watering of gardens and so on. So, some species such as Red Wattlebirds and Rainbow Lorikeets are doing very well. We end up with a modified set of 'survivors' living in urban areas, with additional 'bush birds' surviving in some of the parks and reserves where there is remnant native vegetation. Prof Andrew F. Bennett, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University.

We began the depredations in our area with armies of crows, even bands of fifty at a time, perched down at our shopping centre, waiting for the litter that spills around.

One thing that could be done is for everyone to prevent that litter to keep these crows going when it is not baby-bird season.

Could crows be made more edible, like rook pie in the past? If crows were denied protection, it is VERY unlikely that THEY would become extinct.

It is not just the little birds in the garden that suffer from our wasteful littering. Today our little wild duck is back with her partner, flying around looking for somewhere to nest this springtime - but the last time she nested in the jungle by our back fence - the rats came and took eggs from under her even while she was sitting on them. She flew out with a terrible squawking scream, and never returned there. Instead, she and her mate went round inspecting every other possible place they could find - and still could not find anywhere safe. All the year round, when there are not the special spring delicacies ofbirds’ eggs and babies, rats as well as crows and foxes keep going on the litter we waste and the food put out for our pets.

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So is there anything else we can do? Campaign to stop protecting suburban native crows and try to protect the small native birds instead. Stop allowing overflowing litter bins in public places and pet food in back yards.

I sent around last spring to state and local authorities, when murder filled our local bush land and gardens. The response of our local state department was that have no fear, the predators play a part in the food chain - disregarding that their intrusion into the existing food chain has been very recent. Birds Australia was equally helpless, paying more attention to the rare birds in the wild than to the wild birds in the cities.

People who let their cats catch wild birds at night and their dogs savage them by day are not helpless; they are culpable.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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