Monday, 15 September 2014

Lorikeet Reactions To Dying And Death

A few weeks ago there were two lorikeet deaths within a couple of days.  The first of these is recounted here.

At the end of the day, after all the more dominant groups and individuals had finished feeding for the day, I put out some sugar-water for the small outsider group that is forced to wait until all the bullies have had their fill.

Looking away from the feeding bird, I heard some sort of flurry, and turned to see it fly off in panic, as often happens so late in the day; but I also thought I caught a brief glimpse of something else in the corner of my eye.

The panicked bird returned to feed once more, but another bird, which seemed dazed, was walking on the patio floor.  My best guess is that it collided with part of the building, perhaps to avoid hitting the other bird during the panic.  It made a motion to fly up to safety, but was unable to even flap its wings.

I put some seeds and sugar-water down on the ground for it to eat.  It showed no fear of my looming presence and ate a little.

As it became darker, the feeding bird flew off, crying the usual call they make when departing.  The dazed bird called back to the departed bird, indicating that they were a couple, but it didn't return.  Their anxiety levels raise the darker it gets.

The dazed bird tried to climb up into a pot plant on the edge of the patio in search of a safe night perch.  However, it couldn't, and ended up basing itself by the garbage bins by the back door.  As I checked on it before going inside for the night, I heard it give a gentle sigh that, if a human had uttered it, might be interpreted as signalling both fear and defeat.

In the morning, I was surprised to see it still alive, but in worse condition than the night before.  I put down some food for it, but I don't remember it feeding.  A little later another bird landed by the food and ate.  Then, seeing the dying bird, interpreted its stooped body posture as an invitation to mate, and climbed on top of it and did so.  This demonstrated that the dying bird was female, and that the other bird, being both alone and male, was probably her life-long mate.

A little later, a pair of birds turned up to feed on her food, and the male of the pair also interpreted the dying bird's stooped posture as an invitation to mate, and did so.  The dying bird's mate, who was perched within a metre on a laundry trolley looking down at this, tried, half-heartedly, to drive off the rival higher-ranked male.

The female died soon after this.  Her partner had been keeping watch alone, in a direct line of sight, from the nearby clothes-line.

I gathered up the dead body for burial out beyond the back fence on the edge of wetlands.  As I was digging the grave, I heard a call above me, and looked up to see the dead bird's partner perched on the fronds of a fern tree.  He stayed there for some time, even after his mate had become covered with soil and thus no longer visible.

Witnessing all this was a heart-breaking experience.

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