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Keep It Down! Noisy wildlife and their (not) sleeping human neighbours

Keep It Down! Noisy wildlife and their (not) sleeping human neighbours

Friday, March 11, 2016

I love our wildlife, but sometimes they can be a bit noisy. There are the obvious candidates such as cicadas (did you know that the Australian Greengrocer cicada has the loudest known call of any insect on Earth?), flying fox camps and a lone mosquito once the lights have gone out, but the one that has been giving me sleepless nights lately is the iconic Laughing Kookaburra. 

I can tell you that I am not the one laughing at 4am when the new family on the block decides to start calling. 

It all started in spring when the resident pair of kookaburras at my place decided that it is nesting time. According to my neighbour, kookaburras have used this same nest every year for at least the past 12 years. 

Kookaburra nests are not your typical quaint neatly-lined bird’s nest. They are muddy nests stained with weeks of excrement of young birds, but they are fascinating given their location. 

Kookaburras use arboreal termite mounds to raise their families. Kookaburras, as with most kingfishers, build their nests inside the nests of termites. Not just any termites but the ones that build their earthen nests high up in trees usually about 5-10 metres off the ground. 

That is why they are called arboreal (living in trees) termite mounds. It should be noted that the termites that make arboreal nests are not the ones that can eat your house. Australia has 258 known species of termites and only about 15 species find your house timbers attractive. 

For weeks I watched the kookaburras take turns in tunneling their way into this arboreal termite mound to make a chamber. I am sure that they would have like to use my electric drill, but alas all they have are their beaks, and what a mighty tool. The kookaburras fly from a nearby perch directly at the termite mound, hitting it at full speed, beak first. Chink. 

A bit of the mound is dislodged. Again and again they fly at the mound until they have created a large enough dent for them to balance precariously on to chip away further, a bit like a woodpecker in action. Finally, after weeks of work, a chamber deep into the termite mound has been excavated.

Within the chamber, the eggs are laid and the nestlings are raised. Both parents laboriously bring the squawking nestling food. Sometimes the adult disappears completely into the chamber, and sometimes they cling to the edge feeding their nestling at the entrance. 

I am not entirely sure who is responsible for the excrement running down the outside of the termite mound, whether it is the chick that has learnt to reverse its rear out the entrance, or whether it is the adults. I assume it is the nestling. I dare not think about what it is like on the inside.

So after weeks of feeding at the nest, the nestling becomes a fledgling, flying out to low branches not far from the nest. 

During this time, there was still activity around the nest, so I am unsure as to whether the fledgling would go back to the nest to sleep, or maybe there were several chicks. 

What I do know, is that kookaburras like to chat. Whether they are courting, nesting, cheering on their young or hosting neighbourhood conferences, they love to call. 

And sometimes they decided to all call together, five of them on one branch above my bedroom window, well before dawn. 

As I say, I love wildlife, but earplugs are a must during the kookaburra breeding season.

And finally a note from the poor termites. Kookaburras and kingfishers prefer to use active termite mounds. Yes, the termites are happily homemaking when a huge bird messes up their whole nest and leaves it in shambles. The termites then have to rebuild their mound, just in time for next year’s kookaburra breeding schedule. 

By Deborah Metters - SEQ Catchments Conservation Partnerships Coordinator. For more information visit the Land for Wildlife South East Queensland Facebook page