Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, October 09, 2009

Wonga Pigeon plays Peek-a-Boo

I have many Wonga Pigeons (Leucosarcia melanoleuca) which live around my house. How many? No idea. But I hear them regularly, going "whoop......, whoop......, whoop......, whoop" outside, in the forest. Of course, this is misleading, as their calls travel so far, and so my assessment is likely to overstate their numbers.

However, I seldom actually see them around my house. If I do, it is to see a grey shape disappearing into the bush.

I have published some photos of Wonga Pigeons walking around at my friend George's place. But George feeds birds, and that helps build the birds' confidence near people.
What a fine specimen!
Seen posing at George's bird bath.

In my yard, the Wongas behave as in Nature, finding their own food as they can. So, today I was surprised to look out my Study window and see a Wonga Pigeon feeding below me, just a few metres away. I quietly went and grabbed my camera, to try to get a photo of the bird.

Instinctively it seemed to know exactly what I was wanting, and began a game of "Peek-a-Boo" with me.
Grey body blends with the ground colouring.
White top of the head is just (barely) visible.
(click to enlarge)
Every time I raised the camera lens, the bird managed to get some leaves or a branch between me and its eye.

You can clearly see the white patches of its chest and belly.
But the head is hidden - again.
In general, ground feeding birds like Pigeons and Wading Birds such as Snipe, which tend to be fleshy birds, are hunted by people as Game Birds. But in an evolutionary sense, this is a new phenomenon. But they have evolved to be alert to danger from natural predators - be they Birds of Prey (Falcons), or cats, dogs and foxes. The position of their eyes on the side of their head, means they have something like 300 degree of vision. It gives them very little "binocular vision" (just in front of the beak - that's all they need). For the rest of their range of sight ("field of vision"), each eye operates individually, to pick up movement - the sign of a potential threat. That's also all they need. One sign of danger and your Wonga is "off".

At last, the eye is visible.
The bird is feeding, facing down and away from me,
But it can still watch me - in the house, 5 metres away.
I love good design in Nature.
If it works to protect this bird - that fine by me.
Wongas are generally nervous birds, as they are vulnerable to attack - by predators. Being so large, they take a long time to get off the ground. Their flapping is noisy, and clearly rising from the ground uses a lot of energy. (Once flying, they fly very powerfully) But they are in fact reluctant to fly - they walk away from "trouble".
Given that strategy, they need to be well and truly aware of potential danger - to allow them time to walk away from danger. So, for a Wonga Pigeon alertness means survival.

As soon as I walked out onto the rear deck, to get a clear view of the bird, it walked away, past my Camellias and out of sight. It did not fly away - it did not need to.

Survival of the fittest, using the sharp motion-detecting vision (300 degree range), and conserving energy.
You have to admire Nature at work. At least, I do.


swampythings said...

Hi Denis, interesting comments... Although we do occasionally put out some excess fruit we do not provide supplementary feed for our bird population on a regular basis. Although I often see Bar-shouldered Doves and Emerald Doves just outside the kitchen window they move off very quickly when they sense any movement. And if I walk outside they fly away, 'though not very far.
Frustrating for photography but lovely to be able to observe natural behaviour.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Barbara.
Tyto Topny recently commented on the Emerald Dove as being shy or nervous.
Similar instincts for survival, when you walk on the ground for a living.
I love the Pigeons and Doves.

Junior Lepid said...

Loved the "peek-a-boo" Denis. I have quite a good permanent population of Crested Pigeons here, the odd Bronzewing (far too hard to photograph) and that's it - apart from my Private Bin of 3 white doves - in a large aviary! :-)

Denis Wilson said...

A Private Bin of White Doves?
Sounds like a wine label.
Bronzewings are seldom accommodating enough to allow photos.
Crested Pigeons pose for photos on the power lines in the village. They feel safe there.

Ann said...

We have just been priviledged
with a first time siting of a pair of Wonga Pigeons courting in our garden. They don't look anything like the illustration in Cayley's "What Bird is That?" Your photos confirmed we had the right name, identified by the call we've been hearing recently.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Ann
Thanks for the comment.
They are around and active at present.
Enjoy them. Lovely quiet-natured, peaceful birds.
Their call carries for hundreds of metres, though.