A Tree full of Rainbow Lorikeets

I was reminded yesterday that Daisy the Black Pacific Duck is not normally an inhabitant of the forest. She lives down by the water and would, at most other times, make her nest on the ground. She would shape grasses and other plant material into the egg cup or bowl. It is only once she has started hard incubation, that Daisy, like other ducks, will pluck the down from her breast and line the nest. She will continue to add plant material and down to the nest as needed, often replacing what others pull out and destroy.

This year, Daisy didn’t make her nest on the ground. Instead, her and her mate selected a very old nest in an Ironbark Tree in mid-December. That nest belongs to the White Bellied Sea Eagles whose territory is around the Parramatta River and the Sydney Olympic Park forest.

Daisy would have had many intruders if her nest were on the ground. But she would have been familiar with them and they with her. Because she is brooding her eggs in the forest, she is a curiosity. The birds and animals that live there do not know about ducks. They do know that it is the sea eagles that raise their young in this particular nest. Of the curious, one of the first was the the Pied Currawong who, unable to eat the exposed duck egg, threw a little mini-tantrum pulling out much down from the rim of the nest and tossing it over the rim of the sea eagle nest. Others who have come to the nest to check out Daisy have been the BooBook Owl, possums, Ravens, and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos.

Today, the Rainbow Lorikeets returned. They are the most colourful parrots in the forest! They are ever so curious about the duck in the sea eagle nest! Oh, not just six or seven, but dozens of them! And Daisy was not sure she liked them getting close to her and her precious eggs. Rainbow Lorikeets are a medium sized parrot that are plentiful along the east coast and southern part of Australia. Unlike Daisy who has a bill, they have a beak. They are nectar feeders and are no threat to Daisy. But she doesn’t know that! And like any mother, she will protect her nest and her young as best she can.

At first, it was only three (one out of the picture frame). They were a little cheeky and one of them, totally curious as to why a bird they had never seen should be in the eagles nest, crept over close to Daisy. Daisy turned around in her nest and away from the pleasant morning she had been having and ruffled her feathers and readied to defend herself against birds that she had never seen also. She did not know if they were looking for insects in the nest or if they would harm her.

One of the rangers that researches the nest of the WBSE said that the Rainbow Lorikeet were there to give Daisy the Duck a lecture about not making a nest in a nest owned by sea eagles. But, alas, it is too late if that is what they are doing. Daisy is now on day 7 of incubation duties. She is devoted to her duties!

One of the Rainbow Lorikeets got very close to Daisy and Daisy was contemplating what to do to defend her nest.
At first there were three and then more came until there were more than a dozen chattering away non-stop.
Two Rainbow Lorikeets sat on the rim of the sea eagle nest chattering directly at Daisy who is watching them carefully.
A Rainbow Lorikeet Preening on the Nest Tree.

After all of the commotion – and it really was a boisterous affair – with the Rainbow Lorikeets everywhere, Daisy settled into a little bit of nest renovation. Remember the Curra and Dad the Sea Eagle had moved down off of the nest. Look at how far Daisy can stretch her neck. I had no idea looking at her that her neck could get so long. She also used her bill to help gather up some down and plant material that had scattered.

A bill of a beak? Ducks have bills. They are very lightweight. The exterior coating over the interior spongy bone is made out of the same material as our fingernails, keratin. And just like our fingernails, the keratin covering is always growing, healing over dents and scratches, but also maintaining its shape after much use. Ducks do not have to go to a nail salon for a trim!

Look at how far Daisy can stretch her neck!
Daisy is using her bill to bring in some of the down the Curra removed from her nest.

After nest renovations, Daisy takes some time to do some preening. Daisy’s feathers are very important to her. She is a ‘diving duck’. That means that she submerges under the water to find food. For ducks like Daisy, it is essential that their feathers be in prime condition. Many types of birds spend up to seventy percent of their time preening, conditioning their feathers. Daisy’s beautiful feathers have grown very tightly. The feathers are stiff and are quite strong compared to the down. In fact, people used to use the feathers as quills to use with ink for writing. Daisy’s feathers grow close together and overlap one another. Look closely and you can see this. They make many layers that are weather resistant and protect our duck.

Daisy preening her feathers just like the Rainbow Lorikeets.

It is nearly 11am in the world of Daisy. Dad the Sea Eagle did not show up at dawn to try and catch the intruder using his nest. Daisy has decided to try and rest a bit. She is still very alert.

Will Daisy take time in the heat of the Australian summer to go and forage? Will she voluntarily leave covering her nest? Will Dad come at dusk? We wait.

Something magical is happening

A Pacific Black Duck laid her second egg in an old Ironwood nest in Sydney Olympic Park, 6 November, 2020. The first egg was laid on 5 November. Photo is screen shot of Live Sea Eagle Cam, Sydney.

A week or so ago, a Pacific Black Duck was seen investigating what she might have thought was an abandoned nest in Sydney Olympic Park. The duck made several visits and according to others, ducks have investigated this nest in the past but have never laid eggs. This year things got more serious. ‘A hole’ was observed by the moderators of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle Chat. On Tuesday, November 5, those same moderators observed that an egg was laid. This morning there is a second.

Despite the name referencing ‘black’, the adult ducks, who live only to about two years, have dark brown plumage. The coverts, which cover the very important flight feathers and help keep them smooth, are either pale yellow or white at the tips. The secondary feathers are green. The under wings are dark brown with feathers that have a yellow edge. The head features a brown crown with a pale yellow section running from the bill to the ear coverts (the feathers that protect the ear). There is a dark line running from the lores, the area between the eye and the bill, to the ear coverts.   Above and below are pale yellow areas running from the bill to the ear coverts. The bill is a dark grey. The image is of the female on the eggs below. You can see the lines running from the lores to the ear coverts easily. The bill in this image appears as a blue grey. The eyes are a deep brown. The bottom sides of the head are a lighter brown than on the body. Despite being more dull in colour than the male, this image of the female Black Pacific duck shows the beauty of her feathers and the magnificent emerald green patches on the wings.

A side view of the Black Pacific Duck sitting on her two eggs in the Ironwood Nest, Sydney Olympic Park with a lorikeet looking on.

Pacific Black Ducks only mate when there is secure quantities of food and water. They lay a clutch of eleven to thirteen eggs. Their environmental status is secure in Australia but, in reality, only about 20% of hatchlings survive to age two according to BirdLife Australia.

Why are Lorikeets so excited to see this Black Pacific Duck with her eggs? By looking at them jumping all over the branches of the tree and the one above sitting on the rim of the nest looking at the duck, you can imagine that something special is happening.

The Rainbow Lorikeet is a medium sized sweet natured parrot that is quite nosey. They are native to New South Wales where Sydney is located and farther South in Australia. They are extremely talkative and their high pitched screeches have been known to scare many. If you look at the featured image you will see right away why they are called ‘Rainbow’ Lorikeets. Their heads and bellies are a deep royal blue while a bright emerald green colour feathers on their wings, back, and heads. The red breasts have orange and yellow on the sides. Their beaks are red. Males and females have the same bright plumage and it is apparently difficult to differentiate the gender without DNA testing or a surgical procedure. They lives to be approximately thirty years. It is their inquisitive nature that has drawn them today to the large nest of the White-Bellied Sea Eagles currently occupied by the Black Pacific Duck.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are the second largest bird of prey or raptor in Australia. The wingspan ranges from 1.8 – 2.2 metres or 6 to 7 feet. They can weigh up to 4.2 kilos or 9 pounds. The birds have reverse sex-size dimorphism meaning that the female is larger than the male. The nest you are looking at ‘belongs to’ Lady and Dad who have a river roost along the mangroves of the Parramatta River. The diameter of the nest is approximately 6.5 feet. Their breeding season is normally from June to January when they lay, on average, two eggs.

WBSE 25 (left) and WBSE 26 (right) in August. They are all covered with their baby down.
WBSE 25 (right) and WBSE 26 (left) in the nest before fledging. Notice the rich colour of the juvenile plumage. In five or six years they will get their adult feathers.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are huge birds who live mostly on fish caught with their strong legs and held by their talons. The nests of the sea eagles is normally within a kilometre of a source of fish, either a lake or a river. Other prey brought to the nest includes eels, Silver-tipped Gulls, a fox cub in the 2020 season, a turtle, and various other opportunistic catches.

It is not uncommon for other birds to investigate the nest while the sea eagles raise their young. Many want to protect their own territory from these large raptors and that includes the small owl, the BooBook Owl who comes at night and often hits the parents roosting on the branches of the nest. The Currawong is noisy and chases the fledglings trying also to chase them out of the forest. Magpies are another nuisance. The adults flap their wings or chase them away. The eaglets quickly learn to protect their territory too often standing up in the nest, flapping their wings, and honking to get the intruders to leave. Normally, the sea eagles check their nest periodically when they scan their territory. They also bring in more sticks and leaves readying it for their next breeding season.

As the Rainbow Lorikeets circle the beautiful Black Pacific Duck in celebration and curiosity, we have to ask ourselves what will happen to this mother duck and her brood? Stay tuned.