The Pied Currawong is February's Bird of the Month.
The Pied Currawong is a large, black and white bird which, while resembling a Crow or Raven, is closely related to the Magpie and Butcherbirds. It is mainly black, with white around the base of the tail and across the ends of the tail feathers. Small white patches seen on the wings at rest are more noticeable along the wings in flight. The heavy black bill gives it the corvid (crow-like) appearance with bright yellow eyes, unlike the local Australian Raven’s white eye. It has a slow, looping style of flight, often completely folding in its wings between beats.
Their name derives from one of their distinctive calls, although they have a wide variety of melodic calls and whistles, particularly heard in the early morning and late evening.
Pied Currawongs range throughout eastern Australia from the tropics to south-eastern South Australia. In pre-European times they were residents of wet and dry forests only. European development has favoured them, despite the clearing of their natural forests, and they have adapted well to agricultural and urban environments.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century, they would only come down from their Blue Mountains forests as winter visitors. Since then, they have settled in the city and become one of the dominant species in our parks and gardens.
The Pied Currawong is an omnivore, gleaning seeds, fruits and berries as well as insects and their larvae from native and introduced shrubs and trees. Unfortunately, eggs and chicks from other nesting birds are also a part of their diet, so the increase in their numbers over recent decades has had a negative impact on smaller native birds. They also forage on the ground, walking or hopping across the lawns in search of insects, small reptiles or even mammals including mice, and will join other opportunistic birds to gather around our picnic sites.
Before the mid to late twentieth century, Pied Currawongs near Sydney would move to higher altitudes to breed, but since adapting to the urban environment, many are now breeding residents along the coast.
Breeding commences in late winter and continues through summer. A pair will select a suitable nesting site and vigorously defend it. The female will construct a bowl-shaped stick nest, with the male helping supply the necessary materials. The nest will be in an outer fork in the foliage of a tree, usually a eucalypt, and is lined with grasses, roots and bark.
The female lays three eggs and incubates them for about three weeks, with the male keeping her supplied with food. Both will defend the nest site, particularly from migratory Channel-billed Cuckoos from Indonesia or New Guinea coming in search of surrogate parents for their chicks. If the Pied Currawongs are outsmarted by the Cuckoos, they will find themselves raising chicks which rapidly grow as large as themselves while taking all the food intended for the Currawong chicks.
When the Pied Currawong chicks hatch without competition the male will supply food to the female for about a week, and then both will support the chicks until they fledge from the nest after about 30 days. The dependent juveniles will remain in the territory for about two months before the adults convince them to leave.
In the Park:
Pied Currawongs are widespread around the parklands and are often heard calling as they pass overhead. They can be found exploring almost any habitat from the pine trees along the Sandstone Ridge, to the paperbarks of Lachlan Swamp, and the trees on pond islands. Like the White Ibis and Noisy Miners, Pied Currawongs have succeeded in establishing themselves in an environment that humans have modified.
Photo Credit: Tony Spira