Egg-bound quail – Finch

This isn’t a photo of Finch. Just a quail of the same species. We can’t find a photo of her.

We have a quail named Finch (don’t ask, we had a lamb named Kitty too), she is a King quail (confirmed with a quick call to my daughter) who lives in our aviary. She lays eggs in the Spring despite not having a partner at all. A few days ago, my daughter discovered that she was egg bound and probably had been for several days (it can be hard to tell with aviary birds).

Egg binding is really serious for birds, it kills a lot of them. Basically, the egg gets stuck in the oviduct and can crack and rot inside the bird. It can be hard to spot in the early stages, the bird might be just a bit slower than usual and off her food a little. Usually, they quickly progress to fluffing up, then death if nothing is done to help them.

Again, not Finch. This Xray shows what egg binding is.

We got Finch out of the aviary and gave her a warm soak in a salty water bath (think Sitz bath, for those of you who have had kids), then dried her off and put her in a quiet cage with a heat lamp and a soft towel. She didn’t manage to pass the egg, so we decided to see what we could do.

We turned her over and saw that the egg was ‘crowning’ and was unusually large (poor girl), so we greased her bottom up with lots of fresh aloe and tried to encourage the egg to pass (very, very gently). Eventually I used a razor blade to cut the part of the membrane that seemed to be over the egg, thinking this would clear the egg and let her retract the prolapse. It took a while, but we were able to work the egg out by greasing her with aloe, soaking in warm salty water and gently moving the egg back and forth to make the dried up membrane let go of the shell. The egg had a crack in it when we eventually got it out. The crack had been there for a while as the egg had started to rot. We immediately got worried; this is usually a death knell for egg bound birds. Another look at her behind showed that the prolapse was still swollen and sore looking. Under the lamp, we could see that she had another egg in there. This is not a good thing, and usually leads to a quick death, but I managed to encourage her to gently push the egg out by massaging her abdomen (the bit behind her hips, but under the wings). The fact that she had two eggs in the tubes, and one of them was cracked mean’t that we fully expected her to die within hours. We had given her a single drop of Meloxicam (a painkiller and anti-inflammatory for birds and other animals) before we began the operation, but we gave her another drop, thinking at least she would die in comfort. We put her in her enclosed cage with heat and water and some chicken crumbles (easy to digest for sick grain eaters) and left her to decide her own fate. Two hours later, she was still alive. She still seemed strong, so we added some oral antibiotic to her water and hoped for the best.

Aloe, cut up and ready to smear
Finch in her heat lamp cage

That was two days ago, and I wish I had taken photos of the operation, because she is a miraculous bird. She has sucked all but a tiny part of the prolapse back inside and is shedding the dead parts of her oviducts. She is eating small amounts of crumble and canary seed with pain killer added to it. We are soaking her bottom in salty water once a day to clean off the gunk and slathering her up with aloe twice a day to keep infection down and help with the inflammation too. She may still die (it’s hard to tell what’s going on inside there), but she has survived beyond all expectation and proven herself one tough little bird.

Finch getting ready for a soak
The prolapse after 2 days, during the soaking process

Afterword; Finch died at day 5. She probably had an infection inside and damage to her oviducts. She hung on longer than I thought possible and has my respect for how tough she was. She is now a part of the funeral forest.

A new home for Finch’s tough spirit

The swallows are back. Happy Imbolc

Sorry for the picture quality, I had to zoom right up on my phone to get this shot.

Last year we had swallows decide to build a nest in our bedroom; it was a very exciting time for us as we watched the new babies hatch and grow. This year they are back early (an effect of climate change?).

The pair flew in through an open door yesterday as if they had never been away. They bought in cob mix and feathers and arranged the nest over the day. This morning the female was waiting at the front door when we got up (there is a new wall since last year and they seem to be locked out unless we leave a door open), she flew straight to the nest and we think an egg was laid.

A blurry photo of mum on her nest.

We hope to have new babies within 21 days. The swallows have arrived at Imbolc; the time of blessing seeds, when the Earth begins to warm up and seeds sprout. The hardenbergia flowers at Imbolc and so do the snow drops, I look forward to this time of year as there is so much joy and life in the bush it is impossible to be sad.

Having swallows nest in the house is messy, but we love to have a ringside seat to the raising of babies and we learn so much about the life of so many animals by living close to them. I can see the nest from my bed; when I wake up in the morning the first thing I see is the swallows nest. What a reminder of just how lucky I am.

Local insects and animals – the noisy miner

Three days ago my partner greeted me at the door with a grin and the words “I’ve got a present for you”, I was immediately suspicious as ‘present’ has become a code word for ‘lots of work’ in our relationship. I came inside to find an ominous looking box on my desk with a tiny bit of fabric sticking out the bottom. When I opened the box I found the little fellow below nestled on a t-shirt (begging questions about Kev’ driving around shirtless).

He (I’m assuming his gender) is a noisy miner; a bird native to this area, although not around the humpy. He coped with a close up inspection fairly well and I discovered a slightly damaged wing on the left side and a slightly more damaged hip on the left side. As he was picked up on the road (sitting like a stunned mullet, according to Kev’) I assume he has been clipped by a car.
He can grip a perch with both feet, but sits with one leg off to the side. I am hoping he has no broken bones, and after three days he would be dead by now if he had any (gangrene sets in fast).

Noisy miners in the wild eat nectar, pollen, fruit, insects and occasionally a little lizard. I am feeding him a mix of fruit smoothie with added insectivore mix that we keep in the cupboard for emergencies, I also add one drop of pentavite (liquid vitamin). When I can, I will add some nectavore mix (lorrikeet food), but at present I have none in stock. He seems to love the mixture. I went out and collected some white ants for him too, which he had fun playing with, but didn’t eat.

When he can put all his weight on his leg and fly around we will begin the long process of re-assimilating him into the wild; probably at my parent’s house where there is a family in residence, although their complicated flocking behaviour means that he will not be accepted if he is a she; apparently the females maintain fairly rigid territories which do not overlap while the males wander about in gangs, joining new gangs on a random basis.

This little man needs a name for the (hopefully) short time he will be with me; any ideas?

Local insects and animals – Red browed finch

The red browed finch is a fairly common bird in our area. They live in large flocks and spend their time foraging for seed in my chook pens and on the ground around the humpy. Seeing these little flashes of red and olive green flit through the garden or chook pen really cheers up the day for me; they always look so happy. 
In spring, just before they breed, these little finches go through an insect craving stage and spend a lot of time searching out insects from my vegetable garden, which is very useful when insect populations are high. They are often found with the blue fairy wrens in the yard, which is apparently a common association. Although the two species don’t seem to talk to each other and wrens are predominantly insect eaters while finches are predominantly seed eaters.
In the ecosystem of the humpy they provide insect control, eat and spread small seeds, provide food for corvids (butcher birds, currawongs, crows and ravens) and generally lift the life and joy about the place. They also provide a warning to everyone when a goanna or snake is about by flying around frantically and making high pitched squeaking sounds until someone comes to investigate.
These photos were taken out of my office window…while I was supposed to be studying.

What kinds of finches do you have at your place?

Local insects and animals – White-winged chough

We frequently have some noisy visitors to the animal pens; white-winged choughs. These funny little birds are often mistaken for crows by people who have never seen them before. They are mostly black with a white spot on their wings which is only visible when flying. They eat insects and seeds; which is why they love our place.
They forage for food on the ground, but always leave a lookout in a tree to watch for predators (which includes me in their eyes). The group we have here is relatively small; only eleven members this year, but they are often seen in flocks of 20 or more. They are social birds and spend long hours feeding and caring for the juveniles in the flock.
I often find a few choughs in a chook pen, eating happily with the chooks. They seem to help keep the fly population down too and watching them chase a stinging fly over the yard provides many laughs.

These two were eating grain this morning when I went to feed the chooks.
A blurry close up

I love having birds visit the humpy.
Have you seen choughs at your place?

Update on Teal’c the black faced cuckoo shrike; he’s flying free

As is the way with such things, Teal’c is free. It is always a little sad to release my babies into the wild to fend for themselves, but they can’t stay locked up (but safe) forever. We released Teal’c for  his first outside fly a few weeks ago (and I didn’t get any footage), he came back that evening, and for the next four evenings, to sleep in his aviary. After that he stopped coming back.
I can only hope we have given him the skills to feed himself and that he has been adopted by a group of his own kind, as they tend to gather at this time of year. Alternatively, he may have been taken by a predator. This is the worry we face whenever we release an animal, but it’s worth it to see them happy and healthy in their own environment, for as long as they can be.
Every time I take on a native animal to raise I face the same dilemma, if the animal becomes ‘humanised’ or friendly to us, once released they face the huge danger of assuming that all humans are friendly. I have seen people do some really cruel things to wild animals, and I don’t want to have my babies in that kind of danger. On the other hand, it is hard not to interact with them and come to love them, they become part of our family for whatever time they are with us. We are very lucky to have good neighbors here, some who know a great deal about animals and are always available for advice, and others who appreciate the wildlife here as much as we do, so we usually allow the ‘humanising’ process to happen.
If you see any friendly wildlife in your travels, please treat them well, they may be one of my babies (or someone elses).
Teal’c in his aviary

Begging for food

Our friendly pied butcher bird; Roadie has also decided to leave home. One of our neighbors has reported seeing him at her house (begging for dog biscuits) but he hasn’t come home for two weeks now. It is so quiet in the house without him singing to us at dawn and dusk. On the plus side though, all the little birds he has kept at bay are now flitting around in the yard again.

Roadie.

local insects and animals- Teal’c, the Black-faced cuckoo shrike

This week a local family bought us a baby bird; he had fallen or flown from a high nest and was being menaced by their dog. If he had been fully feathered we would have advised them to leave him in a high tree to be reclaimed by his (no doubt worried) parents. However, he is not yet fully feathered and has made no attempt to fly in the three days he has been here.

Meet Teal’c; the Black-faced cuckoo shrike

Teal’c is a Black-face cuckoo shrike , who are not cuckoos or shrikes. They are omnivorous birds, although they mostly eat insects. They live in bush country, suburban garden and farm land.
This little boy (we think), is currently in a cage through the day and in a heated box at night. He is being fed on balls of insectivore mix and meal worms along with any stinging flies, beetles and worms we can find. He is fed ‘on demand’; as his cage is in the house, we can hear him call us for food. He is a delightful little boy who will eventually grow up and join the local populations that frequent the bush around our house.

Using Guinea fowl for tick control.

We have been keeping guinea fowl for years. When we were managing (and working) a bio-dynamic avocado orchard we used them to keep down insect pests in the trees and paralysis ticks on our house cow. Now we keep them to reduce tick numbers for our sheep and dogs, and because it seems too quiet without them after all these years. They are exceptional insect hunters and will eat adult ticks by the thousand, they are also efficient watch dogs and escort snakes and goannas from the yard very swiftly (except that one time when they chased a black snake into the house instead). They do however have some unique characteristics…………….

The flock collectively have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder); they tour the perimeter of the yard at a specific time each morning and afternoon and if anything is out of place they will stand and cackle at it for about fifteen minutes, examples of ‘out of place’ are leaving a pot upside down when it was previously the right way up, parking the car two meters closer to the house, leaving a shovel leaning against the fence or a visitor’s car is parked in the driveway.

Individual guinea fowl will behave in a bossy way towards chooks, dogs, sheep, ducks and sometimes humans when food is at stake. You can see the warning in the body language of the guinea fowl in this clip, he is warning the rooster off ‘his’ grain.

They don’t like to sleep in a pen at night but will go as high up the tallest tree they can find. Ours come gliding down to the ground at dawn with much squawking and cackling.

 One of our dogs; Jess, has been obsessed with one particular guinea fowl for some time and she sometimes gets a bit overwhelming for the poor boy. He sometimes flies onto the top of the chook pen to get a break from her. This clip shows her patiently waiting for him to come down so she can protect him.

In my experience, guinea fowl are terrible parents; they hatch too many babies then try to walk them too far and don’t protect them from predators (kookaburras, goannas, foxes, currawongs, butcher birds, hawks and snakes here). We get around this by finding the eggs and giving them to a clucky chook to raise, this has the added advantage of making them less flighty in nature as some of their behaviors are learned from their parents.

The latest batch of guinea fowl keets with their (no doubt bemused) mum.

There is some debate about whether guinea fowl actually help control ticks; here are a few articles on the subject to help you make up your mind. For my part, I definitely think they make a difference.

a comparison study of biological and chemical tick control

a home-grown view

an effectiveness study

An ‘against’ article.

Another ‘against’ article

What do you think? Would you keep them?

Upgrading water storage capacity

It hasn’t rained for a while here and the big (22000 litre) header tank is empty. We still have two 4000 litre tanks full, but things are getting desperate. A lot of our neighbors are already buying water, so I consider us lucky to still have as much as we do. The header tank being empty means we have had to go back to bringing all water into the humpy in a bucket; bath water (3 buckets a day), washing up water (1 bucket a day),clothes washing water (12 buckets a week) and then carry them out again to put onto the garden. I had forgotten how convenient it is to have a tap in the house. My partner has been avoiding putting the new header tank in for some time, but a week of carrying his own water in and out of the house convinced him to take action.

As the header tank is empty, we thought we would take advantage of the opportunity to replace it with the 27000 litre tank we bought (second hand) from a neighbor a few months ago. The old header tank (22000 litres) is destined to be moved down to the humpy to provide western shelter to the living area and to take full advantage of the harvesting capacity of the roof. The actual process of juggling tanks was long, drawn out and frustrating;

The green tank is the old header tank (22000 litres) and the black one is the new tank (27000 litres).

The first order of business was to move the old tank out of the way. We tied a strap around the top of it (after all the pipes were disconnected) and pulled it over with the car.

The figure of eight knot my partner used to be sure we could get the strapping untied again after the job.

Ready to be tipped over

The tank tipped over and ready to be rolled away to it’s new home.

After much maneuvering we managed to get the new tank into position; now to tip it over onto it’s base. 

The old tank rolling away towards the humpy (causing much ado with attendant swearing, running and flapping of hands). We stopped it with a conveniently placed tree.

The second attempt at flipping the tank over onto it’s base. There were many more. Eventually I had to drive the car while my partner levered the thing upright with brute strength (which I greatly admired).

Upright at last, still with the rope attached’

The tank was then towed, via a rope around the base, back to the tank pad of sand the old one had been sitting on.

My handy partner then attached all the attendant pipes and we were ready to pump up the 4000 litres from the house tanks.

We have water in the header tank again. It should last us another month (at the rate of 1000 litres per week).
A storm is threatening as I type, but as yet there is no rain.

While we were fiddling around with the tank I had the opportunity to watch cicadas metamorphosis from an underground dwelling beetle-like being into a flying insect. I got photos in between exciting tank chases and tank tipping exercises.

At this point she was just emerging, wet and raw from the shell of her old body.

A side view
Another one, fully emerged and waiting to dry.

They will be noisy in the bush by December; thousands of cicadas calling for a mate, hundreds of birds feeding young off the bounty of a cicada hatching and one or two hawks, goannas and kookaburras feeding off the baby birds. What a rich ecosystem we live in, even when it’s dry.

Is it dry in your area? How do you cope with the shortage of water?