I was working my way through emails yesterday, and sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket, as usual preferring to make my own heat, and became aware of the crying of many birds; as I listened, the pitch and intensity of these sounds increased. Unwrapping, I walked outside over the deck, and towards the gate in the back hence that opens on to the reserve behind (and thence to Mt Arrawang). In the sky above, and in the dozen or so mature trees just outside the fence, a hundred birds—crows, magpies, and peewees, for the most part, wheeled, flew into the trees and immediately out; these was a three-dimensional activity zone, vertical and horizontal, of about 35m, a cloud of moving birds.
As I reached the back gate, I was able to look over: on the ground 10 metres from me, a wattlebird was holding down a peewee with its claws, and pecking its neck and face, as hard and as fast as it could. I assumed the peewee was dead and that the wattlebird was feeding, but as I watched, the sources of the sounds became clearer: all the watching birds were taking turns dive bombing the two birds, repeatedly; crows and magpies and other peewees flying together, a revolving counter-attack—the activity zone a maelstrom of wings, beaks, and screams. The cloud of wings was one; the different species flying close together, hard to distinguish, but the pattern clear: all were diving, flying down as close to the two on the ground as possible, and pulling out to fly up high again, and to return.
A crow dived next; its body smashed into the two birds locked together on the forest floor momentarily separating them; to my amazement the two protagonists shook themselves vigorously and flew off, one to the North, and one to the East, and both looked to be flying fast and well—not a hint of any damage.
As I watched, the tension holding the cloud together dissipated; the flying patterns became larger and looser; in 20 or 30″, only a few were left; they settled momentarily on the wires or the branches, and slowly flew off. I have seen animals from the one species group and defend against a common enemy, but have never witnessed an event like this: different groups (at least three I could see) combining to stop a fight? I have never seen this, not even when I worked on the door of Arthur’s, in the Cross, all those years ago: usually there are two protagonists, and sometimes three, and then the ‘looky loos‘, the rail birds gorging on pleasure without risk. In the two years I did that job, I never saw what I saw today: different creatures coalescing for what appeared to be a clear purpose, and immediate dispersal on its completion. A lot to be learned here.