At Home with the Birds

Bronwen Scott
3 min readMay 21

A typical Australian backyard scene

Laughing kookaburra perched on to of a mechanical clothes line against a background of trees.
Laughing Kookaburra perched on a Hill’s hoist, Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

My office is at the back of the house, facing south-east. The weather comes from that direction and my windows are always streaked with rain and dust. The view is of the garden and the row of trees along the neighbours’ fence. The trees are mostly lillypillies, which attract the fruit-eating birds. The birds bring in seeds. Sprouting between the deliberate plantings are Bleeding Heart trees and wild raspberries courtesy of the digestive systems of Brown Cuckoo-doves, Australasian Figbirds and Lewin’s Honeyeaters.

My neighbours are planning to trim back the trees soon. Until then, I’ll take joy in the birds while they take joy in the profusion of plants.

Between the house and fence is a cluster of golden cane palms and cordylines set in the middle of the lawn. The tangle of fronds at the base of the cluster makes a home for snakes and lizards (and, inevitably, introduced cane toads). Next to the palms is a Hill’s hoist, an essential component of the Australian backyard. With the constant rain this summer, it hasn’t seen much use. Well, not much use in drying clothes, that is. The birds have made very good use of it. Like power lines, the hoist provides an excellent view of the grass and any small animals on the move, and its metal rods are a handy alternative to branches.

I took these photos in quick succession. They’re shot through the two grubby panes of a sliding window, which explains their blurriness. (So many times I have headed outside with the accoutrements of window-cleaning — sponge, water and a miserable attitude — only to later observe the rain undoing my hard work.)

The first bird to arrive was a Laughing Kookaburra, which quickly spotted a big grasshopper. Almost immediately, a Spangled Drongo mugged the kookaburra and made off with the insect. And then, in the embarrassed silence, a Pied Butcherbird turned up.

Laughing kookaburra staring straight at the camera lens with a characteristic haughty expression.
What are you looking at? © Bronwen Scott

Kookaburras are giant kingfishers. They nest in arboreal termite mounds, are perch-and-pounce hunters, and sport massive beaks. The beaks are involved in both nest excavating and making a meal. Like other kingfishers, they kill and…

Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland. She/her. Website: