One of the most spectacular birding sights to be seen in Australia is taking place around Richmond at the moment.
The undulating, chirping group formation of budgerigars on the wing, known as a murmuration, has been caught on camera by Richmond grazier, Terry Carrington.
Terry, who lives at Patroy, 27km south of Richmond in north-west Queensland, said he had lived in the area all his life but never witnessed as many budgies in a flock as what he has been seeing over the last week.
“2003 would have been the last time I saw them somewhere near as thick as this,” he said.
“It’s pretty spectacular – from a distance it looks like smoke spiralling around.
“I’m not into studying the life of budgies but usually early morning and late afternoon you hear them – little mobs come in and chirp, and it builds up.
I don’t know what it means but I hope it means rain is on the way.
“The old timers talk about big mobs like this in the 1950s – they were big years so I hope it’ll be the same now.”
Terry measured 300mm of rain in early March and says there’s now a lot of Mitchell grass seed on the ground, which Sydney-based ecologist, Henry Cook, said was one of the conditions that would result in the flocks Terry and possibly others in the region were experiencing.
‘A kind of desperation’
Henry, who worked for a number of years in the semi-arid zone around Longreach, described the conditions as being quite unusual and quite specific but being more related to water than feed.
“You need rain over a wide area to cause seeding – Mitchell grass seed is a wonderful feed for budgies – and they’ll have up to four or five babies if the conditions are really pumping,” he said.
“It then needs to dry out and have another pulse of rain, causing another seeding event.
“This could be a localised storm, so you’ve got a lot of budgies all feeding in the same place, with limited water sources around.”
It’s the concentration of predators, such as grey falcons, around the waterholes and puddles that causes the budgies to flock together, waiting until there are sufficient numbers to risk flying in to drink.
It’s a misplaced security for some, according to Henry, who said predator species often bred off the back of the budgerigar flocking events.
“It’s kind of a desperation thing for the budgies – it’s not so much a food-related thing as a need for water.
“And there’s a lot of juvenile birds that don’t know where the water is – they’re being led by the adult birds.”
He estimated there could have been as many as 20,000 in the murmuration that Terry saw, which would make it one of the larger ones.
“It’s probably one of the most spectacular birding sights you’ll see in Australia,” he said.
“They’re difficult to see because it often only happens for a couple of weeks.
“Once the water dries up they either die or move on, so wildlife enthusiasts would need to drop everything and get there now.”