Wednesday, 16 June 2010

White-winged Choughs get down and dirty!

Today (16 July) I went for the usual mid-week walk with COG.  This month our venue was O'Connor Ridge and very pleasant it was too.  Just after we started there was an enormous ruckus from a stand of pine trees, clearly recognisable as the squawking of White-winged Choughs (Corcorax melanorhamphos) - hereafter 'Choughs'.  According to HANZAB (vol 7A) this call being emitted is known as the Piping Whistle.

On getting closer it was evident that some form of disputation was taking place between about 16 birds.  The number suggests that this was two clans discussing a border arrangement.   About half the birds were perched in the pines calling vigorously while the other half were on the ground participating in what could only be called a good stoush.
 Again according to HANZAB, there are few reports of fights.  However this one appeared to match the description with two key players - possibly the dominant males of each clan  -"... tumble over and over, each trying to grasp foot of opponent."  This is happening in the middle of the riot depicted above.  More detail - albeit rather confused- is in the images below.

I walked slowly towards the fight and the fringe players gradually departed for the branches around (continuing to barrack for their participant).  The two main protagonists however stuck to business. I eventually was within 1m of the them and they clearly saw me but were not giving up their fight for a mere human. 

One other point of interest is the change in eye colour when the birds are aroused.  This is illustrated below with a docile eye first and then a 'war-ready' one (and at peak intensity the eye is even redder than depicted in the RH image as shown in this image by Julian Robinson).  The change of colour occurs very quickly - possibly something similar to the predatory drift which occurs in dogs is kicking in?


Julian said...

Maybe the fight was about a kidnap event, which is apparently common with choughs who kidnap youngsters from other clans to help with the washing up. Maybe they say 'let's be civilised and you and me fight man to man, the winner takes the kids'?

Flabmeister said...

Indeed a possibility Julian. My only dispute would be about the rules of the fight which seemed extremely uncivilised. The Marquis of Queensberry would have been appalled by the kicking, biting and eye-gouging!

BTW I have now included a link to the COG Archive version of your image of the red-eye special!