The retched screeching starts around knock-off time. Coming off the concrete station platform at Mordialloc, around dusk every night, you’ll hear it.In fact, It’s hard not to hear it. At first it seems like a few bats, flapping and screaming in the palm trees on Main St. But as you move closer you’ll notice they aren’t bats.These creatures have feathers. Every now and then something flies out from the palm but it’s too quick and small to see exactly what the object is. In the right kind of luminous light you can see a green and sometimes red chest. Also, the closer you get to any one of the palm trees, the decibels increase. It’s a maddening sound. You can’t see what is hidden in the palm trees and all that exists is the ear-piercing and gregarious fowl sounds carried out by millions.
This situation plagued me for weeks. I had just moved into Mordialloc and not even local shop keepers who have been on the strip for twenty-odd years could explain these noises. ” No idea,” said the barber, whose store is located less than 15 metres from one of the palm trees. He is well aware the noise exists. He hears it each night when he locks up his shop.
After conducting my own investigation, through the help of Paul Hackett, president of Australian Wildlife Assitance Rescue and Education (AWARE), it was narrowed down to two birds that use the palms as a roost: the native Australian Lorikeet and European Starlings.
Lorikeets are Australia’s native and vibrant in colors; reds, blues and greens. Typically found in the eastern parts of Australia, they are no bigger than a standard 30cm ruler and they feed in flocks of 20 birds.
Starlings are a small bird between 20 and 22cm in length with metallic green, black and purple feathers. Prior to the breeding season they have a black beak and white tipped feathers which give them a speckled appearance. During breeding they lose their speckles and their beak becomes yellow in colour. Their flight pattern is easily recognised by swirling tight-knit flocks that fly relatively low to the ground and shift direction in unison rapidly and frequently.
But it’s the European Starlings species that is considered bad news.
“They are a pest species that were inroduced to the country over a hundred years ago,” said Mr. Hackett. “They are the worst bird to ever have entered the country as they breed in huge numbers and utilise tree hollows for breeding which our native parrots, owls, kookaburras, possums, sugar gliders and many other native species should be using.”
According to WWF Australia , the European or common starling has been labeled as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species and any impact that a single starling can have is magnified many times because they congregate in such large numbers; up to 150,000 birds.
So it’s the sheer volume that creates the echo effect.
The deafening screech is when the birds are communicating with each other and it also represents social interaction said Mr. Hackett. When in the trees the birds are sleeping, roosting, breeding and communicating.
“The starlings have been roosting in the trees for as long as I can remember and can be called normal,” said Mr. Hackett. “However as the palm trees are not native to Victoria and the starlings not native to Australia then I would not call it a normal situation.”
So now, Houston we have two problems. Each night when I walk from the station to home I will look up into the palms on Main St and know there are perhaps 150,000 pests making the world’s most annoying sound.
European Starlings information paragraph five; WWF Australia.
Interview: Paul Hackett, president, AWARE Wildlife Rescue; information on Mordialloc Main. St birds background, eating habits and Starling pest history.