By John McNamee
Sadly, there’s one less lorikeet flying around our garden these days.
Now that sounds weird when you consider that hundreds of them are continually swooping and screeching through our back yard foliage and having noisy communal splashing sessions in our two bird baths.
We never tire of watching their acrobatic aeronautics swinging from bloom to bloom on the grevilleas, across to the bottle brush and launching into a breathtaking trapeze act on the lowest hanging nectar-filled blossom.
But even now as I gaze up and smile at their exuberant shenanigans, their incessant high-pitched “vocalizing” and their awesome aerial dynamics, I still miss just one in particular.
I still see him in my mind’s eye, and I get a lump in my throat as I remember the sad day when I saw him struggling for life.
And boy did he struggle! You tend to think it’s only on the stark sweeping savannas and veldts of Africa’s wild animal kingdom that the battle for survival is at its most ferocious.
But this little fella fought all the way. Talk about Robert the Bruce and his spider, this lorikeet wasn’t going to give up easily either.
It happened one day recently as I was walking up our long, narrow sloping garden when as usual I heard the commotion in the tea-trees with the noisy miners, kookaburras, the lorikeets and the wattle birds all darting in and out of the branches at break neck speed and chasing each other away from their supposed territory.
“Battle of Britain again,” I smiled to myself until something unusual caught my eye.
The shrieking of the lorikeets seemed to be of a higher, more frantic pitch than normal and I looked around to investigate.
“Sounds like the bloody currawongs are raiding the nests again,” I muttered, glancing up into the highest limbs of the melaleucas.
Then in a flurry of vividly coloured and splayed tail feathers the squadron of lorries took off across the garden.
It was then that I noticed something was writhing near the top of the two-metre high back fence.
Cautiously approaching, I gulped in shock when I saw that one of the beautiful lorikeets was caught in the minute space between the wooden pailings.
In his frenetic struggles to get free, he had somehow managed to turn upside down.
He was caught fast by the throat in the small gap in the fence and he was rapidly throttling himself.
“How the hell did you get there mate,” I said, shaking my head in utter disbelief and feeling an icy grip in my heart .
As I drew nearer to him, his struggles increased and his shrieking became more intense. I could see the strangulation marks around his neck where the feathers had been torn away by his writhing.
I didn’t know how long he had been there in that horrific condition. I knew it would be only a matter of time before he succumbed. I was amazed that he was still alive.
I guessed that he must have flown full pelt from one of the low-hanging grevillea flowers and hurtled freakishly into the gap in the fence.
As I reached out to grab him, he went into another frenzy of twisting and turning and I could hear his tortured trilling was becoming feebler.
His legs with their tiny, delicate claws were twitching and convulsing and he tried to peck my hand as I encased his frail little body but his neck was still held fast and his beak couldn’t reach me.
I managed to free him and cupped him in my hand trying to soothe him by gentling stroking his back and trying to support his drooping head. There were livid abrasions along his neck where the feathers had been ripped out during his ordeal.
But this little lad was a real fighter.
He managed to screw his head around and he drove his beak into my little finger. The shock of it made me release my grip and he fluttered off over the fence into my neighbour’s dense backyard shrubbery.
He got caught in some of the lower branches and began flapping his wings and wrestling his way through the foliage. He was still screeching but it was a horrible sound now, not the usual anthems of unbridled joy you hear as the flocks of lorikeets fly overhead.
Then I saw him collapse to the ground underneath one of the thickly covered shrubs.
There was silence for a few minutes but I could still hear him rasping and gasping and trying to activate his exhausted wings. But he could only flap feebly and every effort to get to the safety of the sky failed him and he would collapse again into the undergrowth.
But he still wasn’t going to give up. He wasn’t going to lie down and die. His instinct to survive was unbelievable.
There was another silence and I thought maybe that was it. Then I heard him making another violent effort of flapping wings, and labored shrieking and I could see him scrambling up the foliage towards the top of the bush.
Then I saw why. Another lorikeet had flown into the shrubbery and had began “answering” his distressed mate and hopping from branch to branch as if encouraging him to come up and join him.
The little fella tried his best and kept clawing his way towards his urgently trilling companion but each time he failed. His last remaining stores of energy were rapidly dwindling.
The panic-stricken struggle earlier to free himself from the fence had taken its toll.
His mate was still perched on top other the tree but his “voice” was also now losing its urgency.
He stayed for a few more minutes and then in another flurry of gold, green and red plumage, and a final squawk, he flew off.
I looked back down to where I’d last seen the doomed bird. But now there was no sound and no struggle.
I felt someone touch my arm. It was my wife coming up looking for me. She asked what was the matter as she could see tears in my eyes.
I told her and she put her arm around me and took me back down to the house.
“Maybe the reason you didn’t hear any more noises from him was because he flew away with his mate,” she said kindly.
“Of course,” I said triumphantly, “that’s it, he flew off with his mate! How silly am I.”