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No. 48
Our quiet season is upon us, as many snakes look to retreat from the chilly weather and await the warmer spring temperatures. Having seen some Antarctic penguins recently and marveling about what a weird bird they are I thought I would investigate birds in this newsletter.

As well as being beautiful to look at birds are important pollinators, they are also the largest source of animal protein in the human diet (chicken). The domestic chicken is also the most common (numerous) species of bird on the planet. They can be pests or pets, ruin your car's paintwork or make you smile.

Domestic chicken cockerel. Photo: Animal Ark
Our Snake Avoidance for dogs training is mobile once again.

Check out for upcoming dates and locations.

Don't wait for snake season to come around again, book now or book ahead.

Dog receiving snake avoidance training. Photo: Animal Ark
Don't forget our Wildlife School Incursions - booking now for great educational fun and very hands on.

You can also book Animal Ark for a PD day – for teaching the teachers. Attend our Wildlife/Snake Awareness Course to learn about our biting and stinging things.

What are the risks taking children into the bush or even the playground? Informative, practical reassurance and as always very hands on.

Tiger snake. Photo: Monica Iseppi/Animal Ark
What makes a bird a bird? Whilst there is immense variability in the size, appearance, diet and behaviour of birds, they all share certain characteristics - feathers, toothless beaked jaws, hard-shelled eggs, a four-chambered heart and a high metabolic rate, these are all key to being a bird.

Birds are quite literally modern feathered dinosaurs having evolved from an earlier group of now long extinct-feathered dinosaurs. Their closest living relatives are actually the crocodilians.

Worldwide: Around 10,000 living species

Australian species: 828

Sulphur crested cockatoo. Photo: Animal Ark
  • Cranberries are named after the Crane.
  • Pedigree comes from French - pied de gru 'foot of a crane'
  • Smallest: Bee hummingbird 5cm
  • Largest: Ostrich 2.75m
  • Odd bird facts: Wandering Albatross may not land for 10 years from its first flight until it is ready to breed. Sleeping whilst flying!
  • Only bird with no wings: Kiwi
  • Poisonous bird: Pitohui of New Guinea has toxins in its skin and feathers
  • Bald eagles feathers (like many birds) weigh twice as much as its bones.
American Bald Eagle. Photo: Animal Ark
Birds' feet are adapted to suit their lifestyle. Most birds are passerines (perching birds) and they all have 4 toes with three facing forward and one backwards. The Ostrich has only 2 toes. Other species have feet that enable them to wade, swim, and walk on mud, catch prey, killing, carrying, scratching and for defense.

Many birds have scaled legs and toes to help to strengthen the feet and protect them from things like snakes that they may stomp on and kill. Some like the Snowy Owl have feathered feet to help keep the bird warm and others fleshy feet to help them cool off. In general birds feet are mostly all tendons and bones with few nerves, blood vessels or muscles.

The technical terms that describe all the typical toe arrangements are (in case you're wondering) Anisodactyl, Zygodactyl, Heterodactyl, Syndactyl and Pamprodactyl.

Blue footed Booby (Sula-nebouxii) blue feet. Photo: putneymark Wikimedia Commons
Beaks vary massively and serve many purposes: attracting a mate, heat regulation, making noises, feeding, preening, tearing, fighting, probing, using tools, nest building, filtering and more.

My favourite beak and probably favourite bird is the Toco Toucan.

Toco Toucan. Photo: Animal Ark

Bird beak adaptations. L.Shyamal, Wikimedia Commons
Of course all birds (and many extinct dinosaurs) have feathers - they are what make them so different from any other animals. Feathers keep birds warm, act as camouflage or may be used in display to attract a mate; they can also be used to insulate a nest – very versatile things indeed. Plumology or plumage science is the study of feathers.

Feathers come in many forms but essentially there are two types:

  • Vaned feathers: those found on the exterior of the body
  • Down feathers: those underneath the vaned feathers.
Peacock feathers. Photo: Animal Ark
It is estimated that 75% of British people feed birds at least during the winter months and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of birds) sells foods and feeders to positively encourage the practice. Their studies suggest no reliance or long term adverse harm is caused and it gives people a chance to be involved with birds and gain a respect for them.

Here in Australia we are actively discouraged from feeding any native wildlife including birds. I think this is quite odd really - with so much habitat degradation every little you do by offering suitable foods must surely be a positive to wild bird populations.

One easy thing we can all do is simply plant native nectar, seed and nut bearing plants and don't buy a pet cat or if you have one keep it contained.

Plant and they will come!

Australian Ringnecks, Serpentine Dam, Gnangara, Western Australia. Subspecies also called Twenty Eight Parrot. Photo: Gnangarra Wikimedia commons

Carnaby black cockatoos feeding on acorn banksia in suburban Perth garden. Photo: Animal Ark

Once back in my Animal Consultant days working in film and television in the UK I had the pleasure to supply some imminently hatching eggs for a BBC film shoot. The shot they wanted was quite simple (they always said that) – “all we need is David Attenborough to hold the egg in his hand, then the egg hatches and the little chick pops his head up and facing towards camera goes “cheep”.” Wow that's all!! Anyway we got there in the end...

The chicken egg is the most common egg in the world supplying important protein in the human diet and many a breakfast. Bird eggs are remarkably varied despite being all based on a near spherical carbon calcium construction. Most are white (that's the calcium) but others can be speckled or coloured for camouflage.

A few interesting variations are:

  • Guillemot eggs – very conical so they rotate in the wind rather than blow off the cliff edges where the birds nest;
  • Duck eggs – oily and waterproof;
  • Cassowary eggs – heavily pitted;
  • Japanese quail – needs to learn what colour and pattern her eggs are and then go find an area where the ground environment matches her eggs;
  • Storm Petrel - eggs are very cold tolerant and may be left unattended for long periods;
  • Biggest egg – the extinct elephant Bird or living Ostrich. Ostrich average 15cm.
  • Smallest egg – vervain hummingbird of Jamaica. Egg under 1cm.
Young child and ostrich egg. Photo: Animal Ark

Various eggs: ostrich, cassowary, chicken (supermarket), chicken (country farm), flamingo, pigeon, blackbird. Photo: HTO Wikimedia Commons

We have relocated away from our offices in Malaga. Everything else remains the same, excellent service and pleasant staff to help you with any training or other Animal Ark service. We still travel far and wide but from now on most training will take place at the Henderson Environmental Centre, Star Swamp, Groat St, North Beach 6020. We hope to welcome you there soon.
What deal can we offer this month? New stock just in of tan coloured Snake Gaiters so 15% off those and 20% off our new regular sized snake hooks. Offer until end of July 2018, just say DODO and phone to order and pay. Tan gaiters on special
Animal in Focus: Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)
The Dodo was only ever found on the island of Mauritius east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. So little is known about them, the total world remains of actual body parts are limited to one single head and a foot (the foot now being lost!). All the stuffed Dodos you see in museums are just models – artistic impressions of what they may have looked like. Some skeletal remains have been dug up since on Mauritius but most information we have about them comes from several early drawings and a few short written accounts by Dutch or Portuguese sailors. Their beaks were very large and usually black, green and yellow. They had relatively short, stumpy yellow legs with black claws. Not even one single Dodo feather exists.
As dead as a Dodo – as the saying goes – poor things they were really just a giant, flightless pigeon. Famous now as icons of extinction and first made popular after the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll. The colourful 1950's Disney film version featured the Dodo as an absent minded pipe smoking creature.

The Dodo became extinct within decades of the Dutch setting foot on the island in 1598. Pre-human arrival, the Dodo lived care free with no natural predators to speak of. The first ships to discover Mauritius brought with them feral cats and rats, which actively hunted these flightless birds or prey on eggs and fledglings. More sadly they were also very popular dinner meat for the sailors; they were about 1 metre in height and weighed up to 23kg! Being an easy to kill fresh food source on a long voyage, they possibly all vanished in less than 60 years.

A key difference between the Dodo and pigeons today is their skull. The Dodo's upper bill was nearly twice the size of its cranium and was very robust, doubling as a defence weapon. Their nostrils ran the length of their beaks but contained no septum.

The Dodo was not always flightless. The Dodo is thought to have become flightless over time due to the lack of natural predators and competing herbivores on the island of Mauritius – their diet was likely fallen fruit and other vegetation. History has shown that flightless birds are much more likely to suffer from human exploitation and the pests we bring with us. If you cannot fly you are easier to catch and eggs laid on the ground are more vulnerable for pests to get at.

Of the 45 bird species native to Mauritius when the first fleets arrived, only 21 have managed to survive. Let's hope our native Australian birds don't suffer the same fate as the Dodo!

By Keely

Dodo reconstruction (Raphus-cucullatus) Museum of Natural History. Photo: Ballista Wikimedia Commons


Illustration of dodo and gizzard stone. Journal of van Neck, author Carolius Clusius after van Neck Wikimedia Commons

Upcoming Courses and Events
Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs
Saturday 9 June – Bunbury WA
Saturday 16 June – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 14 July – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 11 August – Geraldton, WA
Sunday 12 August – Geraldton, WA
Saturday 25 August – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 8 September – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 15 September – Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 16 September – Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Saturday 6 October – Perth Hills
Saturday 13 October - Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 14 October - Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 21 October – Albany WA
Monday 22 October – Albany WA
Tuesday 23 October – South West WA
Wednesday 24 October – South West WA
Thursday 25 October – Nannup
Friday 26 October – Nannup
Saturday 27 October - Nannup
Saturday 3 November – Rockingham
Friday 9 November – Margaret River
Saturday 10 November – Margaret River

Venomous Snake Handling Course
DBCA Parks and Wildlife Service approved for Regulation 17 Reptile Removalists Licence
Friday 1 June – Kanyana Wildlife Centre, Lesmurdie
Friday 8 June – Bunbury, WA
Friday 22 June, North Beach, Perth
Monday 16 July – North Beach, Perth
Friday 20 July – Onslow, WA
Saturday 21 July – Onslow, WA
Friday 17 August - North Beach, Perth
Friday 7 September – North Beach, Perth
Friday 5 October – North Beach, Perth
Wednesday 31 October – Perth
Friday 30 November – Perth
Friday 14 December - Perth

Fauna Handling Course
Thursday 16 August – North Beach, Perth

Wildlife Awareness
Saturday 21 July – Onslow, WA
Monday 15 October – North Beach, Perth

Public Events
Do come along and see us. Bring your family or friends as well.
The Animal Ark Roadshow will be attending the following events:

Saturday 21 July
6-7pm tbc
Snake Awareness Community Session
Ashburton Shire RMS Hall
For more information please contact Shire of Ashburton

See our diary for more dates or contact us to book.

Call (08) 9243 3044, SMS 0466 688 188 or email David, Jenny or Keely at to book.

Courses held monthly and as required plus on-site and remote site training available.