herons courting in the five acre forest

 

As the old song says: “Love is a many splendored thing … nature’s way of giving a reason to be living,” and we teasingly call courting couples ‘love birds’.

But do birds experience love? It’s a moot point. Birds do show behavioural signs of emotions, and it is known that their brains are divided laterally, as are our own. Emotions, such as fear and anger, controlled by the right hemisphere; habitual and more thoughtful responses controlled by the left hemisphere.

Don’t worry, I’m not offering complex research results here, nor do I intend sentimental anthropomorphic interpretations. This photo-essay is simply to share with the you my delight when a pair of white-faced herons (Ardea novaehollandiae) decided to build their nest a couple of weeks ago in the pine tree that bears my tree house.

The tree house is a modest affair, more like an eagle’s eerie, because the welfare of the tree was paramount. “The whole structure flexes to the branches’ own movements with the gentle creaks and sighs of a woody refrain – the lullaby of an old sailing barque.” [The Five Acre Forest]

tree house in the five acre forest

 

This old Pinus radiata has spreading limbs and plenty of needle-clustered branches for nesting sites, which is, perhaps, why the herons chose it. Below is my view of it from the veranda and kitchen window, and explains why toast so often turns to charcoal and kettles burn dry with expensive regularity. (The nest site is just out of frame in the top left corner.)

 

radiata pine in the five acre forest

I was carefully hand-watering some of last winter’s new plantings one morning when I heard the throaty, chuntering mutter of heron, and looked up.

radiata pine in the five acre forest

At midday, there were two of them, indulging in some mutual grooming.

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

Then they explored the tree together, poking around among needle clusters and stalking along branches until they seemed to settle on one particular branch.

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

pair of white-faced heron nest building in the five acre forest

 

During the afternoon, one of them appeared with a long, unwieldy twig in their beak and manoeuvred it with some difficulty to the chosen nest site where they were clearly sharing the nest building.

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

And then I saw where the twig had come from: a pile of kindling beside the woodshed.

woodshed, source for nest building

 

By late afternoon, only one heron was perched in the pine, on the other side of the tree to the nest site, and she appeared to be waiting for her partner, gazing in one direction then the other. She waited there a long time.

white-faced heron

 

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

As the sun edged closer to the horizon, she became quite agitated, pacing up and down the branch and I began to wonder…

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

But just before sunset, he returned, and they stayed together on the branch until twilight when it was time to roost.

 

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

pair of white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

 

The long, fine pinkish feathers on the neck, shoulders and breast indicate that they are ready to breed. White-faced heron’s usual breeding season is June-October – winter and spring for us in the southern hemisphere. It is now the beginning of January – mid-summer – hot and dry, which might make it harder for them to find enough food to support a brood. Apparently, they lay from 3 to 5 eggs, but usually only 2 fledglings will result.

white-faced herons in breeding plumage

 

Over the following days, they made repeated forays onto the ground to pick up sticks, and worked together to weave them into their crude ‘basket’ nest. And she tried it out for size.

white-faced heron in the five acre forest

 

 

 

 

white-faced herons flying

 

white-faced herons nest building

 

white-faced herons nesting

 

Their wingspan is huge, and I am fascinated by how deftly they steer through the branches when landing and taking off or lifting from one branch to another.

white-faced herons flying

 

white-faced herons flying

 

white-faced herons flying

 

I’m watching out for them every day. Today was especially hot – in the shade of my veranda the thermometer read 33°C (90°F) – and the herons were hunched in deep shade beside their nest, grooming and scratching, clearly irritated by mites. I empathise – I feel hot, tired and itchy today myself.

white-faced herons nesting

 

As to whether they feel love and affection, I Ieave you to consider your own view on the question.

 

white-faced herons nesting

 

**

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And if you missed it, you can catch up on the previous post: Time in the Five Acre Forest

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***

book cover of the five acre forestYou will find the full story of the five acre forest and the deep-time history of the surrounding landscape and its traditional lore in the nature memoir, The Five Acre Forest.

In the UK: available in bookshops, or direct from Troubador

Worldwide: from Book Depository (free delivery), and from all major online book sellers.

The Five Acre Forest is also available in a digital edition for all devices, from all major suppliers.

If you would like to see more details and an expanded list of contents, please click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love in the Tree House
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2 thoughts on “Love in the Tree House

  • January 8, 2022 at 12:17 pm
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    This was a lovely post, Trish. How special to be able to observe the flourishing relationship of this beautiful couple. A delightful way to linger and learn.

    Reply
    • January 8, 2022 at 8:59 pm
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      Thanks, Val, it has been very absorbing, and moving, to watch them, and there will be a sequel on the blog, which I hope will be a happy ending

      Reply

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