Saturday, June 15, 2024

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HomeIssue 44A touch of light: budgerigars, a postscript  

A touch of light: budgerigars, a postscript  


Photo © Mike Gillam

Last week’s essay, Booms, busts and budgerigars, didn’t quite get to the bust part. In this pandemic year, A touch of light was not intended to add to anyone’s anxiety or despair, more to provide imagery of intrigue and beauty combined with interesting and delightful facts. Everyone knows that tragedy is best served with a dressing of hope and while I’ve done my best, events conspire against us.

These include, at the forefront, the harsh realities of inaction around the world and rising summer temperatures. To most Australians it’s unimaginable to contemplate life without air-conditioning and our myriad ‘creature comforts’ but we rarely consider that climatic extremes might pose a lethal threat to our wildlife. 

In Western Australia between January 11 and 17, 2009 at the Overlander Roadhouse in the state’s midwest more than 15,000 birds, mostly budgerigars and zebra finches, dropped dead during a fierce heatwave.

Autopsies revealed that they had indeed died from extreme heat exhaustion caused by temperatures topping 50C.

There are similar historical accounts of birds, mostly zebra finches, dying in droves during heatwaves but it seems likely we will be hearing a lot more of this in the future.

I know a great many Australians grew up in households with a pet budgie named Billie or Bluey. Last week I told the story about our interactions with a budgerigar we called Maximo, a small green bird with a great deal of heart and attitude. A note published in Australian Birdlife in March 2016 provides some evidence for our optimism about the happy ending he may have found, optimism that we all need in difficult times. 

The note, titled “Super Budgie”, came from a group of birders who that year found a dead budgerigar with a leg band, north of the Mungerannie Hotel between Maree and Birdsville.

Wild flocks were active in the area at that time. They inspected the bird and noted its generally healthy condition and concluded it had flown into one of the cables supporting a transmission tower. The leg band was removed and after some sleuthing it was traced to a breeder at White Hills, Victoria who verified that the bird, bred in 2009, had escaped that same year.

This captive bred bird had managed to fly at least 1100 km, joined a flock and survived for over five years in the wild! He finally died on 7 September 2014 in the company of wild budgerigars.

That’s why we can hope that Maximo eventually found his tribe in Centralia and lived happily ever after!

Our climate change future touches every living thing. It seems probable that mass deaths of budgerigars during heatwaves will eclipse the more inspiring reports of sensational budgerigar murmurations that I wrote about last week.

More and more people’s experiences of these remarkable birds are likely to be confined to the blue budgie in a gilded cage that has learnt to mimic its owner and play with its bells. Or look at itself in the mirror to ward off boredom and loneliness.

I post this at a time of great tension and anxiety amongst my friends in the US. The polls have closed in the Presidential elections and the counting has begun.

President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. November 4 (tomorrow in the US) is the earliest possible effective withdrawal date.

A Trump defeat can only be good for our friends in the wilds of Centralia. 


  1. Thanks again, Mike, for the heartfelt emotions which you have been brave enough to share with us all through your series of stories.
    It is my fervent hope that, as more and more of us come to understand and better appreciate the unique qualities of our desert home, we begin to collectively urge our political and civic so-called “leaders” to begin preparing our town for the hellish conditions that are becoming more evident with every passing summer.
    The knife-edge count in the US election make me think of the Butterfly Effect and how events in one part of the world can affect us all, determining our future and very survival as a species.
    We have our own mini-Trumps, of course, in Morrison, Gunner and (dare I say it) mayor Ryan, who all push for a “gas-led recovery” through expanded fracking.
    Still, I have hope in the fact that the Butterfly Effect is a two-way street and that the small changes we all make in our own lives, in our own small town, can also resonate around the world.
    We just need to get on with it, for time is running out.


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