May 22, 2018

Street-wise sparrows and miners

Like their cousins in Melbourne, sparrows resident in Salamanca Square have learned a crafty tick to get them a meal.

Some years back a friend said that he had observed sparrows hanging about outside the McDonald’s restaurant in Swanson Street, waiting for patrons to trigger the electronic sliding doors. As soon as the doors opened, the sparrows flew into the restaurant, had a quick feed of fast-food crumbs and then waited for the doors to open again.

On a trip to Melbourne I observed the smart behaviour myself, but thought then it was merely a one-off perhaps, the Melbourne sparrows were more street-wise than those from further afield.

Well, I’ve been proven wrong. Sitting in Banjo’s in Salamanca Square a few weeks back I saw the cheeky sparrows doing the same thing there. Only difference, the main door at Banjo’s is not a sliding one but still the sparrows, both in and out, waited patiently for the door to be opened by patrons.

All this proved interesting food for thought as I killed time before I waited for  my destination on the day, the Hobart Bookshop in the square, to open. A little later I learned of another interesting snippet of information concerning birds making themselves at home in mankind’s environment.

Apparently, a flock of noisy miners in New South Wales have learned that the pickings at restaurants do not just include crumbs and scraps.

The miners frequenting a restaurant in Woolongong have really set out to embrace the café culture by stealing packets of sugar from the al fresco tables.

The miners fly to the tables of unsuspecting patrons and in a flash lift a packet of sugar from the sugar bowl and then fly to a convenient spot beyond the restaurant to tear open the sachets, and eat the sugar.

We might be used to sparrows, pigeons and gulls raiding outside, and sometimes inside, tables at eating establishments but the noisy miners must be the first among a family not known to associate closely with humans, the honeyeaters, to exhibit such bold behaviour.

With their stocky appearance and pugnacious behaviour, noisy miners might not look like honeyeaters but they are firmly placed among the 66 honeyeaters found in Australia, the country’s most prolific bird.

Many people confuse the miner with a similarly named bird, the introduced hill myna found in many mainland cities, but thankfully this pest species is not present in Tasmania.

The noisy miner – appearing grey in appearance instead of the myna’s black – is generally found in the more drier areas of Tasmania, particularly near the coast.

I’m not a big fan of noisy miners, mainly because they bully other birds, but I was so intrigued when I learned of their sugar stealing antics I did a little more research into the Wollongong gang.

It appears these noisy miners are very fussy about what they steal. They deliberately choose the packets of sugar – both white and brown – to eat, but leave sachets of artificial sweetener untouched.


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