up close and personal

Rainbow Lorikeets are the most exquisite creatures on Earth.

They are native to Magnetic Island and lots of other places on an Australian continent heavily endowed with such marvels. At Horseshoe Bay, someone has instituted a daily feed for the birds and the birds are taking advantage. At 4:15 every afternoon, these beautiful and engaging animals are back to fill up. The humans are watching and helping with the feed. The birds are oblivious to their beauty. They’re just feeding.

 For the balance of the day, the Rainbow Lorikeets are off fending for themselves on the island, living off the natural resources there. The extra food means that the birds are growing the population to match the availability. This feeding at 4:15 pm every day artificially increases the population. Is there any problem with that?

How do they know?

On the face of it, most of us would conclude that there’s no biological or ecological harm done since they are capable of sustaining their own population somehow. Feeding time says not. They are here like clock watchers, a few minutes before the bucket appears. “How do they know it’s 4:15?” says one parent who has brought along the toddlers.

Rainbow Lorikeets oblivious to their own beauty

Here on the idyll of Magnetic Island – so named in 1770 by Captain James Cook when he noticed an apparent and otherwise inexplicable pull on the ship’s compass – the birds are not an introduced species. The visitors to the island – and not least the impressionable children – have a rare chance to see the birds up close and personal. They are so close that the birds land on one’s head or out-stretched arm if you have food.

a distortion of nature?

There is a sound argument to say that Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, which is a bigger more southerly version, is also a distortion of nature. Such distortions are, by definition, unsustainable. Currumbin Bird Sanctuary famously grew from the diurnal feeding of the crimson rosellas in a chap’s back yard. The large flock at Currumbin today has become partially dependent on the human intervention. Humans are interfering with the biology of the species and artificially inflating their resources, thereby artificially increasing their population.

But, there is a worthy counter-argument: that the phenomenon has a more general effect of introducing members of the dominant species to the beauty of nature thereby engendering a greater sense of nature being worthy for itself (as opposed to what we can get from it). At Horseshoe Bay, the entranced little children – not to mention the adults in the tourist group  – take from this more than a forgettable holiday moment and a few snaps. It’s an internalised communion with nature which is readily transferrable, generalised and scalable to the natural world. Many of them go away with an awe of the intrinsic beauty of nature, an understanding of the need to preserve habitat and an incipient grasp of the need for biodiversity. They are more likely to feel part of the environment, as opposed to being a dominant player in the world. Rather than being inveigled to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowls of the air” and to “subdue it”, they might desire to protect it.

The distortion of nature is problematic if/when humans are not on hand to provide the feed whilst the laws of biology inform us that the artificially inflated population will not adjust if that happens. Perhaps it’s better to believe that there is a benefit which stems from the interactions.

Leave a Reply