Lemon-scented gums: return of birdlife

Overhanging the petanque piste, this stand of lemon-scented gums – including one magnificent specimen dating back to the 1860s – provides home and habitat for several native species of birds.

Their branches haven’t always held such lively examples of Adelaide’s native birdlife, however. Up until the mid-twentieth century, the practice of re-vegetation in the Park Lands meant mostly Europeanisation. Flower beds and deciduous trees displaced native flora, and thus displaced native fauna.

After the Second World War, people began lamenting this disappearance of native life from the Park Lands. One solution to the problem generated both public curosity and some outrage. In 1970, Harold Crouch, of the SA Ornithological Society, created and installed concrete birds throughout the eastern Park Lands. Hand painted by his wife, they sat in the boughs of the trees in substitute for the real thing.  A control box beneath the tree would, at the push of a button, provide individual calls for several species. Public reaction was generally one of scorn at the kitsch. Crouch himself admitted as much, but stood by his models, saying:

“The idea is slightly sick… but conservation is like beating a hollow drum… the kids are the ones I’m interested in. If this teaches them to recognise and respect the birds, they may also do something to preserve them.”

Unfortunately, the concrete birds never knew that respect, becoming a target for vandalism. Despite a conservation effort (giving them homes in higher and higher boughs) the attacks continued.  By 1978 Adelaide’s concrete birds became extinct.

Thankfully, following a change in practice towards native planting, birdlife has returned to the Park Lands. Watch for flocks of corellas digging in the grass or tearing into the pine trees; rosellas, rainbow lorikeets and galahs providing splashes of colour overhead; noisy miners and red wattlebirds defending their turf; or the New Holland honeyeater feeding amongst native flowers.

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