Dollar Birds off, in search of a better offer...

By The General

Life is a bit quieter along the river now the Dollar Birds are gone. They come down from Papua New Guinea in late September - flying day and night, as high as 2500 metres - and arrive a week or two before the Rainbow Bee-Eaters, to breed and spend the summer here.

Most of the time they are hard to see. They hang out among the bare branches of dead limbs, high above the river, hawking all day for cicadas, bees, flying ants, moths and any small insect flying around up there.

But you can hear them: they utter this dry, raucous rattle that echoes down along the river. Its a wonderfully distinctive call that anyone in Shepparton can hear if they wander down to the river on a summer evening and there were so many around us this year the missus was complaining about the noise.

The Boss likes to watch them from the river bank. He says they are fine acrobats, not quite as elegant as the Bee-Eaters but equally expert in securing their prey. They're a different-looking bird, quite stocky and well-built, like a rugby player.

From a distance they look a dull brown, but up close they have a greenish chest and wings, a bright, carrot-coloured beak and legs to match and a brilliant azure patch under the chin.

On calm evenings, they often venture down low, to suck up the midgies and mosquitoes close to the ground and now and then a whole flock will be wheeling over the back yard, right on dusk. They don't call out much when they're doing this - too busy eating I guess. There's a grim efficiency about it, like a bunch of vultures mopping up the left-overs.

It's here you get a glimpse of the big, dollar-shaped blotch of white under their wings that gives them the name.

  Well, it doesn't look like a dollar to me but that's what they say - maybe this one is going to hard. Early in the summer they will often roll around in pairs, close to the ground - part of their breeding ritual, The Boss says. 

In fact, they are part of the Roller family, a mob known for this habit from Africa to South-East Asia, although the Dollarbird is the only one we get here. 

If I could catch one I'd eat it and tell you what they taste like but it looks like they've nicked off back to PNG and I'll have to wait until next year. Woof.