Victor Harbor artist Ann Somerville-Charles on the bronzewing bird

I will never forget my first encounter with a common bronzewing. My ears could clearly detect a low resonant ‘whoom’ but were unable to identify the source of the sound. I would soon learn that most of my meetings with this species would be heard and not seen.

The common bronzewing is a fast-flying bird of 35cm with a small head and a plump body. It has a brown back and iridescent wing feathers. Depending on the light position and the angle of view, these wing feathers can appear in a range of beautiful metallic colours including yellow, bronze, orange, red, blue and green. Both sexes have an extended white line under and around the eye. The male bird has a purple-brown crown, cream forehead and pink-brown breast. The female bird has a grey forehead and grey breast.

Common bronzewings belong to a family of birds whose members include pigeons and doves. One of the characteristics of birds in this family is that they drink by continuous sucking. Most other birds drink by tilting their heads back to swallow after each sip.

If conditions are suitable, common bronzewings can breed at any time of the year. Flimsy stick nests are built on the ground or in trees. Both parents are involved with incubation and care of the young. Like other pigeons, common bronzewings feed their chicks with a regurgitated secretion known as ‘pigeons milk’. Adult birds eat a variety of grains and seeds.

Common bronzewings are widespread throughout Australia. They need to drink frequently and are often found near water. While I have heard their unique call at several locations along the Fleurieu Peninsula, I have only ever seen them along the Inman River in Victor Harbor. They are cautious birds that rarely allow close human contact.

This column was written by Ann Somerville-Charles, who is an artist, composer, photographer and poet, living in Victor Harbor.