Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

(Cacatua galerita)

This bird would easily be the most recognisable bird in Eastern Australia. Noisy, mischievous, intelligent, destructive (they can’t help it), common, there are many adjectives to describe them. Oh, and add long lived to that list too. In captivity some birds have been recorded to live over 120 years of age wild birds somewhat less than that, perhaps 65. Which is a long time for a bird to live.

I remember some years ago working up at Silvan dam and looking at a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockies flying off in the distance with one old timer a fair way behind, struggling big time. To my amazement, 3 birds broke off from the main flock and doubled back to fly with him, staying beside him as if to encourage him, “Come on, keep going you can do it”, they may have been whispering in his ear. The other angle to take on it was they may have been trying to shield him somehow from raptors, Peregrine Falcons in particular, who would easily pick off a slow coach like that. Whatever their motive, it appeared to me to be very caring and compassionate, not traits I would expect to find in a bird.

Many people reading this may have seen Sulphur-crested Cockatoos suffering from the terrible ‘beak and feather disease’, a naturally occurring virus found in wild populations. This disease, which causes feather loss and beak deformities affects parrots and cockatoos only and is transmitted most often in nest hollows, with the virus surviving up to 7 years without a host. Its correct name is Psittacine Circoviral Disease (PCD) and is often fatal.

Some years ago my daughter Freya excitedly told me she had found a cocky’s crest feather and asked if I’d ever seen one to which I replied in the negative. As she fished around in her handbag to find it I remember thinking to myself, big deal, a yellow feather. What she showed me took me by complete surprise, wow, an engineering masterpiece, a curved tapering tube like feather which was so delicate I couldn’t believe my eyes. See attached photo taken by yours truly on my blower. It was one of those things I was talking about last month, taking things for granted. I had often looked at a Cockatoo with its crest up and marvelled at its colour and not even thought about its shape. Look at things very closely before moving on to the next (memo to self).

Next time you see a paddock full of White Cockies or see some flying overhead, take a closer look as they may easily be Long-billed or Little Corellas, two very similar birds that from a distance fit the ‘same man different haircut’ scenario. In fact they are often found as mixed flocks together and to the untrained eye appear to all be ‘White Cockies’.

I can’t finish this article without telling you about an amazing encounter I had with a Chinese lady recently. I was walking home from a pilates class and heard Rainbow Lorikeets feeding chicks within a tree hollow and stopped to listen to the racket going on, muffled somewhat due to being in the hollow which was quite low to the ground, perhaps three metres. As I walked on a well-dressed middle-aged Chinese lady was walking towards me and I casually told her the hollow had Rainbow Lorikeets with young uns in it. I thought that would have been the end of the conversation, but she stood in my way and communicated to me she spoke no English. Fair enough I said to her, but she also somehow made me understand she wanted to know what I was trying to tell her, and I was at a loss to figure out a way to do it. In her hand was a very new mobile phone, but suddenly she started searching in her handbag for something, what I had no idea. After what seemed an eternity she produced another mobile phone, an older version of the current one. She then started to type things into it, I was thinking maybe she’d lost interest or I was starting to bug her so politely tried to say goodbye, which found her becoming a bit agitated, but I once again got the impression she wanted to understand what I was talking about.

Anyhow to cut a long story short she finally got her old phone working and presto, I became fluent in Mandarin and her English was impeccable. She suddenly understood what I was on about and was quite chuffed to know there were little birds in the tree hollow. Her last comment to me was very poignant “To be observant and to love all life”. “Exactly,” I smiled at her as we parted company.

Des Palmer