The Outrageousness of Australian Cockatoos

My partner and I are passionate about birds, botany, and gardening. So when we arrive in a new destination, we often make a beeline to the local botanical garden. And if you’re ever fortunate enough to visit the cities of Australia, the botanical gardens are top-notch. So it was a no-brainer for us to walk the short distance from Sydney’s central business district to the local botanical gardens where we were amazed to see sulphur-crested cockatoos everywhere.

Sulpher-crested cockatoo in a Eucalyptus tree.
Cockatoo in a gum tree. How Australian is that?

At first, we were spellbound just to see them in the trees overhead. We were in the middle of the city! And here they were—flocks of them. But this city, of course, wasn’t just anywhere—this was a city in Australia, where everything you thought you knew about wildlife just isn’t quite true anymore. Later that evening, for example, we would see flocks of giant black fruit bats the size of red-tailed hawks, flapping lazily over the coffeeshops and bars of the city as the sun went down. The Aussies didn’t bat an eye.

So we watched, and we photographed from afar. They were adorable.

Sulpher-crested cockatoo in a Eucalyptus tree.
Playful, inquisitive, smart.

And then, the unexpected got even more so: they started gliding downward toward us. Something in the lawn was edible on that day, though we never figured out what it was. Roots? Some small grub? Didn’t matter, they were intent on feeding and didn’t care how close we got.

Here’s a bit of video I took.

Birds use their crests to communicate with each other; a raised crest indicates heightened interest, alarm, or sometimes aggression. Sulphur-crested cockatoos have spectacular crests. It took me a few tries to catch one fully raised, but:

Sulpher-crested cockatoo on the grass
A moment of tension in cockatoo land.

We settled in and the birds got used to having us there. Finally their curiosity got the better of them—cockatoos are some of the most intelligent animals on earth—and they came to investigate us and our apparently-fascinating shoes.

Man photographing a bird in the distance while a cockatoo pokes unseen at his shoe.
Dude. I’m right here.

Many kinds of ‘cockies’

On a later trip we traveled the far southwest of Western Australia, from Perth southward through the wine country of Margaret River. No sulphur-crested cockatoos there but plenty of the beautiful, noisy, charming galahs. Galah is a wonderful name for a cockatoo—apparently it derives from the Yuwaalaraay language.

Galahs are social, noisy, active, and beautiful.

Crazy as a galah, they say.

Eventually we made our way to the small settlement of Witchcliffe (Witchy, the locals say, because Australians must apparently reduce every proper noun to something ending in y.)

We had heard of Australia’s black cockatoos but hadn’t really expected to see them; they’re quite rare due to loss of indigenous forests. But lo, we were visited by a number of these giant Carnaby’s cockatoos.

Carnaby's cockatoo on a telephone pole.
Carnaby’s cockatoo, Witchcliffe, Western Australia

You’ll want a cockatoo of your own, but…

To see a cockatoo is to want one, but if there’s one thing I can tell you with certainty it’s that parrots make terrible, terrible pets for most people. I have not had one myself but when I worked at a zoo I got to spend a great deal of time with a particular Alexandrine parakeet whom I loved dearly. My god, he was needy. If you’re thinking of owning a parrot, stop. Stop and think. Imagine yourself with a toddler at their most destructive, needy, capricious toddler-ness. Now imagine that same toddler with a teenager’s hormones and the vocal power of a deranged opera singer. Now imagine spending the next 40-50 years with that bird. Is that what you want? No, no it isn’t. Trust me.

But do go to Australia if you can, and spend time watching the remarkable wild cockatoos that live there. You won’t regret it.

Let me brighten your Friday.

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4 thoughts on “The Outrageousness of Australian Cockatoos”

  1. Love the “dude I’m right here” shot! Abfab.

    Please post pictures of as many Australian species as you can – I know I’ll never get there so I love seeing the shots of other photographers/birders, thank you! Travel safe! Have fun!

  2. Wonderful stuff Don. I meant to congratulate you personally when we saw you! Very excited for your new birding enterprise. My 86 year old Dad is too! Already a loyal follower. Best, Kim xo

  3. In Redondo Beach there was a HUGE Queen Palm tree across the street that hosted dozens of feral green parrots for happy hour every late afternoon. At first I thought it was cool, but super loud doesn’t begin to describe the noise that got old pretty fast!! Parrots sure are beautifully colorful, though.

  4. Galah’s may just be my favourite bird in the world. Apparently galah is also Australian slang for someone foolish, if not idiotic. When ever I saw them flying overhead I stared with rapt attention, often with my mouth open in amazement. Maybe that is where the term comes from and not the birds. Lovely Thanks


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