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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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