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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19 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!

    • Our cockies are definitely bold and hilarious! Oz is well known as the land of the parrots. Love them all. My favourites are the aptly named Australian “King” parrots. The boys are beautiful but the girls, while shyer (aka more sensible), definitely hold their own. Check them out – you’ll love them.

        • We have a 33 year old female sulphur-crested cockatoo Don. You get a lot from these avians as pets. However as you observed these birds, especially the sulphur-crested cockatoo are NOT low impact pets. They constantly crave attention, need a specialised diet to remain healthy and need to be uncaged more often than they are caged or you get a cockatoo with very serious depression and other mental issues. Our Paulie is completely house-trained and quite literally follows us around the house and outside like a dog, only a very intelligent talking dog. I also would not recommend these parrots as a pet unless you have a lot of time to spend with them.

  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

    • I’m with you David, galahs are my favourite too and I was blessed to see them at Wagga during breeding time and happy hour morning and evening. They were as mad as a meat axe and one was going so fast he skimmed me with his wings! An experience I’ll never forget and cherish.

  5. We feed our cockies every day. They are curious and intelligent. One story a friend told me was his father and another man curated a tree at the place they worked for years. One day a cockie was in the tree amusing himself and was chased off by the father’s friend. The next day they came to work and the tree was entirely stripped. They arent vindictive, but their curiosity and bite force make them destructive when something interests them

  6. We have 2 disabled Rainbow Lorikeets on our balcony. One flew into our glass pool fence and broke a wing, the other was suffering some form of paralysis known to afflict lorries…my wife is a nurse and administered physiotherapy for 2 weeks… he’s now able to get around the hospital cage his legs are still weak. Lots of cockies around here…suburb of Sydney…noisy blighters.

  7. We live on a normal house block(not bush land) in the SE suburbs of Melbourne and we are visited every day by a family of Magpies (they knock on the glass door if we don’t hear them quickly enough. Lol), Galahs, Rainbow Lorikeets (noisy little buggers), Corellas (screech) and Cockatoos(sit on our table waiting for seed) . We have also had Black Cockatoos visit the trees but they are shy and very rare (in the suburbs at least) and don’t come to ground. I love watching all these birds and getting to know their personalities and antics.

  8. I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. We get all kinds of birds. The cockatoos love to destroy my solar lighting. I thought you might like this video of a cockatoo destroying bird spikes in one of our local towns. 😀

  9. I live in Victoria, it’s a shame you didn’t see some of the other parrots…
    The Major Mitchell Cockatoo, with its beautiful red and yellow crest and its pink plumage.
    The Gang Gang so beautiful to look at.
    The yellow crested and red crested Cockatoo.
    The Crimson Rosella with its stunning blue and red plumage.
    The grass parrot…
    Australia’s parrots are amazing and beautiful

  10. Old bush recipe for galah. Boil up the galah in an old boot. Throw away the galah and eat the boot.

    A cockatoo playing a practical joke on a Kookaburra.

  11. Sad to say after living here since 1971 (Victoria, WA, NSW, Qld) I can truthfully say that in general Australians do not value their wonderful fauna and flora. The majority are hell bent in eradicating the “nuisance” and Roundup etc must be a best seller. Very depressing.

  12. These birds and the country is absolutely beautiful.Would love and see everything in Australia.Kangaroos Koala Bears(Gorgeous) Budgerigars Parrots The Gum trees Sandy beaches.Would love to come over from England and be among it all.Love from Elaine in horrible England.All the best.


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