Nine Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

On the nineth day of Christmas, my true love (the creative spirit) sent to me:
Nine Screeching Cockies

Eight Green Turtles Ambling
Seven Platypus Swimming
Six Numbats Digging
Five Satin Bowerbirds Decorating
Four Australian Fur Seals Frolicking
Three Tasmanian Tigers barking
Two Superb Lyrebirds Mimicking
and a Kookaburra up a Gum Tree

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is one of the most easily recognized birds in Australia. With its strident call and brilliant white feathers, it is a common sight throughout the open timbered country in the eastern and northern parts of the country.

Each summer, large squawking gangs of these ‘bad boys’ descend on my ornamental pistachio and shred it. I wouldn’t mind if they ate the berries but they hurl great swathes of the branches all over the garden. War erupts as I make loud banging noises, and they scream obscenities at me as they fly off to a neighbouring rooftop. All to little avail! My neighbour laughs, telling me that as soon as I go inside boss cocky is back with his gang of hooligans! One urban myth, that I was told, with good authority, by a bushman was that if I could frighten the lead Cockatoo they would stay away. According to this man, the other birds would kill the boss if he led them into danger. Yeah well! Needless to say, I have had no luck terrorising the lead bird.

The Sulphur Crested Cockatoo is unmistakable. Their all-over brilliant white plumage is visible from many kilometres away, silhouetted against distant hills or outlined against the horizon. Among the largest of our parrots, they can reach half a metre in length (18 inches). Despite my frustration with these incorrigible ‘boys’ I confess that I love them. They are absolute characters to watch. They will hang upside down and drink from the gutters, playing games, daring each other to do the next funny thing. They really have a sense of entertainment!

A distinctive feature of this bird is the long, recurved crest of bright yellow feathers.The crest seems to reflect the bird’s emotions. When it is excited or alarmed, the feathers are fully extended, reaching far forward over the bird’s head. A bird at rest, or one which doesn’t feel well, will have its crest feathers flattened against the back of its head.

Wherever Cockatoos are, feeding or resting, they always have a sentinel on guard, ready to warn them of approaching danger.  This has become part of Australian colloquialism, a ‘cocky’ being a lookout.  One well-known context for this was for the illegal gamblers and prostitutes in Sydney in the early part of this century.  A cocky was needed as a warning of approaching police! The issue of protection may be important, so be a cocky and keep a look-out!

If Cockatoo has flown into your life, singly or as a noisy squawking cloud, perhaps you need to be more aware of what is going on around you. Explore, play, satisfy your curiosity!

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