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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Wonderful World of Cockies

Firstly, to deal with 'disambiguation' as a certain information web site insists on saying, we're talking about these cockies today.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita, Canberra.
I mention this because in Sydney people might well think we were talking about these:
Moreover throughout rural Australia (and at least among older town-dwellers) the term is also widely used to refer to farmers, often with a qualifier - 'cow cocky', 'fruit cocky' etc. (The term seems to have arisen in response to the habit of many Australian cockatoos of 'scratching in the dirt' for food, and was originally used in a derogatory way, though not these days.)

The cockatoos form a family of 21 species within the Order Psittasiformes, the parrots. They are essentially Australian, though seven species of the white cockatoo genus Cacatua are found in New Guinea, eastern Indonesia and the Philippines. They differ from the main parrot family (which is to say everything else except the New Zealand parrots) in being mostly black, white or grey (though many have patches of colour especially on crest or tail), in being generally large (though there is overlap between the largest parrots and the smallest cockatoos) and having mobile crests. 
Male Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus, Mt Magnet, Western Australia.
This, the smallest cockatoo, is found across inland Australia, and has the misfortune of being the world's
second most popular cagebird (after another dryland Australian parrot, the Budgerigar).
Some species have bare patches of coloured skin on their face.
Little Corellas Cacatua sanguinea, Darwin.
It is widely agreed that the family is divided into the Cockatiel, which seems to have separated from the main line a long time ago, the five black-cockatoos, and all the rest (which means that the big black Palm Cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus of Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea is closer to the white cockies than to the other black ones). 

All species feed to varying degrees in flocks, which may be huge.
Little Corellas, Oodnadatta Track, northern South Australia.

Galahs Eolophus roseicapilla, Forbes, New South Wales.
These are probably gleaning seeds, though other species have different feeding techniques and diets. The key is the immensely powerful bill, like a narrow version of a raptor's.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Canberra. Both top and bottom mandible are hinged, giving great leverage.
The cutting edge of the lower mandible is sharpened against the inner hook of the upper.
When exerting pressure on hard seeds the upper mandible is the anvil against which the seed is crushed by the lower.
The very muscular tongue plays an important role in manipulating the food, and holding it in place.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus feeding on Banksia marginata seeds,
Canberra (just outside our bedroom window in fact). She has just separated the seed from its hard case
and has used her obvious tongue to discard the surrounds.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Canberra. Despite the obvious assumption, it is likely that this
bird is more interested in the seeds than the flesh of the apple.
One very specialised species, the threatened Glossy Black-Cockatoo (a quite misleading name incidentally), focuses entirely on very tiny, almost dust-like, seeds of Casuarinas. First the bird must find a good tree, on which the cones contain a high proportion of seeds; it tests a few to see if the tree is worth persevering with. If it gives the tree the claws-up it settles in and may work methodically in the same tree for hours, biting off a cone and holding it, base upwards, in its left foot. The huge beak works like a precision tool, stripping the woody material in layers and extracting the essential seeds, rotating the cone until it is empty, then immediately starting another one.
Female Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami, Nowra, New South Wales,
feeding on Casuarina torulosa seeds.
At the other end of the scale, some species, especially the black-cockatoos, rip into timber, including hardwood eucalypts, to extract the big wood-boring grubs of longicorn beetles and cossid moths in particular.
Blackbutt Eucalyptus pilularis, chopped open by a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo extracting grubs from a casuarina.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Kama Nature Reserve, Canberra,
extracting grubs - probably of longicorn beetle larvae - from a dead eucalypt branch (above and below).
I don't regard this as common behaviour, though it has certainly been reported.
Some have specialised beaks with an extended upper mandible, for both coarse and fine work.
Long-billed Corella Cacatua tenuirostris digging for tubers, Echuca, Victoria.
Long-billed (Baudin's) Black-Cockatoos Calyptorhynchus baudinii, Stirling Ranges NP, Western Australia.
A south-west endemic - and I fully agree that with their feathers fluffed up against the cold,
the long slender upper mandible is not evident here!
And this is the purpose of that bill - the fruit of Marri Eucalyptus calophylla, whose seeds are
extracted with the assistance of the specially adapted bill.
Some species, such as corellas (see flock photo above), Galahs and Cockatiels have long slender wings and fly rapidly; others, such as black-cockatoos and Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, have broader wings and are slower flyers, but all cover big distances between roost and feeding grounds.
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii, Nitmiluk NP, Northern Territory.
Within the flocks pair bonds form, which are maintained as long as both partners live; the pair stays together all year round, regularly preening each other to maintain the bond.
Little Corellas, Bourke, New South Wales

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, near Barcaldine, Queensland.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoos Lophochroa leadbeateri, West MacDonnell Ranges, central Australia.
Crests can range from relatively small and inconspicuous....
Little Corellas, Bourke, New South Wales.

Short-billed (Calaby's) Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus latirostris, Yanchep, Western Australia.
This species differs from the Long-billed species in its short wide bill, for crushing banksia cones.
... to not at all discreet!
Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, Bourke, New South Wales.

Male Gang-gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum, Canberra.
This is the smallest of the 'typical' cockatoos, from the south-eastern forested ranges;
it is commonly found throughout suburban Canberra.

In most species males and females are very similar, though there is some dimorphism, ranging from fairly subtle to quite striking.
Galahs, Nambung NP, Western Australia. Male left (dark eyes), female right (red eyes).
Gang-gang Cockatoo pair, Canberra; female left.
Male Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, south coast New South Wales, eating Banksia integrifolia seeds;
compare dark bill and red eye-ring with previous photo of female with pale bill and grey eye-ring.
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos pair near Barcaldine, Queensland.
Male left, female right. (Looking into the sun, sorry!)
Cockatiels, Sturt NP, far north-west New South Wales; males much more brightly coloured.
Like most parrots, cockatoos rely on natural tree hollows for nesting, which has strongly contributed to the decline of some species, especially the big black-cockatoos which probably need 150 year old trees to provide the size of hollows they need.
Male Gang-gang Cockatoo, National Botanic Gardens, Canberra.
But perhaps it's time to let you and the cockies go about your business, so I'll wrap it up with a brief overview of the Australian species. The one I can't illustrate with my own photo is the magnificent big Palm Cockatoo, essentially a New Guinea species which comes down into Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.
Palm Cockatoo, courtesy Wikipedia.
It is more closely related to the Galah, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo and the corellas than it is to the black-cockatoos.

Galahs and Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, Buldodney State Forest, central New South Wales.
Once a bird of the inland, Galahs have spread throughout south-eastern Australia in recent decades,
thanks to crops and water points.
The gorgeous Major Mitchell's is much less familiar to most people, being restricted
to the semi-arid inland.
Little Corellas, Clermont, central Queensland.
This familiar species is abundant across most of Australia except for the western deserts.

Long-billed Corellas, Urana, New South Wales (NSW).
Found naturally in two distantly separated populations; one in south-western NSW and western Victoria,
the other in a small area of south-western Australia.
However there are also feral populations in several areas.

Western Corella Cacatua pastinator, Augusta, south-west Western Australia (in a planted Norfolk Island Pine).
Restricted to the south-west, this species derived from Little Corellas after the region was
isolated from eastern Australia.
Out on its own, as an early branching from the family line, is the lovely little Cockatiel, common in flocks across inland Australia.
Cockatiels, Bladensburg NP, central Queensland.
And finally, the five species of magnificent big black-cockatoos. In the south-west are two white-tailed species, apparently derived from Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos in a past moister time. Both are seriously threatened, especially by loss of nesting trees.
Short-billed (Carnaby's) Black-Cockatoos north of Perth.

Long-billed (Baudin's) Black-Cockatoo, Stirling Ranges NP.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, south coast New South Wales;
reasonably common in the near-coastal south-east.
Which leaves the two red-tailed black-cockatoos; the restricted and threatened Glossy Black-Cockatoo, casuarina specialist of the east coast and hinterland, and the majestic Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, found in much of inland Australia and across the tropics, as well in small populations in the south-west and south-east South Australia and adjacent Victoria.
Male Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Bawley Point, New South Wales.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo;
male, above, Kakadu NP, Northern Territory, and
female, below, Cape Hillsborough NP, south tropical Queensland.
While the female is generally more striking, only the male has the red tail.

I hope you're not feeling cockied out; I confess that these wonderful birds (no less than five of which regularly visit or fly over our yard) rather took over proceedings as I wrote. I hope you can forgive my indulgence and inability to resist them - they really are special.

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Flabmeister said...

When the Glossies have finished with a Casuarina cone they chuck it on the ground which can be a useful sign that they are around. Those with more knowledge than myself can estimate to within a small number of days how old the chewings are, so can tell if it is worth searching or if the birds are more likely to have shot through!


Susan said...

I was once standing in a friend's garden in central France and a bird flew over, calling agitatedly. I didn't pay it much attention. The call was familiar, I recognised it and for a moment thought nothing of it. Then I realised, hang on, a cockatiel, in France?! My friend guessed that it had escaped from a neighbour's aviary.

Terrific post, very comprehensive. I'm pleased to say I've seen almost all of these species, and highly entertaining they all are. The grooming pair bonding pics are all adorable.