I always think I am among friends when I walk the Waterworks Reserve on cold, overcast autumnal and winter days.
The “friends” are vast flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos making this beautiful location their home during the time of nature’s shutdown and a lack of food out in country areas where the cockies spend the summer.
The cockies become incredibly tame during the winter months – probably because people feed them – and on my walks they surround me, perching on fences and low branches, calling to me with loud, raucous squawks as I go by.
They feed largely on the juicy roots of grass growing on the embankments holding the reserve’s twin reservoirs, and they casually waddle out of the way as I pass among them.
Some days I feel like Moses parting the Red Sea, an ocean of cockatoos dividing ahead of me. I count their number and during a recent walk I clocked about 130 birds.
I work from home and, without family around me during the day, I like to seek out company, to feel a part of the vibrancy and fabric of daily life. If I’m not meeting former newspaper colleagues in the bars of the Salamanca Strip, I seek the fellowship of the cockies, amused by their antics, their playfulness and mischievousness. Faint traces of brown feathers indicate there are many young birds among them and they seem intent on drawing attention to themselves – perhaps trying to attract mates. This autumn young birds have taken to doing acrobatics on a power line that crosses a section of the northernmost reservoir.
The cockies might give me a lift on cold, grey days but they are not so popular with all Hobartians. Cockie numbers seem to be building up each year and I often receive reports of them doing damage to fruit trees and property in suburban areas. The cockies seem to have a penchant for attacking wooden roofs and eaves.
It is not fully understood why cockies chew the wood of roofs but the most plausible theory is that cockies need to keep their large beaks, a vital tool for everyday life, in trim. Chewing wood helps wear down the constantly growing keratin of the bills, so they don’t grow too long, and keep them sharp.
Another theory is that the cockies on their travels merely get bored.
Cockatoos are most destructive in spring and late summer. The spring offensive might be explained by parents excavating nests at this time and possibly confusing the wood of houses for trees. In late summer, the young birds leave the nest and, like teenagers, start exploring their world, and practising life skills, which would include of course mastering the destructive wonders of the beak.
I don’t discount the theory the cockies might just be having a little fun, as one zoologist suggests, without realising they are in fact behaving like teenage vandals. They’re clowns after all, so they do have a sense of fun. And as highly intelligent animals, they need an outlet.