The frost lay heavy and thick on the grassy embankments of the Waterworks Reserve, but it didn’t bother the sulphur-crested cockatoos.
They were doing what they always do on winter days when over the years I have had the pleasure to walk among their noisy number on my late-afternoon keep-fit walks in the reserve.
The cockies supplement a winter diet of seeds, nuts and fruits cadged, and stolen, in the suburbs with the juicy roots of grasses they dig up with their heavy, powerful bills from the soil.
The cockies – vast flocks of them which can number up to 100 – arrive from the Derwent Valley at the end of autumn when the last of the crops have been dug up there and sent to market.
They choose the high blue gums and stringybarks in the reserve for a winter roost, and retire to sleep as the sun sets behind kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Before this they feed and then engage in noisy squabbles and courtship displays, choosing partners for the spring and summer mating season which seems so far away.
The cockatoos are surprisingly tame in the reserve and when they feed in the grass they do not bother to scurry out of the way of walkers making their way across the twin reservoirs’ embankments on footpaths which link both sides of the reserve.
Weaving among them, I try to count their number and always give up when I reach 80 birds. The constant coming and going, and screaming as the cockies sit on the fence posts of the reserve demanding attention, makes the exercise too hard.
It is clear that some of these particularly noisy and demanding birds are young from the last breeding season. They carry a brownish tinge to their feathers and their crests have not fully formed. They also issue a soft cooing, which I presume to be the call they use to demand food from parents but I never see these adult-sized juvenile birds being fed. The calling for food must just be out of habit, especially as the parents still seem to be around.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos are one of the most commonly seen birds across Tasmania but I can ever tire of seeing them, can never take them for granted.
That’s what comes of growing up on the fringe of London and only seeing such dramatic, beautiful birds in pet shops. Now I pinch myself wandering among them, sometimes tempted to taunt them, to make them throw up that crest, something they seem to do only in anxious or excited moments. And all the time birds are taking flight, or landing, screaming and squawking, shuffling, ruffling feathers.
A winter’s day, a carpet of frost on the hard ground and the flutter of cockatoos all around me, their white wing feathers tinged with the same sulphur-yellow as the crests, something you only see when they are close up, or in flight. No winter evening is complete without them in my valley. I’m mesmerized.