The cockatoo on a telephone line in Sandy Bay was having the time of its life, hanging upside down with wings outstretched and screeching, as if to say “Look at me, look at me”.
I could see he was a young male, doing what young males do best. He was showing off, displaying all his masculinity, being bold and daring; dare I say it, being cocky.
Autumn is cockatoo time in Hobart when birds that have spent the summer in the country – usually feeding and nesting in the upper Derwent Valley– return to the city when food on the farms runs out.
Once back in the suburbs the sulphur-crested cockatoos sometimes form huge flocks to go in search of easy pickings in gardens, like fruit still hanging on trees or, one of their favourites, walnuts.
Some of the ancient walnut trees on equally ancient properties in Sandy Bay are well known as cockatoo haunts, and it was near one of these in Regent Street that I saw the young cocky going about his macho business.
I was on my way to the supermarket, on a tight schedule to get in my keep-fit walk but still make tea for the family, and should not have been taking a time-out to watch a cocky, a bird common enough in my bird-watching stamping ground of the Waterworks Reserve. But this young cocky, noisy and showy, proved irresistible.
I identified him as a young male from close up because he still had traces of brown juvenile feathers in his white plumage and his eyes were black, instead of the female’s reddish-brown.
This should have been serious business, acrobatics above Regent Street, to let the females of the neighbour know he was about, but the young cocky seemed more intent on play than looking for females. Certainly, if there were females about he didn’t notice them, because he was joined by other males trying to outdo each other with their high-wire acts. Clearly they were having fun. At times, in the ultimate act of bravado, they would let go of the wires and plummet towards the pavement, finally spreading their wings and righting themselves seemingly close to the ground, before soaring skywards again, with shrieks of delight.
Like humans, birds and animals are capable of play, especially young ones who use games as part of the learning process, learning about themselves and their place in their own societies.
My email is always full of accounts of the antics of birds: currawongs stealing pegs from lines to use as playthings, a forest raven dropping pieces of cheese from a deck so it can swoop to catch them in flight, a pacific black duck whitewater rafting in a rivulet after rain.
People who write about wildlife are always warned to beware of anthropomorphism, giving birds and animals human qualities, but I’m afraid I find it as irresistible as watching common cockies when I should be out shopping for tea.
How else can we relate to creatures who, by and large, share with us life’s trials and tribulations: finding their own identify after leaving the nest, finding a mate, finding a home, and raising a family, in good times and in bad. We all fly on the same incredible journey of life together.
I’m sure that birds, when they view the humans around them, put us in their own context as we do them and, who knows, they might give us avian attributes.
The penguin, dressed in dinner jacket, might appear to us like an elderly waiter waddling between tables at a gentleman’s club, but what would a cockatoo make of my 20-something son and his raucous mates, groomed and plumped up for a night of action and bravado at the O-Bar in Hobart?
He’d say they were just being cocky.