A juvenile yellow-tailed black cockatoo called from the garden, demanding food from its parents. I lie on my bed engrossed in a book and I must confess I couldn’t be bothered to go to the window to view the cockatoo family, let alone put on shoes to go out into the garden.
Parties of black cockies had been coming and going all week, criss-crossing the sky above my home, uttering their melancholy song – which some describe as an Irish lament, a “keen” – as they passed overhead. They had become as familiar as the forest ravens which sit on my deck some mornings.
The pages of the book I was reading were more important. It was after all about wildlife, the remarkable urban diary compiled by a writer who lives in the Scottish city of Aberdeen. The author, Esther Woolfson, is an expert on captive British crows and has in the past written on the subject but in this case she was writing about an Australian species, the cockatiel.
Amid descriptions of the local wildlife using her garden, she had mentioned in passing that during the year she had compiled the diary for her book, Field Notes from a Hidden City, the family’s pet cockatiel had died and she mourned such an intelligent, wise and beautiful bird.
I sat up startled when she went on to mention that her mother-in-law was from Australia and on a visit one year she had seen the cockatiel in its cage and had said they were merely pests in Australia.
Familiarity might breed contempt, but I immediately recalled my first sight of cockatiels in northern Queensland, and for that matter my first yellow-tailed black cockatoos in Tasmania. It was spellbound. How could anyone ever regard the parrots of Australia as pests?
I immediately rushed out into the garden to see the juvenile black cockatoo I had ignored being fed a nut from one of the hakeas planted at the end of my garden. The bird’s parents were busy stripping the tree of nuts, littering the lawn with piece of branch and spent shells but I was not complaining. I was privileged to have them sharing my previous space in the suburbs.
There were some other observations in Woolfson’s book which I could relate, both directly and indirectly to the black cockies visiting my garden.
Woolfson deals with intelligence in birds, their power of cognition and recognition, and memory, which proves that there is no such thing as a “bird brain”.
She wrote that members of the crow family can remember where food sources are available, and when, and will return to the site again and again over the years.
And I remembered that at this time of the year, in early autumn, the black cockatoos are more frequent visitors to my garden than usual. They always make a beeline for the hakea and I can only speculate it is the same family, remembering the tree rich in nuts from one year to the next, with their young continuing the tradition.
Regarding crows, a Woolfson writes that it has been proven that some species can even identify individual humans. Researchers at a university in Canada asked two teams of students to either be friendly to the local crows inhabiting the campus, or to chase them off with shouts of abuse.
It was soon realised that when the friendly students approached the crows, even without a display of goodwill, and food, the crows merely went about their business. But when individual students who had been unkind towards the crows approached, the aggrieved birds flew off in protest.
As for my black cockatoos, I’ll never ignore such wonderful birds again and am in the process of planting another hakea as a cockie investment for the future.