The sulphur-crested cockatoos had returned to Hobart earlier than usual, a big flock of them frolicking at the Waterworks Reserve towards the end of summer.
There was drama in the air, however, when I discovered that one of the young cockies had been caught in a tree. The early return looked set to turn to tragedy.
The cockies that we see in Hobart during the winter months tend to spend the summer feeding in the upper reaches of the Derwent Valley, and only return to the city when food begins to run out with the approach of autumn and then the cold grip of winter.
At the Waterworks Reserve flocks of a hundred cockies can sometimes be seen in winter and it is fun to walk among them as they feed on roots in the grasslands atop the two reservoirs’ earthen walls.
I’d never known any cockies to come to grief at the Waterworks, as they sometimes do out in open field and paddock, but alerted to the cockies’ early arrival this year I came across one poor bird that had somehow become entangled in the upper branches of a silver peppermint gum above the road that leads to the reserve’s BBQ sites.
The cocky was hanging upside down, flapping madly as it tried to free itself. He or she had blood on its feathers, and I was worried that the injury would become even more serious if the cocky continued flapping its wings.
I thought at first the bird might have somehow become entangled in string or even fishing line, but when I studied it through binoculars I could see it was trapped by its neck in a v-shape of twigs in the canopy near the very top of the tree, possibly 25 metres high.
There was no way the cocky could be freed by ladder, it was too high, or even freed by someone climbing into the tree, the branches were too thin and narrow at that point.
I wondered what to do, and thought about contacting an animal career in our street in the hope he might know of someone authorised to shoot protected birds under licence.
I carried on walking while I figured out what to do, giving the bird another half an hour in the hope it freed itself, although this looked unlikely. There was also the chance that a passing bird of prey – possibly a brown goshawk –- would notice the bird and move in for the kill and an easy meal. That seemed the best outcome, a natural one without recourse to the gun.
It is unusual to see birds trapped and injured in such a way in woodland or forest. Birds are more likely to come to grief when they encounter made-made objects, in the sulphur-crashed cockatoos’ case powerlines or fencing out on farmland. Added to the threats posed to cockies, and other birds, can be road traffic and, of course, people with guns taking pot shots at them.
I walked the reserve for about 40 minutes, my day ruined by the sight and thoughts of the poor bird dangling from the tree by its neck.
What made it even more tragic was that another cocky, possibly the stricken birds’ mate, looked on, calling to the cocky as if trying to give it encouragement.
When I finally made my way back to the tree I looked for the bird and thankfully couldn’t see it. As I moved closer I thought I might be looking at the wrong tree, I was convinced the bird was hopelessly trapped, but someone it had managed to free itself.
There was certainly no evidence of a bird of prey being on the scene. Under the tree, fluttering in the road, were just two or three feathers, not a bloody pile or even a carcass, that would have been the result of a predator attack.
I looked at the flock of cockies merrily chasing and squawking to each other in the treetops nearby, 30 of them. I knew my bird was among them, and I was happy for one shocked, but lucky, cocky.