Everybody recognises a Sulphur-crested cockatoo: its striking plumage, its noise, its confidence its cocky-ness.
There’s nothing delicate about a cocky. My European neighbour told me how, following her first night in Australia, she was woken early in the morning by a terrible screeching.
“I was scared stiff. Now after all these years living in Australia I’m still nervous when I hear one of those big white birds.”
An American birdwatcher friend of mine has a different tale. On his arrival in Australia he visited the Opera House. “Where else do you start?” He describes it as being a moving experience – made better by the fact that a dozen cockies were circling the white sails. “Two Australian icons at once,” he beamed. “Beat that!”
Speaking of opera, when Aida was performed as an opera in the park, a large polystyrene piece of ‘Egyptian’ scenery was erected in the Botanic Gardens – which was joyfully seized upon by the local cockies, who just love tearing things to pieces.
At my local supermarket a lot of bread is thrown away. Past its sell by date? Whatever the truth, the local cockies gather on a regular basis at the back of the premises. There the unsold bread is thrown into a skip. When this happens the cockies move in at once, tearing the plastic bags with their sharp bills. The bread and packaging is spread around the block: tidiness and environmental considerations are not part of a cocky’s make up.
I used to feed the cockatoos a few sunflower seeds. Big mistake: they became hooked, and wouldn’t leave me alone. On one occasion around 30 of the birds descended on my house. Their feet could be heard stamping on the roof. I was under siege. So I stopped the feeding – and the birds began instead to chew through the woodwork of the balcony. Their appetites were voracious.
There’s something of the Australian character embodied in a cocky – maybe that’s why we’re so fond of them. But I do wish they’d leave the flowers on my coral tree alone.