While hanging out the washing today, I witnessed a moment of cockatoo romance: a touching break-up-and-make-up scene.
A gang of sulphur crested cockies was chilling in our neighbour’s backyard jungle, napping, preening and crunching the odd stick. I watched for some minutes (rather pruriently, I admit, but I had the excuse of avoiding housework) as a couple engaged in some heavy-duty necking. Chewing the feathers around each others’ eyes: it doesn’t get more intimate than that. Then it all went wrong – there was a sudden squawk, a bout of wrestling and irritable pecking, and one took off to sulk in a nearby tree.
The remaining bird released a bit of tension by ripping off some chunks of bark and partially eviscerating a few palm fronds. Then after about quarter of an hour (there was more than one load of washing), the huffy one came back. He (I’ll say he, for no reason in particular) initially flapped over to the far end of the branch. With an air of studied nonchalance, by turns looking diffidently about and intently examining his perch, he inched slowly towards his flame. It all ended up in some rather sultry ear whispering and gnawing. Most satisfactory.
I know sulphur crested cockatoos are so common that many people view them as pests. Particularly people whose balustrades or window frames or grain crops they’ve ripped apart.
But there is something magical about the sight of the big mob at dusk, floating across the valley, screeching and wheeling as they prepare to roost for the night. They alight in one tree for a moment and then, all together, lift their wings and move on. Drifting over the steep wooded slopes, passing across the creek and turning back again, they stitch together the sunlit and the shady side of the gully. In their map of this place, I’m guessing, the switchback road and the marina, firetrails and bridges and cliff faces, the river a thousand steps below, fall away.
Watching the domestic scenes today: parents, siblings and lovers dangling and swinging in the branches, inspecting and deconstructing the palm tree, muttering, exclaiming, fondling and fighting, it’s easy to see how people want to keep these clever, beautiful creatures as pets. And apparently while they can survive for forty or maybe even eighty years in the wild, they can live to be over a hundred in captivity. So there’s something to be said for it, I suppose. I’m reminded of those enthusiasts for longevity who have discovered you can live longer by eating less. A lot less. An extended life in which to contemplate the absence of pleasure. For instance, here’s Cocky Bennett, a Sydney legend who apparently lived to 120, the last 20 years nude, mumbling “one feather more and I’ll fly”.