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Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

2 August 2017

In 1826 we were given a fancy latin name, Calyptorhynchus funereus. That funereus bit refers to our “dark and sombre plumage” – they reckon we were dressed up for a funeral. If they paid more attention they’d have seen we’re not really the mournful type.

Of course, we’ve been called other things for millennia. Wylah, Ngaoaraa, depends on which Aboriginal Country we’re flying over at the time.

There’s six different types of Black Cockatoos around Australia. You’ll find my white-tailed and red-tailed cousins out West Oz way, but us Yellow-tails stick to the eastern seaboard. South from here, we’re hurting a bit from having our habitat gobbled up by you insatiable humans. Here in the Clarence Valley we’re doing alright, but go easy on cutting down too many more trees, especially the big old eucalypts. They’re our houses you see.

No graceful vee-formation flying for us, no majestic solo soaring, just us screeching and kee-owing and having a better time than you.

If there’s one thing we’re good at it’s making a racket. You’ll probably hear us before you see us. When we’re flying in a mob, we sound like a dozen rusty gates with our screechy ‘Kee-ow’ calls, and if we’re in a tree, having a good old feed on grubs, larvae, banksia seeds or pine cones, you’ll hear us softly chuckling as we get to work. Our super-strong beaks are our best friends, they allow us to strip bark off a tree to get at the grubs, or rip in to a banksia cone no worries.

We roam in gangs, you’ll see us wheeling around just above the treeline in raucous groups. No graceful vee-formation flying for us, no majestic solo soaring, just us screeching and kee-owing and having a better time than you.

If it’s been dry and you notice us out and about, it’s a safe bet rain’s on the way. How do we know these things? Sorry pal, I can’t reveal my sources.

Black Cockatoo

Anyway, come and meet the missus. What’s that? You can’t tell the blokes from the shielas? OK, I’ve got a pinkish ring around my eye, a dull yellow cheek patch and a black bill, whereas the ladies have a grey eye ring, a brighter yellow patch on their cheeks and a lighter coloured beak.

Righto, so, here’s our place. Home sweet home. We always wanted a tall eucalypt and we were stoked to find this one had a perfect deep hollow in it. We both did the renos, mostly stripping and peeling wood shavings off the interior walls to make a nice bed for the eggs. I got a few gum leaves in just to make it extra special.

The wife incubates the eggs all on her own. She sits on ‘em for a month straight. I’m on food duty – if I don’t bring home three or four meals home each day there’s hell to pay.

It’s weird, we usually have two eggs, but the second one – always a little smaller – comes a week after the first and we basically ignore it so the poor little bugger perishes in its infancy. I know it’s sad, but don’t blame me, it’s just how evolution’s shaped us. We dote on chick number one though – we look after the cheeky little bugger in the nest for six months. And I can tell you that’s long enough.

We’ve been married for ages. We’re a devoted bunch, we cockies, and we live a long time. It’s not unheard of for us to rack up half a century on this glorious planet, and if, god forbid, one of us was to die, the other stays single for the rest of our days. But though we’re socially monogamous, this isn’t to say we don’t have the odd sneaky affair. DNA tests you nosy humans have performed on us have revealed not all youngsters are from the father that raises them. (I have to ask you guys, was that DNA test really necessary?)

Anyway, gotta go, there’s a few trees down Wooli way the crew are keen to check out and there’s no way I’m missing out on the fun.

As dictated to Gra Murdoch. Painted for Clarity by Dan Bursell.

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