Cacatua galerita

One of the best known Australian birds, and a popular if expensive aviary species. Like all cockatoos, they are large, highly intelligent, very long lived birds.

Sulphur Cresteds are common in eastern Australia, from the far north to Tasmania. They generally live inland, but in drought conditions move towards the coast along with many other bird populations. This explains why the other morning, from a bus stuck in a Sydney traffic jam at peak hour, I saw a flock of cockatoos playing around on the metal framework around the construction site of a new 75 storey skyscraper in the middle of the CBD. When it starts raining out west they'll disappear, but at the moment a city of four million has been invaded by thouands of big, noisy, showy parrots, a display which goes some way to counterbalancing the loud proclamations of doom and despair that issue forth from the farming lobby in years like this.

Named for their distinctive forward-swept yellow crest, sulphur crested cockatoos are otherwise bright white, with a faint yellow wash through wing and tail primary feathers. Feet, beak and eyes are black. The beak is large and powerful, not the sort of thing you want to have mess with your fingers, and the feet are highly dexterous. Like all parrots and cockatoos they pick large food items up in one foot to eat, a behaviour that looks wonderfully fastidious on such a large and garish bird. Males and females are alike, and very young juveniles have a faint tinge of grey to their plumage. They're big birds, at about 50cm in length, including a 20cm tail.

Not only are they large, distinctive and highly visible, they are also one of the loudest birds around. Their contact call in flight is a loud, harsh, raucous screech, with a slight upwards inflection. They tend to travel in groups of several pairs, and call to each other every few seconds while flying. They can be heard from a long way off. While feeding, preening and so on they make small gutteral squawks or whistles.

Their voice is also suited to talking, they are one of the ideal birds to train to speak. They are extremely intelligent, displaying good memories and ability to learn new behavious very quickly. Cockatoos are also typcally very affectionate, with wild birds prepared to approach humans quite closely, sometimes when hungry but usually when simply curious. They make extremely devoted pets. A healthy bird can live over 60 years - they are a pet for life, and indeed often outlive their owners.

Unfortunately, in Western Australia the birds are considered pests. Horrible footage is out there of flocks being caught under nets and clubbed to death by farmers, who somehow don't get prosecuted for this kind of behaviour.

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