Imagine sitting on dewy lake-side grass as the sun rises, imagine the bird you are photographing coming closer and closer until your 1.8m minimum focussing distance is compromised and you resort to using your phone to get shots of him nibbling your favourite hiking boots. Every time I shuffled back the cocky came with me, weaving across the oval for almost an hour; I could have touched him.
I had returned to the lake that morning hoping to find the Red-rumped Parrots that had let me creep up to them the evening before, but they were flighty and preferred the tree tops to the wet grass. Instead, this cocky landed nearby and initially stayed briefly. I took several images, mainly trying to set the exposure to keep some detail in his white feathers.
I believe it’s a male as his eye is dark, unlike the lighter reddish-brown eye of the female. He flew away after a couple of minutes but the parrots didn’t come down and like some kind of crazy bird-woman I started talking to the out-of-sight cocky, asking him to come back … and he did.
He landed nearby and I sat on the grass to get a more intimate angle for my shots. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have been known to live for eighty years in captivity. Perhaps this bird out-lived his ‘owners’ and was released, although his ability to fly is excellent which is not the case with birds that have been held in cages and aviaries where they have been unable to maintain muscle tone. I think his foot looks remarkably reptilian.
The cocky was too close for anything other than portraits and smiles.
I marvelled at the amount of effort it would take for him to get enough food by eating tiny seeds. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos weigh about 800g and are up to 50cm in length. They are large, intelligent birds with an incredibly loud screeching call that often wakes me in the morning as the local flock leaves its roosting site. They sometimes use their powerful bills to cause extensive damage to timber homes and window frames; not everyone likes them as much as I do.
For almost an hour this handsome bird followed me as I shuffled across the wet grass trying to maintain 1.8m between us. I tried to capture different backgrounds, including green grasses close to the lake and brown patches of dry earth.
I like the warmth of the background in the image above, and the detail of his feathers and bill. The catchlight in all the shots is of the sun rising above a bank of clouds on the horizon.
Years ago a local pet shop had a cocky in a tiny cage, it’s tail feathers had been cut to make it look like a young bird. I paid $95 for ‘Barney’ and peppered the shop owners with so many questions about where they obtained him that they never sold another. At the time I had a small wildlife shelter and was able to rehabilitate Barney and release him with the local cockies who welcomed him into their group.
More recently I was distressed to see a lonely cocky caged in a small, dark aviary at Churchill Island. ‘Charlie’ had apparently been willed to the tourist attraction but had started to land on people’s heads and peck them so had been confined to the cage. As I looked into his blank eyes I promised that I would do my best to get him out of there. Eventually, thanks to an understanding environmental manager, a new home has been found for Charlie where he has companionship and stimulation – he had been confined for too long to regain muscle tone.
Thinking of Barney and Charlie reminds me of the words William Blake wrote 200 years ago: A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage. The cocky in today’s images touched my heart, I miss him and whether or not he has always been a wild bird I hope he continues to enjoy his freedom.
Happy birding, Kim
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