A Pandemonium of Parrots

by Margie Riley

Where we live―this little slice of heaven just northwest of Brisbane, Queensland—we have a plethora of parrots. We know how blessed we are. I sit here and write and edit and proofread, and on some days I have to leave our valley and go out… Recently, while researching collective nouns for my blog I came across ‘a pandemonium of parrots’. I was much taken with it (I’m such a word-nerd) and thought I’d give you my impressions of the parrots which live here with us. They make their presence felt. Most species nest in the hollows in trees, often where branches, large and small, have broken off, leaving holes of just the right diameter for the specific birds to nest; another reason for us to retain the old dead wood.

I’ll start with the largest and work down the list.

The yellow-tailed black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus, don’t you love that name: funereus?) is our largest parrot with a length up to 65 cm. They seem to come and go, their huge wings flapping languidly, although I can’t find information which tells me that they are migratory here in SE Queensland. They nest in large holes high up in trees―we back onto national park, we are so lucky―and they eat grubs, nuts and seeds. They have an eerie cry, a sort of wail, and the first time I heard it I raced to the window and looked out to see the approaching banshee. A neighbour, full of woe, once came to see my husband. ‘Someone’s vandalising the trees on our boundary,’ he said sadly shaking his head, ‘have you heard of anything like this round here?’ ‘No,’ replied The Man, ‘but I think the culprit might be the black cockies.’ It was. They fly down to check out the trees, sides of their heads pressed against the bark, and listen for the giant wood moth grubs (150ml long and as thick as a man’s thumb) inside. Then, with their enormous beaks, they tear at the tree to find the delicacy. Result: satisfied cockatoo, dead grub, dead tree.

Next down in size are the show-offs, the clowns, the noisiest, the most apt to steal yellow and orange citrus (they seem to leave the limes) and passionfruit: the sulphur crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita)―length up to 55 cm. There is a flock that lives in the valley and they make their presence heard loudly, daily. They wake noisily early and roost loudly comparatively late, so the sound of them suffuses the area. They sit in the high branches of the trees―and, if you have a vivid imagination, look for all the world like hundreds of pairs of white bloomers―and peer down as we walk beneath. They love the birdbath, not for bathing, but for drinking. It’s constantly filled for their (and others’) convenience. They sit on the rim of the bath and screech, bobbing up and down and raising and lowering their crests in a raucous, captivating dance. When they land on our roof (corrugated steel) their talons scratch along the surface so we know they are up there even if we can’t see them.

Then we have the Australian king parrot (Alisterus scapularis). Beautiful, beautiful birds―striking scarlet heads and breasts, with green upper plumage―he is much brighter-hued than she is. They can grow up to 43 cm. A neighbour must feed them, as a pair is unafraid, but cautious. They don’t like the rain and, when there is a downpour, come to visit by flying onto the veranda rails. They then waddle pigeon-toed, up and down, head cocked on one side, then the other, whistling at us. We have seen just their tails dangling from the veranda guttering as they sit up there surveying their domain.

The little corella (Cacatua sanguinea) can reach 41 cm in length. They, too, flock; one quickly becomes able to tell the call of one species of parrot from another. They are not as stunningly beautiful (to me) as some of the other birds, but nonetheless are attractive with their white feathers, pale pink cheeks and blue eye-ring. They add to the mix of delights of our valley.

The crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) can grow up to 36 cm, and sport wonderful long tails. They are shy, unlike their two cousins mentioned above, and whistle to one another in the bush. My husband saw a flock eating the seeds of the black wattle the other day. They are stunning birds with elegant crimson heads and breasts, and multi-coloured blue-tinged wings and those brilliant bright blue tails…

Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) are ridiculed as being really stupid (Australians sometimes refer to people displaying dopey behaviour as ‘silly galahs’). I disagree; but that’s only because I love them. They are appealing birds with white heads, pink breasts and grey wings and tails. Their crest, when raised, reveals bright pink streaks through the white feathers. They grow to 35 cm in length. My sister refers to them, politically incorrectly, as ‘the little old ladies out to do their shopping’ when she sees them nibbling at the seed heads of grasses. They flock but form pairs, and it’s believed they (like most parrots) mate for life. I vividly recall one incident when we saw one hit by a car and, as it lay motionless on the road, its mate wandered up to it, head on one side.

The pale headed rosella, or blue-cheeked rosella, in the photo above, (Platycercus adscitus―sub-species palliceps) is my favourite. They are shy, retiring and enchanting. Their colouring is a delight. Palest blue through to deep azure/royal, and yellow like primroses, and they sport a bright red patch under their tails. They too visit our bird bath to drink, though―unlike the cheeky sulphur-crested cockatoos―will fly away at the slightest noise or disturbance. Their call is not intrusive or raucous. They love water and we are lucky enough to have a dam and creeks nearby, so are almost assured of their presence. They eat grass and tree seeds and fruits, and are particularly partial to the Scotch thistle, an introduced weed.

Smaller still is one of the most beautiful of the parrot species: the extrovert rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus). These birds can grow to 30cm and, as their name indicates, display all the colours of the rainbow. Their heads are a deep purply-blue, they have a yellow band across the back of their necks, their backs and long tails are the brightest green and their breasts are red-orange-yellow, with an abrupt stop to the colour; their undersides are the same lovely blue as their heads. I learned recently that they used to be migratory and travelled up and down the eastern coast of Australia, but they have adapted to suburbia so well―where there is constant food of blossoms―that they no longer have to travel such long distances. To see and hear them fighting and feeding on nectar in the tops of the tall gums is one of the delights of living here. They are feisty and loud and cheeky and overbearing―great characters!

The scaly-breasted lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus) is the smallest of our locals―it can grow up to 23 cm. They are like the poor relations of the rainbow lorikeets as their plumage, although beautiful many-shaded greens interspersed with yellows, is not nearly as spectacular. The ‘scaly’ refers to the pattern of green and yellow feathers on their breasts. They also sport this feature on the tops of their wings. They are as noisy as their rainbow cousins and also feed on nectar.

Come and visit Australia and see them for yourself; but should you fancy a parrot as a pet (I can’t understand why anyone would want to cage a bird) please find one that has its papers in order. There is a lucrative illegal trade from Australia to other parts of the world, and images of drugged and dead birds crammed into suitcases and postal packages are distressing and completely unnecessary. We all need to do our bit to stop the perpetrators of these crimes.


Margie Riley