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Cockatoos' love story

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

My dearest Valentine

Julius Bergh, of Nerang, on Queensland's Gold Coast, wasn't surprised when he heard a BBC Wildlife report that "the finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short."

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, is reported to have a vocabulary of 950 words, and to show signs of a sense of humour.

Julius has written what may well be the world's most appealing picture-story, with dozens of amazing photographs, about a flock of intelligent sulphur-crested cockatoos living in his tropical garden, only a few miles from the late Steve Irwin's world-famous Australian Zoo.

We asked Julius for permission to copy a photograph and text from his website. He agreed, and told us:

It is indeed a good news story at a time where there is so much bad news. As one person put it: "A beautiful love story about a cockatoo with only one wing and her prince in shining feathers who fell in love and asked for her wing in marriage". People just passed it on from person to person sharing the good cheer.

These birds are so intelligent that if someone calls me "bird-brained" I say "Thank you".

After I uploaded the story of the cockatoo family in our back yard, I emailed a few friends and family who passed it on to others, who passed it on to yet others.

Within a few days the website was visited by thousands of people from all over the world. At first we were amazed by the overwhelming response, but if you think about it, love, loyalty and parenting are universal values.

I receive emails from the USA, Britain, Holland, Mozambique, Denmark... the list goes on. A paper in Western Australia wants to publish the story; there are forums in the Web discussing it, and I made contact with many friends with feathers in their souls.

We did not start out to write a story. The story wrote itself, or more accurately, the cockies wrote it and I passed it on to a few friends but it looks like we will have to take it seriously now. A book publisher has approached me so we will have to wait and see what transpires.

The vet that gave us the Cockie actually started working at Steve Irwin's Zoo about five years after we got the one-winged cockie.

It is good to know you appreciated the story and pictures. Dad and Junior are flying all over the place leaving Mother behind. She does not have a mobile phone so she just screeches with an almighty sound and they come home. Pretty much like my mother did.

Cockatoos mate for life so hopefully the story continues.

Here is the cockies' love story, which Julius has kindly allowed us to retell in his words (but it's far better to see it fully illustrated on his website - see link below).

About eight years ago a wild Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flew into a car and broke its wing. The motorist took it to the vet in Nerang, who had to amputate the wing. We adopted her - for which we needed a National Parks and Wildlife permit - and kept her in a cage outside where she was often visited by wild Cockatoos. One of the things that impressed us was how she would push lettuce leaves through the bars of the cage, offering food to visitors.

Last Sunday she again had a visitor. As usual he spent a lot of time sitting on the cage with a tamper proof latch. There was a lot of talking and grooming. A bloke has to look presentable when courting a bird!

Things got interesting when he approached the front door. . .The clever fellow figured out how to undo the tamper proof latch!

He opened the door for a lot of mutual grooming and food sharing...Oooh, that's nice! Scratch a bit more on that side, dear...

At first it seemed as though he was annoyed because she did not fly off with him and he would squawk a lot. He soon came to understand that she could not fly so he just stayed.

However, she was no longer returning to her cage. The two of them would stay in the trees in our garden and because the yard is well fenced, they were safe from dogs, but the neighbour's cat is not kept indoors at night and we often have to chase it away. Chances are the cat would come off second best in a confrontation with a cockatoo, but at night cats remain a danger because they could stalk a sleeping bird on the ground.

Cockatoos make their nests in hollow logs but we noticed the male hard at work digging a hole under a clump of Lilly Pilly trees.

We put down a hollow log for them but they just ignored us. The nest he dug was a hole with a short tunnel leading off to where she laid her eggs.

Once there were eggs in the nest, the male became extremely aggressive. You better not get near the nest or he will take chunks of flesh from your foot. It was difficult to take these pictures because I literally had to steal them while running away from the male.

We kept a vigil to see how things were progressing. They took turns incubating the eggs and covering the tunnel. After about three weeks, the eggs hatched...

Whenever Mum and Dad Cockatoo leave the nest, we try to get a look but you have to do it while running because Dad Cockatoo is chasing you!

Julius's latest venture was to issue a series of attractive e-cards for Valentines Day.

Let's hope that his next move will be to install a webcam, so that the world's millions of bird lovers can watch those amazing cockies - live! A few years ago, the Brisbane (Queensland) daily newspaper The Courier-Mail attracted worldwide attention when it set up a webcam showing the day-to-day activities of a family of peregrine falcons.

A webcam showing Julian's intelligent cockies would be a sure-fire winner. Passionate parrots are even more interesting than peregrine falcons!

Links
* An edited version of this story was posted by OhmyNewsInternational.

Story first posted March 2007

Copyright 2007

Eric Shackle

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