An Encounter with a Cockatoo

cockatoo-fallBy Joseph Welklin

Kreeeee! Kreeee-laa!

“Wait there it is again! There are two! But where? Oh shoot… it’s right… there…”

Those were my thoughts when I stumbled upon the bird. A huge female was perched on the tree just ahead of me, directly in my path. And for once, I had my camera with me!

Depending on where you live, if you’re interested in wildlife you probably have a set of common species that you see fairly often. Then there are those species that only show up at certain times of the year, but the biggest thrills come from those animals that you’ve only heard rumors of or maybe seen or heard from a distance, but never had an up-close encounter with.

For me, that species was the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus). I do field work in Australia, which means four to five months out of the year I get to go chase birds around the Australian woodlands and savannahs. Just like at my bird feeders back in New York, there are species we see almost every day when we’re in the field, but there are others that we rarely observe. The cockatoos live in our area but they’re extremely unpredictable. Most often we hear their far-reaching calls long before we see them, if we see them at all. But when we do it’s quite the special occasion. Floating through the air on giant out-stretched wings, they flap so slowly it doesn’t even look like they’re trying to fly. When a group flies over, their splitting cries almost force you to look up and appreciate their beauty. They’re so large they remind of us of times long past when pterodactyls used to be kings of the skies. Getting a photo, or even better, a video of these birds was high on my to-do list.

But finding them while I had my camera was proving to be a tough endeavor. I had rarely if ever seen them low to the ground, then one day while walking a track through the forest I looked up and there was a pair pretty close to me. One would generally expect a large bird to be perched in large trees, but this pair was hanging onto the sides of small trees and ripping into them with their massive bills as they searched for grubs. Thinking back, I don’t remember if it was the birds calls or the sound of their bills ripping open the trees that first alerted me to their presence. It was that loud. But of course, here they were, in all their glory, but I didn’t have my camera with me. It was an amazing moment, but one I had to capture mentally.

Then finally, a week later, walking through the forest with my camera. Kreeeee! Kreeee-laa!

“Wait there it is again! There are two! But where? Oh shoot… it’s right… there…


Joe studies the social lives of Australian songbirds to better understand the role that social and hormonal mechanisms play in determining which individuals in a species are more successful than others. Find out more about Joe’s research and see more videos and photos at: http://www.josephwelklin.com

Photo and video by Joseph Welklin

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