Saturday, February 5, 2011



On the lawn at “Cooee”, one of New South Wales’s premier sheep stations, when the heat is intense and the sprinkler has been turned on to water the grass, parrots love nothing more than drenching themselves in the spray’s flying droplets. Lightheaded with the pleasure of the cool water, they lose all vestige of normal parrot behavior and start doing back flips on the wet grass.

The birds of Australia are an amusing and sometimes interesting bunch. Apostle birds, large and black with occasional white markings, fly in flocks of 12 – hence the name. Only one pair in the flock of 12 will mate.

Sulphur crested cockatoo
I watched a snowy sulphur-crested cockatoo – another of the ‘stupid’ birds – while out on an evening walk in the Blue Mountains. Our guide’s words, “Those birds are not too bright. They can be taught to speak, but they sometimes fly upside down, suddenly plummet from a great height, or occasionally they fall off branches.” As we watched, a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos swooped and dived in the darkening canyon. Separating from its companions, one bird alighted on a spindly branch overhanging the canyon. Then, without warning or reason, it toppled over sideways and dropped for a good distance before seemingly gaining control and flying off.

The stupid behavior of the Australian Gallah on the other hand is counteracted by its beauty. With a pale pink head and raincloud grey plumage, a flight of Gallahs has the pastel subtlety of a cloud in the early morning. But gorging is their downfall. A field of wheat is an irresistible temptation for these birds, leaving them unable to fly.

The vultures of South Africa exhibit an equally greedy behavior. They also gorge until waddling along is their only means of motivation. When their meal is finally done, they inevitably have to vomit so that they’re able to fly.

My husband James tells of his own first-hand experience of such an occasion. When working as a game warden in Africa he was responsible for tagging vultures. On this particular occasion, the group were having trouble catching the fleeing vultures after they had swallowed a heavy meal and James threw his bush hat over the head of one lumbering male. Within seconds the startled bird vomited pounds of putrefying flesh into his bush hat. Much lightened, the bird hopped away and took off leaving James shaking the stinking contents out of his hat.

Because of the intense heat, the hat was promptly placed back on his head, leaving him for a lengthy period, persona non grata among his companions.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on February 5th


At February 5, 2011 at 5:18 PM , Blogger nicola said...

Fascinating bird stories Anne - and what beautiful colours!


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