I was at the Yarra Bend Golf course when I first saw them. Actually, in my experience you always hear a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo before you see it.
The prehistoric cry rings out, like something from Jurassic park. I rush to the nearest window or out to the yard like a kid to the Mr. Whippy van. My cockatoos are coming! My cockatoos.
A quick scan of the sky and eventually you will spot them. Their bodies seem almost too heavy to be airborne, sinking towards the ground before each wing beat hoists them back up. Impossibly large black shapes, bobbing across the sky.
It used to be called the Funeral Cockatoo (hence it’s scientific name Calytorhynchus funerus). But to me that seems at odds with it’s larakin nature and cheery yellow cheeks.
They’re nomads, roaming about the landscape in search of tasty treats. So keeping in touch is really important. As a flock flies close overhead you can hear the quiet chatter between neighbours. Every now and then the conversation is interrupted with that piercing cry – a ‘contact call’ to groups that are further away.
Cockatoos never seem to flock in any kind of orderly fashion. There’s no regimental ‘V’. No distinctive ball moving as if with one mind. To me it seems like chaos, but that’s probably because I’m not a cockatoo.
Like all cockatoos that I’ve met, the Yellow-tailed Blacks crave mischief. It’s what makes them so fun to watch. They’re boisterous. Maybe a little obnoxious. And, when it comes to feeding, bad-mannered and completely unapologetic. They love tearing apart a pine cone and littering the remains over a perfectly manicured golf green. In the other areas they feed on wood-boring grubs and the seeds of native trees and shrubs – making just as much mess, but upsetting fewer golfers.
And, like many of our native animals, they depend on big old trees. Eucalypts need to be more than 100 years old before they even start to form the gnarled, rotted hollows that eventually make such cosy, warm nesting places for wildlife. These ancient trees often have trunks more than two metres wide (making them exceptionally difficult to hug, if you are so inclined). Not a lot of those in the middle of the city. So the cockatoos must head elsewhere to raise young.
A few days ago a saw a large flock bouncing across the sky – the largest I’d seen in a while. A spectacular cloud of yellow tails, heavy wing-beats and chatter. Then it dawned on me that my Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo season might be over. Sadly, the time had come for them to leave my little corner of Geelong in search of adventures elsewhere. I’m never sure where they go, but I know that in the warmer months my cockatoos will return. Large and loud and completely without propriety.
In the mean time, maybe they’re on their way to visit you. They seem to particularly like visiting Melbourne’s northern suburbs, especially since the Black Saturday fires took out so much of their habitat. Keep an eye out for them in city gardens, golf courses or wherever they can gnaw on a good pine cone. If you think you’ve heard a pterodactyl, look up.
Spotted some in your neighbourhood? Let me know in the comments below!