March 24, 2013
avian-esque creatures of Australia
Most of the exploring I’ve been doing lately has been in a suburb of Canberra. That’s where I got this Cockatoo photo, but I’ve also done my fair share of walking in Civic (downtown) and some other surrounding suburbs. Aranda has been where I’ve seen some of the most exotic birds. (Exotic for me, typical for Australians.) The cockatoos especially awe me because growing up in the states, I saw them only in cages. They were people’s pets. I’m sure they had clipped wings as well, so they couldn’t fly away (just in case a cage isn’t enough). The one pictured above has a yellow crest but, wonderfully, there are a wide variety of cockatoos around this area. My friend Chelsea likes the Galahs, a pink cockatoo I’ve noticed when riding bikes around Canberra. Usually when I see them there are several, and they are hanging around on the ground like the one pictured below. Thanks to britgow for this
These wild birds flying around, chewing up trees and making lovely bird calls are actually all different types of parrots! I don’t know why this is such a funny realization for me. If you are an American coming to Australia, you will see birds you’ve only occasionally seen in American pet stores, flying happily through the trees. And, if you are anything like me, you will realize your own ignorance as you think “aren’t those the birds that talk?” For whatever reason I’ve been brainwashed to be surprised at parrots in trees, searching for snacks in a field. It’s much more normal for them to be talking to me while sitting on my shoulder. This is insane. I’m ashamed to admit it. After Patrick arrived in Kentucky, I remember his shock when we went downtown one night, and he saw a man walking down the streets of Bowling Green, with a yellow crested cockatoo! Patrick couldn’t believe it. The man was a little drunk and very proud to show off his bird.
I’ve recently learned about an Australian journal called Quarterly Essay, and the most recent edition is fabulous. A woman named Anna Krein has an essay all about animals. It’s called Us & Them: On the Importance of Animals and it includes heaps of thought provoking content on everything from the Indonesia/Australia live cattle-shipping dispute to the question of animal testing. She also has a specific anecdote from her childhood in Melbourne, where she and the other neighborhood children call out “hello” to a flock of cockatoos in the gumtree until one eventually answers back “reluctantly.” Evidently, one of the cockatoos used to be a her friend’s pet. Before he got away, he was taught to greet humans.
Now for some anthropomorphism indulgence: I wonder what the other cockatoos thought about him after that? Maybe he was an outcast, or maybe they thought he could be useful to the flock! I can imagine different cockatoos nudging/clawing at one another at the odd communication. In bird talk they might have exchanged concerns/ideas. Was this speaking bird one of them? Could they use him to their advantage? A sort of… person whisperer?
Thank you Anna Krien for giving me this talking parrot fantasy.
Growing up in Carolina, I didn’t think very much about plights of caged birds, even as a vegetarian. I didn’t eat the chicken, I’d done my good deed for the day. I remember a few different friends had pet birds, and I have a memory of going to the exotic pet stores to help pick out some small finch-type birds. Last year Patrick and I went to Jenolan Caves near Sydney and I saw for the first time, Rosellas! Rosellas are yet another species of parrots that fly freely and act like all normal robins, sparrows, finches, and other small boring birds you find in the US. Kudos to flickr and stilgherrian for the Rosella picture below
Patrick and I were having lunch outside at the cave cafe, and I looked over at the empty table next to me to see the most beautiful red, blue, and green large bird looking for leftovers, just like any normal pigeon would. (Later I learned that only Western Rosellas have the green tinge, the rest are just red and blue.) That day it amazed me to see such a glorious creature just hunting for crumbs like any other avian-esque animal, and it still does. I suppose it shows my prejudice for brightly colored big birds over obnoxious “rats of the air” as some people call them. And I suppose if I’d lived in Oz all my life it wouldn’t have amazed me as much, but even to this day when I see one of the many parrots flying freely around Canberra, I wonder if I’m dreaming. I just hope I don’t become desensitized to them like I have to many of the birds of America.
Just to be fair, plenty of American bird species do make me pause with awe. I’ll have to dedicate another blog post to hummingbirds and cardinals and yellow finches frolicking in springs (that’s when I like them best).
And, I should add one bird in Australia hasn’t won me over. The swooping magpiekeeps Aussies (including my boyfriend) annoyed due to the way they like to attack innocent people in open fields/public spaces. Cyclists in Canberra even wear their helmets with wild protruding plastic bendy pieces to keep the black and white feathery foes at bay.