Perhaps, I should’ve tossed my research hat out the window, when we arrived in Byron Bay. That way, I could appreciate a pretty photo for what it is without having to research everything I see to the nth degree. Clearly, I ask too many questions and if I were a less complicated soul, I could’ve simply posted these bird photos without any explanation at all. Not even a name.
Consequently, what started out as brief snapshots of some of the birds we encountered around Byron Bay, has expanded into something much more complex and I must admit I’ve learned quite a lot myself along the way. After all, I take my role at Beyond the Flow as Australian tour guide seriously. I not only want you to see what I saw. I also wanted to share some local, lived insights which you won’t find in a more scientific account of my stunning feathered friends. These photos were taken in my in-laws’ backyard and at the Macadamia Castle, which has a bird aviary. It’s not quite the same as seeing them in the wild, but it does make it easier to get a good photograph. Yet, as much as I love photography, I’d naturally prefer all birds to fly free.
So welcome to the cast:
Although this guy lives at the Macadamia Castle, sulfur-crested cockatoos are very common in the wild where we live on the NSW Central Coast and in Sydney. You can’t appreciate these crazy characters from a simple photograph. They’ll perch up in the trees or telegraph wires and swoop down kamikaze style across car windscreens and only narrowly escape being hit. They’re absolutely cheeky, and don’t let that gorgeous feathered-face deceive you. They’re very destructive and are renowned for chewing through wood-trim on your house, your balcony, and stripping fruit trees bare. Moreover, behind that beautiful smile, lies an ear-piercing screech. Yet, despite their shenanigans, they still want to be your best friend and crave attention. They seem to love posing for the camera with a huge cheeky grin and you might even get a “Hello”.
When I was a young child about 8 years old, my Dad bought a baby sulfur-crested cockatoo, called Jacko. He initially lived in a cage in the laundry inside where he had the joy of listening to my father’s voice on an old tape recorder. Indeed, it was an old tape recorder then, although I think cassettes were somewhat new at the time. It was 1977. I still remember that old recording and will take it to my grave…”Hello Jacko! Hello Jacko!” Jacko made it outside into the aviary but didn’t stay with us for very long. We were moving house and there seemed to be some kind of “discussion” between my parents. Although we were moving onto five acres, it seems there was no room for Dad’s birds and Jacko went to live with friends. So, not unsurprisingly, sulfur-crested cockatoos have a special place in my heart.
Rainbow Lorikeets are the happiest little birds on earth and on sunset you can here them chirping away drunk on nectar in the trees if you’re lucky…or not depended on your perspective. My friend’s mum planted a red bottlebrush outside his bedroom window and he was woken up by a swarm of rainbow lorikeets at the crack of dawn whenever it was in flower. He was not amused.
The Rainbow Lorikeet isn’t as outgoing or interactive as the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo and seem reasonably gentle. Back in the day when we mere mortals weren’t as educated about looking after wildlife, we’d coat a slice of bread in honey and soak it in water on a plate and put it out in the backyard. The Australian museum refers to such backyard feeding as “artificial feeding stations”, but the birds didn’t mind. That bread and honey was a sure-fire magnet. They loved it.
These galahs were photographed in my in-laws’ backyard, where they had quite a large flock of galahs. Apparently, numbers there have increased lately due to the drought and possibly also the fires. The in-laws have planted bird-attracting plants, but given the drought, have also been putting seed and water out for the birds. It’s been interesting watching the changing cast of characters out at the seed bowl. The galah’s are at the top of the pecking order, and shoo away the doves who sit perched up on the wire above waiting for the galahs to buzz off. There are also some pretty red-breasted finches who have their own seed bowl in the thicket.
Galahs were originally located in arid, inland Australia, and only expanded into their present, vast range in the early- to mid-20th century. The galah’s scientific name is Eolophus roseicapilla. Its holotype was collected in Australia in 1801 by biologists on the Expedition led by France’s Nicolas Baudin and is held in the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, in Paris.
The word galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. In early records it is variously spelt as galar, gillar, gulah, etc. The word is first recorded in the 1850s. The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.
The term “galah” has also entered the Australian vernacular, and is a derogatory term meaning a “loud-mouthed idiot”, “fool”, “clown” and is also use to describe gaudy dress. It has also inspired a number of colloquial idioms: To be “mad as a gumtree full of galahs“ is to be completely crazy. “To make a proper galah of yourself” is to make a complete fool of yourself. A “pack of galahs” is a group of contemptibly idiotic people. If you’re a fan of that great Aussie TV export Home and Away, you might’ve heard Alf Stewart complain: “Ya flamin’ galah”, which means you’re a complete idiots.
Of course, even these brief snapshots of Australian birds, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the kookaburra, even though it didn’t feature central stage. Indeed, the photo I’ve included here was taken at Pearl Beach round the corner from home where they’re rather partial to stealing sausages (Or snags in the Aussie vernacular) straight off the BBQ without any concern about burning their beaks!! We spotted a few kookaburras while we were on holidays around Byron Bay, but what I remember most was hearing the kookaburras laugh while I was floating on my back at Brunswick Heads watching fluffy white clouds scud across the deep blue sky. There was absolutely no doubt I was in Australia. Indeed, over the years, the sound of kookaburras laughing has been used to create a sense of Australia in movies over the years.
This parrot is living at the Macadamia Castle. Although I’ve occasionally seen them in the wild i.e. my backyard, they’re quite shy and not all that common. Indeed, it’s a real treat to spot one.
Male Australian King-Parrots are the only Australian parrots with a completely red head. Females are similar to males except that they have a completely green head and breast. Both sexes have a red belly and a green back, with green wings and a long green tail. King parrots are normally encountered in pairs or family groups.
We also saw the emus at the Macadamia Castle. I had no idea how the emu originally got it’s name. However, it turns out that ’emu’ isn’t an Aboriginal word. Rather, it might have been derived from an Arabic word for large bird and later adopted by early Portuguese explorers and applied to cassowaries in eastern Indonesia. The term was then transferred to the Emu by early European explorers to Australia.
Emus are a funny-looking flightless bird, which also makes quite a peculiar sound. Not that I’m being judgemental. I haven’t spent a lot of time with emus, although they used to have a few at the Australian Reptile Park up the road from home, and they were savage food thieves. In the wild, packs of emus have been known to decimate farms. I think my grandfather used emu oil to treat his arthritis.
My childhood memories of emus, include a show called: Marty and Emu. It took a bit of detective work to dig that one out of the memory bank. They appeared on a kids’ show called: The Super Flying Fun Show, which was hosted by “Miss Marilyn” Mayo. Of interest to Australians, Darryl Somers appeared later on in the history of the show, and you can see how Hey Hey It’s Saturday with Darryl and Ossie Ostrich evolved from there. It turns out that Rod Hull had appeared with emu on the show before my time and a duplicate emu was made when Hull returned to the UK and continued his performances over there.
Of course, when we’re talking about cultural representations of the emu, you can’t go past John Williamson’s classic: Old Man Emu: