Anne here, and this time I'm not going to be digging into any history, just a little bit of personal history. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm in the last stages of a book, and don't have time to dig out some historical tale for you. This story was inspired by the photos you see in this blog which were taken by my friend, Cate Ellink — they took me right back to when I was a child, and we had a sulphur-crested cockatoo, just like the one in the photos. (And aren't the photos superb?)
I first met Cocky (he never did get a proper name) when I was a child walking to my primary school in a small country town. He lived on the end of a long chain and frequently hopped back and forth along the long peaked roof of a neighbor's garage, calling out things to passers by, things like "Hello Cocky", and "Hello Pooh!" and dancing up and down, his yellow crest bobbing.
Then one day those neighbors moved, to Melbourne I heard, and Cocky with them, I assumed. Later that week I was wandering with my dog down near the lagoon near where we lived on the outskirts of town, when I heard, "Hello Pooh," from high up in a nearby tree. It was Cocky. The neighbors must have released him into the wild.
Now cockatoos are wild in Australia. They circle in great screeching flocks, or graze quietly on grassy swards, nibbling on grass roots, or perch en masse in gum trees chattering noisily. But a cocky that's been tamed or raised in captivity could never survive in the wild — even at the age of ten, I knew that.
So I whizzed home, grabbed a packet of dry biscuits and headed back down to the tree near the lagoon. It took me the best part of the afternoon, but I coaxed Cocky down from that tree, feeding him bits of biscuits until he consented to step onto my arm. I proudly brought him home.
It turned out that Cocky had a damaged wing and couldn't fly properly. He could launch himself into the air and flap about a bit, but only in circles and not for long. We didn't have a cage at that point, but it soon became clear that Cocky was happy to stay — once he'd taught the dog who was boss. We made a perch, where he'd retire to at night, but other than that he'd prowl around the back yard muttering to himself, nibbling on grass, and exploring. He was very sociable.
A few years later we moved up to a city—not Melbourne but not far away, and of course, we took Cocky with us. But how to transport him? We still hadn't a cage for him. So Dad had the brilliant idea of popping him into the grass-catcher from the lawn mower, and blocking the gap with a copy of Saturday's AGE, a newspaper with thick wads of advertising.
Off we set in the car: me, my parents, the dog and Cocky in the grass catcher. (My older siblings had all left home by this point.) All the while we heard rip, riip, rippp! as Cocky attacked the newspaper. After an hour or so of this we heard a mournful little voice saying, "Hello." And after several more of these sad little greetings, I begged Dad to let me see how Cocky was going. I opened the grass catcher and there was my poor bird, up to his neck in shredded newspaper. He climbed out and for a while sat on my shoulder.
It was dark by then and the lights from on-coming cars kept flashing up to us and then disappearing. Cocky was wildly excited by them. Whenever headlights approached his crest would come up and he'd bob up and down. At one stage he jumped off my shoulder onto the back of Dad's seat, ran down his arm and perched on the steering wheel, where he had a better view. Sadly, Dad wouldn't let him stay there.
As I said, he couldn't really fly, and once we were in the new house, he had a fine old time exploring his new territory. To my surprise, several times when I got home from school, I'd find him on the roof, calling out "Hello pooh!" to passers by. I always managed to coax him back down, but it remained a mystery as to how he got up there in the first place.
The first time it happened, he'd walked from the roof of the house onto the electric wires. It was a weekend and he quickly drew a bit of a crowd. He was showing off mightily, his crest going up and down, dancing and bobbing away and calling out rude things to people. He'd skip along the wire between the poles, look beadily down at all the upturned faces—and then let go.
Everyone gasped, thinking he was going to fall, but no, he hung there upside down, dancing and calling out, enjoying himself no end. Then up he'd get, and a few minutes over he'd go again— such a show-off!
Someone called the fire brigade and they came — they wouldn't today, I'm sure — and put a ladder against the pole where Cocky was currently sitting. He watched interestedly as a man climbed up — I'd asked to go up the ladder and fetch him, but they wouldn't let me. Cocky waited until he was a few feet away, called out "Hello Pooh!" and skipped along the wire onto the next pole, where he did a little triumphal dance.
The men moved the ladder to the next pole, but he did the same thing, only this time stayed between the poles, where he performed a series of tricks — much like these photos.
Eventually the fire brigade gave up — I'd assured them I could get him down. And I did, coaxing him down the telephone wires of a neighbor's house and climbing up their tree to get him.
One day I was home sick in bed, and I saw from my bedroom window how he did it. Down the side of the house we had a row of fruit trees, all with long slender branches —new growth from where they'd been pruned the year before. I watched as Cocky climbed into the tree and went right to the end of one of these long branches. It bent right down — he wasn't a light bird. Then he started to bounce. He bounced and bounced, going higher every time and at just the right moment, he let go and the branch flipped him onto the roof. All without using his wings.
I'd better finish this, but I have many more Cocky tales. He was a magnificent bird, clever and cunning and very naughty. I'm convinced he had a wonderful sense of humor. Cockies are natural clowns. Cate's photos are of a wild cockatoo, but he's performing for an audience, that's for sure. We only had our Cocky for a handful of years, but his memory lives on.
What about you? Did you have a special pet growing up? Tell us about it.