Our cheeky pet cockatoo morphed into a little dictator. Then the war began | Gabrielle Chan


Our cheeky pet cockatoo morphed into a little dictator. Then the war began

Gabrielle Chan

He mustered us like a cattle dog, dive-bombed like a magpie, clamped his jaw around body parts and leered at us through windows. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s The Birds

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'Cocky began acting like a little general, marching around the joint, berating the family for unknown crimes.'

Last modified on Wed 29 Sep 2021 00.04 EDT

He came to us in exchange for a case of beer. A white sulphur-crested cockatoo of indeterminate age but full of chutzpah. He had lived the childhoods of the neighbouring farm kids and now he would entertain us.

That neighbour really saw me coming.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We think Cocky was a boy, though the bird books didn’t really show conclusive evidence. He lived in a large garden shed next to the clothesline.

There, Cocky prattled and screeched his way through the day, keeping me company when the kids were at school. He came with a repertoire. One of his favourite tricks was yelling “Muuuuum”. I would come rushing out the back door to find him bobbing up and down on his perch like a lunatic.

He anticipated the farm shed meeting at 7.30am every morning by doing a pitch-perfect impression of a diesel ute turning over. It heralded my days for many years.

When the kelpie had pups in the run below his perch, he added puppy yelps to his range, and if the kids were getting particularly boisterous, he barked, as if keeping them in line.

I got a bit more cocky myself. That is how it started. I began letting him out a day at a time. Then a couple of days at a time. I imagined a time when he would sit on my shoulder and chat away all day.

Cocky had other ideas. He began acting like a little general, marching around the joint, berating the family for unknown crimes. The farmer found him up at the dogs, holding the kelpies in their kennels like a schoolmaster.

When the kids carried sticks to shoo him away, Cocky would pick up a twig and yell “Ooooooh!” En garde!

Then he started mustering us like a cattle dog. He nipped our heels if we didn’t move fast enough. He tapped on the glass panes of the front door, yelling “MUM”. He stared in at us through windows, flying around the house like a feathery stalker. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Cocky was becoming a little dictator.

I was happy to grant his freedom but the message wasn’t getting through.

I tried to coax him back into his cage but he was having too much fun. That would have been OK because he was relatively benign with me but he did not like the Farmer.

Then the war began. To be fair, Cocky started it. He landed on my husband’s shoulder. The Farmer nonchalantly walked back to the aviary, naively assuming he had this bird in the bag.

As they got closer, Cocky clamped down his jaw on the Farmer’s fleshy earlobe, sending him jumping and flapping as the bird took flight.

Then the tiny predator took to waiting on the gutter above the backdoor, hoping for the Farmer to start the day. His lanky prey took to walking to the shed with a straw broom over his shoulder as protection.

Things were escalating. I imagine wartime London residents used to walk around in a similar manner, glancing into the sky and waiting for the bombings.

It’s funny how you get used to things. There was the Farmer, a grown man on a ride-on mower, swinging a broom around his head as a cockatoo dive-bombed like a psychopathic magpie in spring. Finally, Cocky stood in front of the mower.

Man and bird eyed each other off.

Cocky, with a black-eyed stare, dared the Farmer to run over him. He was taking a stand for boss cocky. It was a scene not unlike tank man in Tiananmen Square.

The Farmer, broom in hand, was weighing up the hurt it would cause a marriage to mash up a white cockatoo compared with the joy of sending his feathers flying once and for all.

Cocky won. The Farmer bowed his head and went around the beady-eyed terrorist. The Farmer got the last laugh though. Cocky was passed down, to an animal-loving couple nearby. His new friend could match Cocky’s high pitch and then some.

From the back door she would yell, “HELLO COCKY!!!” in a voice that carried on the wind. Two weeks in, Cocky flew the coop.

I like to think he got his freedom. But more likely, he is ruling someone else’s roost. I won’t be voting for the sulphur-crested cockatoo.


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