Saturday, May 31, 2008

sky wars


Have I mentioned that there are wild parrots everywhere? Lorikeets, galahs, and cockatoos are the most common. While the bright pink doe-eyed galas do strike a chord with my inner 4-year-old girl, the mischievous “cockies” have quickly become my favorite.

I’m proud to say I can now identify its call in ‘the wild.’ Not hard, as it’s similar in volume and tone to a three-year-old child sneaking up to you while you’re napping and delightedly yelling “blah!” as loud as s/he can. For instance, I was walking peacefully along Flinders St in the center of Melbourne early in the morning a few days ago when I was shocked to have my eardrums just about blasted out with a gleeful “GRAWK!” about two feet from my head. “Cockatoo,” my ringing naturalist’s ears proudly identified. Glancing around to find the offender, I spied a yellow-crested head peeking around the corner of the awning nearby. When it saw that I’d spotted it, it bobbed and burbled, went to the next awning that I was to walk under, and waited. Deciding to play along, I walked under it, and was gifted with another gleeful “GRAWK!” from a very proud bird. We kept this up for a while, it sometimes swinging upside down on the edge of the awning to check on my progress. When we reached the end of the awnings, it flapped to the decorative 1900s Art Nouveau metal fa├žade above, cocked its head, peered at me sideways, and then delicately began tearing the metal off the building.

These destructive and prankster tendencies have not enamored the city officials to the birds. In addition to their age-old campaign to gnaw the bark off of all city plantings, the big cockatoo fad these days is chewing the expensive little light bulbs that cover the iconic Melbourne Arts Centre spire. While a few have lauded the birds for joining the fight against global warming, the city has not seen this campaign in a positive light, and have brought in the Green Berets of the bird world: Bibi the peregrine falcon and Zorro the giant wedge-tailed eagle. They are supposedly tethered to the top of the spire to discourage, not eat, the cockatoos. However, from our excellent 9th-floor vantage point, Petra and I noticed a sudden and unusual pigeon diaspora yesterday morning. What looked like the entire winged population of central Melbourne was beating a swift northwesterly retreat. Not long after, a falcon (complete with loose jesses and tether) zoomed by. I imagine that pigeons would be much easier prey than feisty cockatoos to a suddenly-freed falcon.

No reports of feathered casualties in the papers this morning, but I think I may go check on my awning friend. Hopefully s/he’s still around to continue the campaign against decorative metal bits.