Just before the COVID shutters came down in March, I was walking in the Burrewarra Point reserve at Guerilla Bay when I saw a black cockatoo. It flew into some nearby undergrowth, but flew off before I could get a clear view of it. I then followed in the same direction and before long I saw what looked like an orange flare in a casuarina tree.
I’m not very familiar with black cockatoos, and at first I thought it might be a red-tailed black-cockatoo. However, a later check confirmed that she was a female Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), as evidenced by the irregular yellow patches on her head. As she groomed her tail feathers, another cockatoo’s head appeared behind her.
In fact, when I counted the tails, there were three of them.
I edged a little closer, and watched for a while as the nearest one continued to groom her feathers.
I realised I wasn’t going to see much of the other two cockatoos unless I moved to another position, but this was tricky as their tree was surrounded by bush. Fortunately, there was a clear area on the other side so I very slowly walked around the tree. I now had the sun behind me and to my left (it was about 5 pm), and the other two birds were visible:
From their black heads and the absence of any crest, I judged that the other two were juveniles. They perched peacefully for a while, and then one of them began to make whinging noises, perhaps hoping its mother would feed it. But she must have read the right parenting manuals, as she completely ignored the begging.
Eventually, the younger bird realised that its Mama wasn't going to wait on it, so it used its feet and beak to clamber to where there were some casuarina nuts.
It took 19 seconds—by my camera time—for it to reach the nuts:
It immediately set about opening up a nut, using its powerful nutcracker beak:
Like most cockatoos, it used its left claw to hold the nut while manoeuvring it in its bill:
It then used its tongue to help ease the edible bits out of the nut.
There was a steady rain of discarded nutshell pieces (see previous photo) as it worked its way through the nut:
The female watched it, presumably thinking ‘That wasn’t so hard after all, was it?’
The first nut demolished, the juvenile moved on to another one:
By then, it was getting late so I left them to it.
At the time, I thought I was lucky to see these birds. I realised just how lucky later when I read that Glossy Black-Cockatoos are classified by Peter Menkhorst as “Rare to uncommon… a species you are unlikely to encounter by chance...” So for me, a happy chance indeed.
The Glossy Black-Cockatoos are the smallest of the black-cockatoos, the same size as a little corella. Despite the “Glossy” appellation, their plumage is mostly a dull black, as shown in the photos. That massive bulbous beak is perfectly adapted to the casuarina or she-oak seeds which form their main diet.
The three birds I saw spent all their time in their tree, perched or feeding quietly, in contrast to their raucous white cousins, the corellas and sulphur-crested cockatoos. Possibly because I was in Guerilla Bay, I was reminded of a zookeeper’s comment after being transferred from the chimpanzees to the gorillas: “They are so wonderfully restful!”
I certainly enjoyed my time with these gentle birds.