Pestered By Parrots


Karen Radford Treanor 

 

Copyright 2016  by Karen Radford Treanor


Photo of a parrot eating fruit.

Native Australians will probably never understand what an amazing experience having wild parrots in one's yard is for immigrants from places such as New England. If the most colourful thing you ever saw was a blue jay, the sight of a pair of western rosellas in red, blue, green and yellow is staggering.

I had been dragooned into bird-watching by my mother at an early age, and spent many a damp spring day in Massachusetts doing Audubon surveys with her, but nothing had prepared me for the colour and diversity of Australian bird life, particularly the parrots.

My first book purchase after moving to the hills above Perth was Simpson and Day's "Guide to the Birds of Australia". During our first year here, you could find me at least once a week out in the yard with my son's fifteen pound binoculars waveringly focussed on a tree and the bird book propped open on the trunk of the car.

Magpies were easy enough to identify, and I think I can be forgiven for confusing our native ravens with crows, but some of the other birds weren't as simple. There must be hundreds of honey eaters, many of them only differentiated by a few millimetres in length or a tinge of colour. Locating the bird with the binoculars and then trying to identify it from among 35 similar birds illustrated in the book was very challenging. But it was the parrots that proved hardest to pin down.

It still amazes me that a creature wearing a something right out of a 1970's dress designer's colour chart can disappear from sight in the few seconds it takes you to focus the binoculars. How could something bright blue, green, red and yellow blend into a bluegum tree without a trace? How could a bird with a call as obvious as a foghorn not be spottable when you're out there with 50 power binoculars, sweeping the treetops?

Once I finally got a bird in my sights, the bird book was helpful, but only to a point. It did not explain bird behaviour. For instance, no bird book I've read explained why Port Lincoln parrots sit on the side of the road, usually with their tails towards the traffic. What are they doing there? Are they employed by the Main Roads Department to count vehicles?

And why do pink and gray Galahs walk so much when they have perfectly good wings? And when they do choose to use their wings, why do they like to fly only a few feet above the ground, often in mobs of eight or ten or more?

Another question is why black cockatoos like to drop gum nuts on garden sheds. My husband's theory is they like the noise makes. I think it's because they're a bunch of butter-claws and can't hold onto their lunch. Whatever the reason, it really gets your attention when you're trying to find your secateurs and the cockies start bombing the metal shed without warning.

When we bought our house it had a small orchard, including a bronze-heart plum tree. In 20 years I never had a piece of fruit from that tree that hadn't already been sampled by someone with a big hooked beak. If only they'd eat all of one plum, but no; they have to sample each one, in case the next one is better than the one they already have. I can see why farmers hate the entire psittacasine tribe.

The ultimate insult came the year when the loquat tree I had grown from a seed and planted in the front yard finally bore flowers and set fruit, after some ten years of nurturing. For weeks I watched the green bumps grow and change slowly to yellow.

One day I thought the fruit must now be ripe and ready to pick, so off I went with a colander to collect it. There had been some twelve bunches of fruit, each with six to ten individual pieces. Humming a cheerful tune I headed for the tree. As I approached, the tree seemed to explode. Not one, not two, but five, count them, five green Port Lincoln parrots burst from the foliage with the hysterical whickering cry that identifies them. I pawed through the branches and found one fruit cluster after another stripped clean. At last I found six or seven fruits the parrots had ignored as being inferior quality. I carried them back to the house, rattling forlornly in the colander.

Then I got on the Internet and started searching for shot-gun sellers. No, only kidding: I got on the phone and rang Nurserymen's Supply to order a couple of fruit nets for the coming season. Wild parrots are part of the charm of life in the Hills, but I draw the line at providing free lunch from my cherished loquat. Let them eat gumnuts!

Footnote: In 2014 we moved across Australia to Tasmania, and left the colourful parrots behind. Or so we thought. It wasn’t long before a whole new tribe of black cockatoos moved into our yard and began destroying any tree that bore nuts of any sort while screaming imprecations at the tops of their lungs. And when they moved on, their fell work done, a family of green rosellas settled in, assuring us of never having a plum or apple or lemon that hadn’t been pre-tasted by a sharp beak. There are several local tradesmen who specialise in building wire net cages for fruit growers; we are in negotiations at this moment.

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