You can imagine how happy we were as children in 1948 when our father Eric returned home one evening with a white sulphur-crested cockatoo.
One of the farmers had found the bird on his property, and as it was obvious the young bird was unable to fly took it home to look after. Not having much to do of an evening the farmer spent considerable time with the bird trying to teach it to talk. He named it Joe. But life changed for the farmer and he found himself unable to care for his new friend. I’m not sure how the transaction took place, but Joe found a new home with us.
The farmer had done his job well, and Joe came with a reasonable vocabulary by the time we inherited him. He had his favorite phrases and would regale us with these on a constant mind numbing basis. “Cocky want a cor-un!” was one of his favorite expressions in creative English. Second on the hit parade would have to be “Cocky want a skratcch.” This would be accompanied by a raised leg in the form of a parrot salute and a wise inclination of the head bunching out feathers to receive the human scratch finger. Parrots groom each other in the bush, and humans are a poor substitute, but Joe tolerated our fumbling attempts to groom him.
Because of our belief Joe was incapable of flying we would let him loose on the lawn when we were out playing games. He would enjoy troubling the cat and would lunge for our toes as we sped by playing games. But one day Joe decided to give flying a go and deposited himself up high in one of our macadamia trees. There he remained for a few days while Eric tried every trick in the book to coax him down. It was obvious Joe was overwhelmed by his experience and refused to budge from his perch on high. We were worried he’d starve or die of dehydration. Eventually Eric managed a precarious hold on the upper branches sufficient for Joe to transfer to his shoulder and enjoy the elevator ride down to basement level. Eric received a playful nip or two on the ear as he negotiated down out of the tree. A parrot love bite can be quite painful!
It was then decided Joe needed some kind of restraint to prevent a repeat potential disaster. A wooden cage with chicken wire front was constructed giving Joe spacious accommodation. Joe was extremely grateful and destroyed this structure in one week. It was patched many times before a better solution presented itself.
For some reason Joe loved to persecute me. Knowing how the noise irritated me he would save his most violent screeches for when I was nearby. If I was within range he’d delight in giving me a bite or two followed by a fiendish human laugh imitation.
But my sister Jan was the love of his life. She’d get into his cage with him, and if he was considered by her to be out of line he’d receive a light spank from this baby girl. Joe would shriek, but never bite Jan.
When the wooden cage idea was finally laid to rest because of its impracticality, Joe was presented with a steel mesh home with lots of wooden perches to sit on and occasionally eat. The cage was raised off the ground to a respectable height allowing Joe to converse with us on an eyeball to eyeball level. He loved this house as it allowed him freedom to protrude several inches outside the cage and watch the world go by. It also gave him the freedom to dart his head out and eyeball me as I went past. This was accompanied by his usual irritating screech, reserved almost exclusively for me.
With time on his hands during the day Joe perfected a neat trick which he’d like to demonstrate to anyone visiting. We kept free range hens for their eggs. Joe learned to imitate chicken sounds very accurately. He’d drop corn through the bottom of the cage and put out the “hey girls, its feed time “call. The hens would look up; sight the corn being rained through the bottom of the cage like blessings from heaven and head for the feast squawking excitedly. When he had them all assembled under the cage eating greedily he’d let out an almighty screech and send them clucking in alarm in all directions. This game would be played over and over until Joe tired of it, and those pea brained hens never learned their lesson.
Another of Joe’s tricks that comes to mind was his clever impersonation of my Mother Maud and our next door neighbor Molly. Joe had noticed that either of them would call the other and they’d come out to chew the fat over the fence for a while each day. One day an alarmed Molly came to the front door of our house to enquire if everything was alright. “You called Maud, and when I came out to talk you weren’t around, but I could still hear you calling my name. I thought you may be in trouble?”
Well this went on for some time with each neighbor wondering if the other had developed a mental condition. Then Mother Maud caught Joe red handed. He was doing the calling, and exactly imitating the voice of each of the women. What a rascal he was!
There are some things you remember from childhood that are treasured memories never to be forgotten. While Joe did love to irritate me how could I resist him when he hopped over to the side of the cage and whispered in conspirator tones, “Cocky want a skratcch!” He was one of those rascals you just had to respond to and love.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011. All rights reserved”
Information on the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Joe was a large white sulphur-crested Cockatoo with a yellow crest. Male cockatoos have black eyes, and females ruby-red. They usually travel in noisy flocks showing yellow underwing linings in flight. They have a loud raucous screech. You will find their nests in the hollow of a eucalypt or baobab tree, or occasionally in the cliffs of the Carnarvan Gorge, Queensland. The females lay 2-3 white eggs. The sulphur-crested Cockatoo is common in eastern, western and northern Australia.