A Bird in the Bush


When I arrived in Australia, I was exhausted from 24 hours of traveling. All that I wanted in this world was to nap, like nobody has ever before napped. I pulled the blinds, fell into bed, and closed my eyes for merciful rest, when I began to hear a couple of small children on the street outside making the strangest noises. It was like they were mocking each other or their parents with high-pitched taunts. “What in the devil kind of neighborhood is this?,” I wondered, as I eventually pried myself out of bed, without having slept a moment.

It turns out that noise that could wake the nearly-dead was no pack of wandering minstrel infants. It was the Australian Raven, and my first introduction to the strange and noisy world of the birds of Sydney. The Australian Raven is this large black bird, the one who emits the rude, nap-ruining noises. Get ready for it, if you dare.


I soon discovered that these canard choristers were only one part of the chorus that performs daily outside our window.

Singing soprano is the Australian Magpie, who sounds like this (you may want to send any dogs out of the room, should you choose to listen to this high-pitched aria).


I’ve always had affection for magpies, with there famous hooliganism and thievery, like characters from a Dickens novel. These magpies are quite a bit larger than any of their North American brethren I’ve come across.

The Prima Donna of the avian aggregate is none other than the stunning Sulpher Crested Cockatoo. At home, a cockatoo is an animal seen only in pet shops, or perhaps caged in the musky living room of some eccentric great-aunt with several cats and a teapot collection. Imagine how very like suacers my eyes became the first time I saw one just sitting in a tree. Then, a few days later, an entire flock of the white and yellow wonders suddenly swooshed out of a tree in front of me. They are as common as can be here, a fact that has not completely sunk in for me, yet. Here is one on our roof:


They are, in fact, rather unpleasant buggers, with an agonizingly shrill call. In his poem, “Terra Australis,” Australian poet James McAuley speaks of the typical cockatoo who, “perched on his limbs, screams with demoniac pain.” In addition to their piercing call, they also tend to look at you with an unsettling tilted-head mix of disinterest and vague malice, like they may just get a sudden whim to peck you senseless with that pointy little beak. I look at them with awe, generally from a safe distance.

Blissfully quiet, by comparison, are the prismatic delights who frequently appear outside our window; the Rainbow Lorikeet. These sweet little baubles prefer the highest branches and never stay in one place for long, flitting around and spreading their fairy dust across the land.


Another sweet little bird I’ve spied while out and about is the grey and red grub-loving Galah. I haven’t seen any in Sydney, but first saw a couple of these adorable partridge-like birds on our trip to Jervis Bay, and obsessively turned my camera on them. When we went to Canberra, there were hordes of Galahs pecking at the ground in every park we passed.


Wandering around parks and anywhere with stray food is the awkward Australian Ibis, who evolution seems to have left behind. They’re actually quite the sad story of a bird who has been forced from its natural habitat due to development. They’ve taken to foraging in landfills and trash cans. It is easy to see from their long, pointy bills that they should be suited for hunting in the ground, but the realities of modern life has reduced them to an even less noble profession. Recently, we visited the Sydney Fish Market, and there they begged, right alongside throngs of persistent seagulls. I recently read that the average life for an Australian Ibis is now only one year because they are so ill-suited for their new reality.


Finally, no Australian post on birds would be complete without a mention of the famous Laughing Kookaburra. Like so many school-children, I grew up singing about the kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree, eating all the gum drops he could see. (Oh, the absurd notions we fill children’s heads with). I truly had no idea what a kookaburra looked like or that it was even a bird. Turns out that they’re funny bobble-headed guys who sound a lot like monkeys. I have not seen one in the wild, but did encounter one at a zoo.


He was, in fact, not eating any gumdrops.


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