On the shortest day of the year, we finally encountered our longest longed-for bird: the beautiful, shy, elusive Gang-gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum). They were as enchanting and charming as we have always heard they would be! No apologies for the number of photos…
Walking along Station St, Medlow Bath (a fire-trail really) on a cold, wet Winter Solstice morning, we saw some mid-sized Cockatoos being pursued by cranky Wattle Birds. Their size, and their jerky, jinking flight had us momentarily thinking they were Glossy Blacks, but as soon as they alighted, the shining vermillion was unmistakable!
The voice of the Gang-gang is also unmistakable. They are relatively quiet and subdued (for a cockatoo), and their soft muttering has been variously described as “a creaky gate”, or even more accurately as resembling the squeak of a corkscrew winding through a cork.
Arguably, the most distinctive thing about these already distinctive cockatoos is their unique, almost wispy crest:
While their range extends across the hinterlands of Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, there is something quintessentially Blue Mountains about these birds. In the days when Brad lived in Katoomba, there was a great restaurant/bar called Gang Gangs in Gang Gang Street, and they are still sometimes spotted in Kingsford Smith Park right across the road from where the restaurant was.
The females lack the vermillion heads, and are generally an all-over mid-grey. The female we saw seemed rather darker than we expected. Was she a younger female? Or was her plumage just darker because it was wet?
A third bird was a little further off, and while he ventured closer to the ground, he also kept himself in heavy shadow – so not many great pictures. Because his head seemed a little less vibrant, we took this guy to be a juvenile.
Gang-gangs lay 1 to 3 eggs, which are incubated for about 30 days. Monogamous pairs share nest building, incubation and feeding of the chicks.
It’s usually a mistake to anthropomorphize animals, but the Gang-gangs looked happy, coy, and placid – bright-eyed and almost smiling – if that’s possible. They seem to be calm and approachable when they are feeding. We got the impression they knew they were far enough down the overgrown, wet, slippery slope to be pretty safe from lumbering humans.
The male got his feathers in order with an indulgent preening session:
Sadly, the Gang-gang is listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales. Habitat destruction has led to more competition for nesting hollows, even in the Blue Mountains. An increase in the number of larger Sulphur-crested Cockatoos might have something to do with this. We certainly felt privileged to see these three in the wild.