Sydney’s old crock of a cockie was a legend at 120

SMH. Cocky Bennett was one of Sydney’s legendary characters.

The sulphur-crested cockatoo died in 1916 at the ripe old age of 120 … the longest-living Australian parrot on record. He lived at the Sea Breeze Hotel at Tom Uglys Point, Blakehurst, and was known for his “patter”

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A legend who apparently lived to 120….Cocky Bennett: Photo: Sutherland Shire Libraries.

The Herald’s 1916 tribute to Cocky Bennett.

His turns of phrase included “one feather more and I’ll fly” – a threat apparently unrealised as he was almost featherless in the last 20 years of his life – and “one at a time, gentlemen, please” when he was harassed by other birds.

His long beak and lack of feathers were likely due to the psittacine beak and feather disease, Sydney vet Dr Alex Rosenwax said.

Cocky was exceptional but cockatoos live long lives, up to 80 years.

They tend to be:

– loyal to their life-long mating partners, although some do get “divorced”;

– as intelligent as toddlers;

– mischievous (they like divebombing cars);

– fond of timber, particularly wooden balcony rails;

– the loudest of all parrots.

Mating habits

Cockatoos pair up in their first year and are monogamous until death, unless injury or disease separates them, or they “divorce”, avian expert Ross Perry said.

Sometimes a “divorce” happens when the birds fight and no longer want to be together, he said.

“The male birds can be very impatient with the females. We do see fights occasionally, generally if they are in captivity.”

But by and large, the cockatoos stay with the same partner for life, and court through mutual preening.

The male cockatoo also woos a female with food gifts, Dr Perry said.

Cockatoos become sexually mature by five, and share egg nursing, taking turns to keep eggs warm.

Two or three eggs are produced each breeding season and are incubated by both parents over 27 to 28 days. The chicks have a pipping time of between 36 to 48 hours, meaning they take between 1½ and two days to crack out of their egg shells, Dr Perry said.


Breeds in Australia include sulphur-crested cockatoos, gang-gang cockatoos, little corellas and long-billed corellas.

Dr Perry has watched the rise of the cockatoo population in NSW since the late 1960s, and said that, today, even little corellas and long-billed corellas – which are not indigenous to the Sydney region – could now been seen in free-flying flocks of up to 50 or 100 birds.

While there are no exact figures, Birds Australia’s Dr Holly Parsons said there was a 40 per cent increase in cockatoo sightings in 2010-11 and a 22 per cent increase the year before.

Cockatoos adapt to city living very well, Dr Perry said.

“There are breeding colonies around Narrabeen Lake in the reserve, there’s more in Oxford Falls in the reserve there, and in Garigal and Ku-ring-gai national parks.

“Similarly, you see the birds playing on the power lines in Warringah Road for instance, at the top of the hill at Forestville.

“The birds swoop on the cars and are playful, but ever so often one of them misjudges and hits the car and gets wiped out.

“And if you give them problems to solve, they are very good at solving problems.”

Dr Perry believed the population boom was also the result of cockatoos escaping or being released after being bought as pets, and from what he believed was a deliberate release of trapped wild cockatoos by a bird trapper – a rumour that has swirled around in the bird-watching community since the 1970s and ’80s.

Favourite foods

Cockatoos like fruit and seeds and feed on berries, nuts and roots.

In Sydney’s urban environment, they have adapted to eating non-native foods, Dr Perry said.

These include feeding on cotoneaster berries when they are ripe or nearly ripe, liquid amber trees when they are nearly ripe and Norfolk Island pine cones.

“I’ve seen them eating oleander seed pods, which surprised me,” he said. “They’ve adapted to finding food in the treetops, in low shrubs, in pasture and low ground … if they need insects, they strip bark off some trees and get the insects underneath the bark.”

When the cockatoos feed in the wild, they do it in numbers. Hundreds of them fly together and, when the flock is feeding, a few of the cockatoos act like sentinels at the edge of the feeding area, looking out for any dangers, Dr Perry said.

Cockatoos also seem to communicate quickly and, if there is a regular feeding area, Dr Perry said word spreads like wildfire and soon the parrot numbers jump.

He noted diseased birds in the flock make it a point to arrive before the rest of the flock when they are feeding, and are the last to leave, so that they get to eat before and after the fitter cockatoos feed.

Love of timber

Cockatoos’ pecking at timber, including deck-wrecking, is probably to keep their beaks healthy, Dr Perry said.

Wild cockatoos are aggressive and last year the National Parks and Wildlife Service issued permits to allow culling of cockatoos that were reportedly damaging some Broadway apartments.

Dr Perry believes up to 50 per cent of young cockatoos die before they reach sexual maturity from a common viral disease called psittacine beak and feather. He said the disease, which is linked to the circovirus infection, is widespread in cockatoos, corellas, galahs, rainbow lorikeets and other parrots and takes a heavy toll on them.

Fast facts

* Native to Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

* Like to nest in hollows of trees.

* Pet cockatoos might develop noisy habits if not given enough attention.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/sydneys-old-crock-of-a-cockie-was-a-legend-at-120-20110831-1jkz2.html#ixzz1X3lJEJhp

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