by Steven Armstrong
I had been looking for a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo hen for quite a while to put with my 4-year-old cock bird. He is a lovely big bird, in perfect feather and quite a character in the rain. In April, I heard of a lady in Brisbane wanting to sell a hen that had been working the nest in previous years but had not laid yet. I went down and had a look at the cockatoo and decided to bring her home. I put her in one of those Ansett dog crates lined with news-paper and we headed for home.
We wouldn't have been travelling more than twenty-five minutes when she decided it would be a good idea to eat the newspaper. It was hilarious to hear her shredding the newspaper on the back seat. She made such a mess, but I suppose it helped with the stress of travelling. I put her in quarantine for a couple of weeks and on one sunny Sunday morning I put her in with the cock bird. She was rather timid and took a few days to find her feet and settle down but what was most amazing was that within ten minutes of putting her in, the cock bird was attempting to mount her and after a few failures, he was mating her!
This continued for months, I would see them mate a couple of times a week, especially after I put the nesting facility in for them in August and breeding season was here. This created a lot of interest with both the hen and cock exploring it and trying to pull it to bits. I bought a metal garbage bin, cut a hole in the front at the top, put a piece of one inch galvanised pipe on under the hole for a perch and hung it in the corner of the aviary. I filled the bottom with about six inches of wood chip and within a week, what they hadn't tossed out, was turned into matchstick size pieces of wood. This was towards the end of August and on the 1st September, I topped up the wood chips as you could see the bottom of the bin. Again they chewed this into matchsticks. To my absolute complete surprise on the 7th September, when I looked in to the bin, there in a small depression in the wood chip, in the middle of the bottom of the bin was a single egg. They laid a second egg four days after the first at which time the hen spent all her time sitting on the two eggs. I left her alone for the entire time, not even trying to candle the eggs to see if they were fertile or not.
However, towards the very end of September, and after a bit of research, I thought that if there was anything in them, they must be due soon. Again to my absolute astonishment, on the 2nd October there was a little yellow ball of fluff cuddled up beside the second egg. On the afternoon of the 4th, after shooting a feral cat right beside the aviary, the second chick hatched, probably from fright! Both parents fed the chicks around the clock and did a very good job. I kept the feed dishes always full and every time you went near them, they would be looking to see what you had brought them to eat.
At five weeks old, and after a lot of scrutinising over whether I would or would not, I decided to take them for hand-rearing. Exams were over so I was going to have the time even if it meant I wasn't going to get a chance to sleep in any more. I couldn't believe the noise they could make, they never shut up, but after talking to Shirley Walsh soon solved that problem. The chicks need to be fed until they are completely full, that is, as much as they want to eat.
These were basically the first birds I had hand-reared except for a couple of Fischer's Lovebirds of which only one survived.
I poured almost two bags of Roudybush down their throats and about twice as much, it seemed, came out the other end. By the time they had fully feathered up, I had sucked up nearly a bucket full of feather dust from inside the house (much to mother's delight). However when they realised they could fly, more problems began to arise like trying to keep two cockatoos on the table while you race to the sink to clean their face (beak) washer. There were some very, very near collisions with my Mother's china ornaments and other things of the breakable nature.
Eventually I had them off the spoon and on seed by giving them Roudybush's Parrot Pellets which turned out to be invaluable for converting the two birds on to seed. They then went outside to a small flying cage when I was certain they were independent.
I then had to clean and wash all the walls, floors, table and chairs down because they had great fun in getting a beak full of formula and flicking their heads and putting it everywhere, and it was everywhere!
They were an absolute delight to hand-rear, for something which is considered a pest in some rural and urban areas. They make wonderful pets and by hand-rearing them, you find it easier to understand where they get their character from as well as showing from a very early age an extreme level of intelligence. It was very hard to part with them, as I had no trouble selling them. I missed them for quite a while, but preparing for the breeding season coming up leaves one with not much time to think about anything.