Gang Gang Cockatoos Part 1
by John McGrath ©
A stocky cockatoo close in size to the familiar Galah (Eolophus roseicappillis), with soft forward curving crest. (The scientific name of the Galah has been changed to Cacatua roseicapilla since this article was written - Ed).
Basically a sooty grey-coloured plumage. The adult cock bird crest, forehead cheeks are red in colouration. His flight feathers appear dull olive-grey when not in flight. Chest feathers are lightly barred with a reddish light orangeish hue. Under tail coverts are barred yellowish orange. Feather of the mantle edges tinged light grey whitish. Tail feathers grey.
The adult hen lacks the red of the cock on the face and crest, except that now my hen is over ten years old, she is showing a faint red tinge to the very tips of the feathers of her crest. She shows a lot of red tinging to the edges of the feathers to the chest and abdomen-under tail coverts barred as per cock bird. Mantle feathers edged in colour similar to cock birds, and tail is grey.
Immatures show a fair amount of red tinging to feathers underneath. Back is a basic solid grey colour, tail barred with light yellow through the grey. Young cocks show red on crests. This is very evident with young I have observed feeding with their parents. This also makes for easy sexing in the nest. The crest of both sexes is unique to the Australian Cockatoo in that they curve forward.
(The other three being the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, the Cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus, and the Major Mitchell, Cacatua leadbeateri - Ed).
Feet are fleshy and grey in coloration. These birds use their feet extensively to hold their food. Bills are greyish white. Their bills form a large part of the bird's head and is very strong as evidenced by their feeding habits, i.e. the seed pods they break up. If ever you have the opportunity to handle one of these birds, investigate this head bill construction for yourself.
The Gang-Gang voice is like no other bird I know of. It is a raspy screech, often described like someone removing a cork from a bottle - not including the pop at the end. They have a curious little growling voice when in close contact with each other, e.g. when preening each other or just close on the perch. The begging of the young is very similar to that heard by a great many of us on a summer's afternoon, wherever Galahs are feeding their young.
RANGE AND HABITAT
The basic range of these birds is South Eastern Australia, from mid NSW coastal to South Eastern SA - as well as Northern Tasmania. They seem to be confined to the coastal areas and inland to the higher ranges of the Blue Mountains. I imagine their original habitat would have been the thicker Eucalypt forest areas, but now much of this former habitat has been replaced by the clearing of lands for the pastoral industry or complete forest changes, i.e. pinus plantations for associated industries.
The Gang-Gang is a very desirable aviary bird, although not readily available in good feather condition. If they are in peak feather condition they can command premium prices here in NSW. Then again, Gang-Gangs do not come on the market all that regularly from private aviculturists. Dealers seem to get first 'crack' at these birds due to several reasons; firstly the dealer seems to be in the 'know' and snap up any available birds, or people may keep Gang-Gangs for several years, not breed from them and see another bird species they fancy that will breed readily and to raise quick cash, the Gang-Gangs end up at the dealers. Also, these birds may start feather plucking, a scourge of this species, and again (owners) give up and sell them. With regard to the feather plucking mentioned above, this came to light with the pair I have as follows: I had my hen bird for approximately two years prior to obtaining a cock bird for her.
Things were great at first - "love at first sight", so to speak; mutual preening from the onset, but several weeks later when their annual end of summer moult had finished, the hen's crest feathers did not re-appear. It was obvious from then that the cock bird was paying the 'spouse' too much attention. It was shortly after this that I entered the flight and the cock bird hurtled past me and sort of crashed into the front of the flight. He had been chewing his own flight feathers. In my case, the introduction of a new bird had caused problems - up until then, the hen had been in perfect feather.
Even though this 'feather plucking' was a problem this pair remain very devoted to each other and in good condition by adhering to the following; relieve their boredom. It is when they get bored that they turn to self-mutilation as a form of anti-boredom.
The Gang-Gang Cockatoo is a natural chewer, spending much of his idle time in his native habitat stripping leaves, buds, bark and branches from trees, so if you are keen to keep them in good feather condition you should, as a pre-requisite for the good of the birds, supply them with fresh natural hard wood branches that have seed pods. They love eucalyptus, especially Stringy Bark (Eucalyptus macrohyncha and sub-species), as well as branches of Acacia Teatree, and the branches of Pinus sub-species which the Gang-Gangs relish. I make a special effort to obtain Hawthorn branches in autumn when this introduced tree is in 'full berry'. (A favourite food replacement for Gang-Gangs in the wild).
These branches the birds really enjoy, searching over them for insects, seed pods and finally stripping it of leaves, bark etc. In the end a branch that will fill the bulk of the aviary flight is reduced to a heap of splinters, leaves and chewed seed pods by the next day.
My pair are like two little kids about to receive a bag full of new toys. When I arrive outside their aviary with a new branch, they bounce back and forward from the front perch to the flight front, calling and head bobbing excitedly.
I can back my ideas of supplying branches as in my younger days, the road to town would be littered in eucalyptus leaves and small branches, this was a good inclination that Gang-Gangs were about. This "mat" of litter was a good indication to me that these birds were great chewers. I use the litter on the road as an example because the best strands of Stringy Bark were on the roads.
My basic Gang-Gang seed mixture consists of small seeds, eg. millets, panicum, canary seed with sunflower and oats added in the colder months to give the birds extra warmth.
The reason for feeding small seed is another anti-boredom ploy. The idea was put forward to me by a leading Black Cockatoo aviculturist from Sydney. The basic diet of Gang-Gangs in the wild state is small seed, those I mentioned earlier as wild foods, eucalypts etc. So if you can occupy the birds with seeds small in size you can stop him thinking about other things.
The combination of the above indeed helped rid my birds of their problem, and I cannot see why it should not work with the same problem in other Gang-Gangs. If you can stand by the above policies, it should work.
As well as the basic seed mixture mentioned above, I supply occasionally fresh fruit in the form of apples which are torn open for the seeds and they will eat the skin, flesh and seed of an orange as well. My birds get a variety of nuts, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and acorns as well as seeds of peaches and apricots, which are basically a nut anyway. They will eat and enjoy dog biscuits (the smaller round ones), wholemeal bread (multi-grained type). My birds also get paddie melons, a wild type of melon. These grow on a vine - like watermelons, in paddocks and along creeks and in cultivated paddocks. They are usually about 100mm in diameter, look very much like the cultivated jam melons and the seeds are the same as such. It is these seeds that the birds enjoy. These birds enjoy these melons so much that at the time of only having the hen I rolled a paddie melon in on the floor on the off chance she would be interested, as these melons form a regular part of my other cockatoo's winter diet. The next morning that particular melon was desiccated. This was very unusual as the paddie melon is not a part of a Gang-Gang's normal diet, besides as far as I was aware this particular hen had never seen a paddie melon before, also the Gang-Gang is an arboreal feeder ie. they normally come to ground (only) to drink. I also give my birds fresh corn on the cob when in season (autumn).
This brings me to this section, because the Gang-Gang Cockatoo is an arboreal feeder and since that first feeding of the paddie melon, I have constructed a mesh "green feed tray". This I have placed to hold food items, adjacent to the perch at the rear of the aviary in the shelter. At the same time the seed mixture is supplied in a feeder consisting of an old metal garbage can lid placed upside down on a pipe stand 1.2m above the floor in the shelter. My birds have grit available all the time and this is supplied on the floor, i.e. a shovel full of sand/gravel. They get cuttle-fish as often as possible. The water I supply in an enamel dish, metal again due to the cockatoo's chewing ability.
Housing for these birds should be a steel framed aviary covered in a heavy fabricated mesh. Dimensions of my aviary are 5.6m long, 1.2m wide and the rear with corrugated iron, the flight faces north. Their aviary is housed in a group of six cockatoo flights all the same dimension. They are housed between a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos (Cacatua leadbeateri) and a pair of Long-billed Corellas (Cacatua tenuirostris). The aviary has a full concrete floor.
Possibly, my housing for these birds is not the best, as breeding results would probably be better if housed in a flight away from other birds, or completely partitioned off from view of their neighbours, a move I anticipate doing in the near future for all my flights.
Possibly, the aviary's dimensions could be enlarged primarily in height. These birds do fly high over the forest canopy. When flying through the forest they twist and wheel. But then again, whilst they are feeding, they prefer to move from branch to branch either by climbing or short flights of a few wing beats between trees, i.e. when feeding in a group of hawthorn trees. Yet again as an alternative to this, some birds of a flock will take off in a type of semi-display show off flight, twisting and wheeling, and emitting their harsh call, to alight almost exactly where they left.
But in my view, as long as they have flight length to help combat obesity and plenty of width for plenty of wing clearance they should be all right. I do feel, however, that height would be an important pre-requisite as these birds spend almost all their time in trees. They should feel more secure off the ground. As well, the normal end of flight pattern is to sweep up to a perch and the height would give them a chance to loop down and back up to alight.
Although I have not bred these birds I am hopeful of doing so, given a flight of either type mentioned above to give them privacy. Getting them to accept a suitable box or log means supplying them with more than one choice in various positions. I have a friend who has bred from his pair of Gang-Gangs and several interesting facts emerged from breeding this pair.
The first year he bred them they bred in a log about 1.8m high, with one end sitting on the earthen floor or his aviary. But prior to a successful mating and raising of young, they evicted a pair of Major Mitchell's from this log. They had been, up until then, successfully sharing the aviary contentedly with the Major Mitchell's.
The second year, they deserted this original log and opted for a 1.2m suspended log. They are still using this log.
One other interesting thing. As breeding approaches they devour Partridge eggs from the floor of the aviary. One can only speculate as to the reason for this. I definitely would not consider confining these beautiful cockatoos to any extended time in a small cage.
© Article under Copyright with the Author, Mr John McGrath, and cannot be reprinted without written permission.
© 1997 Parrot Society of Australia Inc