I last saw my ‘Cycas Revoluta’, (aka Cycad) intact on the evening of Friday, 11 March 2011. On the morning of Saturday, 12 March 2011 my Cycad resembled nothing of its former flourishing self, its amputated leaves lay pathetically around its ceramic pot, the trunk nearly eaten away.
I hear you asking – how could such a hardy plant that dominated the Jurassic Period be destroyed in such a way? No chance that my neighbours herbivorous dinosaur had escaped out of their yard again – we’d already invested in a fancy 6 foot fence that could surely keep anything out.
Of perhaps a more sinister nature than a neighbourhood dinosaur, the culprit in question was not of the reptilian, rather feathered – my Cycad killer was in fact a wild sulphur-crested cockatoo.
But there is more to this story than simply waking up one morning to find a cocky tucking into my beloved plant for breakfast. Let’s call this the end result a phenomenon known as the butterfly effect - a theory that suggests that a small change (a butterfly flapping its wings) at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere (earthquake in chile). How can this be so I hear you ask? Well my friends let’s go back in time to when it all started.
6 months ago, my brother in law David gave Julian a birthday gift, but not just any gift. Our house – a Spanish style hacienda needed a little splash of colour in the front court yard so David thoughtfully resolved this problem by scraping together what little money he had to buy Julian a Cycad. A Cycad he thought (after researching the subject with his plant knowledgeable friend) was ideal for a couple who had little time to care for plants – virtually indestructible. We treasured our little Cycad, we watched it thrive, it survived a hailstorm and our neighbour’s inquisitive plant curious puppy.
Around this time Melbourne was coming out of a painful and protracted drought, our garden was lush and green again and overrun with weeds (well weeds were always the case anyway). With the return of rain came life. Our feathered creatures ate from our trees once again, just as it was supposed to be or so I thought.
Now don’t mention this to my dog Gypsy, but I adore birds, love them in fact – especially parrots. Living in the hills is paradise for a bird lover like myself so one day I decided to set up Katherine’s Café, a café not for humans but for birds, with the added bonus of being free. At first it was only the small birds that frequented Katherine’s Cafe, three or four regular rosellas hopping around on the garden rocks pecking away at Trill bird seed.
It didn’t take long before the ‘tink tink, pseet-it’ rosella voices were drowned out by a metallic ‘chack sweeeee’ – the sound of the king parrot. My new patrons must have read the reviews of Katherine’s Cafe much to the disappointment of the rosellas.
For a few weeks Katherine Cafe ran smoothly and had its regular customers, the feeding rock was a fluttery rainbow of red, greens and blues. Our garden was a now looking a lot like Jason’s technicolour dream coat.
Then it happened, an uninvited visitor swooped down on the feeding rocks and began to gorge himself with seed – yep enter stage left, a sulphur-crested cocky. I knew this could be a problem, but I didn’t want to close up shop so I came up with an idea. Birds have very accurate internal clocks and arrive exactly at the same time for their morning feed so I thought I could be tricky and put up the following sign.
Dear patrons, due to unforeseen circumstances, Katherine’s Cafe will now open at 8.00 am instead of 7.30 am.
Not only did I discover that cockatoos are able to read but they also talk to their other cocky buddies and soon enough I had three cockatoos dropping in for morning breakfast.
So I moved to plan B.
I relocated Katherine’ s Cafe to the verandah where I reasoned I could control and monitor the situation, after all only the boldest of birds would venture so close to the house. The plan worked for a while and I had a few regular customers like the king parrots. The bigger birds had scared off the rosellas but I secretly didn’t mind catering to only the rich and powerful. However, it wasn’t long before the cockatoos realised that Katherine’s Cafe was still open for business and decided to eat with the king parrots. The thing about cockatoos is that they don’t need to bully other birds, their sheer size and presence is enough to intimidate the smaller parrots so I found myself a new job – a cockatoo bouncer.
I started to question my values, was it wrong of me to exclude the cockatoos from Katherine’s Cafe? Who was I to decide on which bird would get fed and which didn’t? Was I bird racist? Oh my god – was I going to lead the cockatoos into the garden shed only then to gas them?
So I made a decision, I would feed the cockatoos , after all there were only two, how bad could it get. Right?
It turned out, that the king parrots were too scared to mingle with the cockatoos so it was just me and my two buds – the sulphurs. By now I was officially a crazy bird lady, I had names for them – Knocky (because of the persistent beak knocking on the window) and Greedy (self explanatory). Each morning I would find Knocky and Greedy waiting on the verandah to be fed and this soon turned into an evening affair as well.
Two birds turned into three, three birds turned into five, eventually I had six regular cockatoos sitting on the verandah railing waiting for their breakfast and dinner. And they were LOUD. They would announce their arrival each morning at 7.30 am (and not a minute later) with an ear-piercing screech.
And then the butterfly flapped its wings again and chaos struck.
A visit to my mother’s house resulted in her giving me one of my favourite traditional Cypriot – Flaounes (cheese pies)- a scrumptious cheese filled bread topped with sesame seeds. Over the next two days I turned into my own version of Greedy the Cockatoo – I screeched with excitement every time I ate one. For two days this became my staple diet.
One word, nicely describes what happens to the human body when you eat nothing but cheese bread for two days – CONSTIPATION my friends. It’s no fun when you wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in your side. Unfortunately for me, this pain kept me a wake for hours and only when I realised that I was constipated and not dying from a burst appendix did I manage to get some sleep. That was until I was awoken by an ear piercing SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH at 8.48 am.
Knocky , Greedy and the rest of the dwarfs had been kept waiting for 18 minutes and were obviously deeply offended and embarrassed by the poor service – particularly because they had invited another 10 of their buddies. It turned out that my Cycad was in the wrong place at the wrong time – I guess it’s no place for 16 angry, bored and hungry cockatoos. And that is the story of how my Cycad was a victim of foul play on the morning of Saturday, 12 March 2011.
So my friends I hope my tale of caution has taught you well, just remember:
1. A small business usually fails within the first five years – if you are going to open up a cafe for birds at least have a cover charge.
2. Buy plastic Cycads instead of real ones.
3. NEVER, EVER eat flaounes without fibre supplements.
Feeding wild birds – a word to the wise.
On a serious note, I want to stress that you should NEVER feed wild birds.
1. The feeding extinction process is very difficult for both you and the cockatoos (you become very attached to them and they become very dependent on you), it takes a long time and it’s really heartbreaking to watch them waiting for food every day. The first five days of café closure was horrible, especially watching Knocky and Greedy waiting and crying out for food. One day Knocky and Greedy become very anxious and Knocky started to frantically knock at the window, then he let out an almighty screech and flew and landed on our security door with his crest puffy and erect and his tail feathers spread wide. He was bopping his head from side to side and screeching like a lunatic. Then Greedy flew down and landed on the swing chair repeatedly swinging backwards and forwards. The swinging motion had sent him into a motionless trance. I can’t explain how disturbing it is watching a wild cocky calmly rocking back and forward on a swing chair whilst his friend is screeching maniacally on your security door!
2. In their natural habitat, birds don’t usually feed in one spot, they spread out. When you feed wild birds they are forced to eat in the one spot and this can spread disease – especially beak and feather disease which is highly contagious and parrots are very susceptible to this disease.
3. Feeding wild birds changes their social structure and also makes them lose their fear of people .
4. Bird seed attracts other birds like lorikeets which are different to other parrots in that they eat nectar and fruits. Bird seed can actually deform a lorikeet’s beak.
5. Bird seed attracts rats and trust me – the last thing you want to do is spend hours cleaning up bird seed and bird poo every day!
6. You try and work your whole life around feeding the birds and it’s very stressful – I ended up obsessing about being home on time to feed the birds, it also interfered with my social life – CRAZY! Also think about what happens when you go on holiday? Birds can starve to death if they are totally reliant on you feeding them.
7. Bird seed alone does not give birds a balanced diet and you might think that you can moderate the amount of seed but trust me you can’t. In the end you will become very attached to the birds and you always wind up giving them more because you feel sorry for them and they become dependent for their food – bad bad bad!
8. Don’t be fooled into thinking cockatoos only destroy wooden houses. I thought we were safe because we have a brick house but cockatoos destroy or eat everything they can including the mortar in your pavers!
9. Don’t ever think you can control the situation and feed one or two – birds talk, they spread the word and before you know it you will be host to 20 demanding birds.
10. Cockatoos are extremely noisy and your neighbours won’t be happy when you have 20 screeching cockatoos in your front yard. Not to mention they will be nervous – particularly if they have a wooden house because cockatoos don’t mind waiting next door as well! (Lucky I have great neighbours who put up with my cocky madness).
Remember cockatoos are not pests- they become pests when humans interfere with their natural habitat. Enjoy them from a distance.
Cycad – post cocky
Greedy the wild cockatoo
You can never control the situation!
Sifty the wild King Parrot
Katherine’s Cafe first location – the feeding rock.
Sifty the King Parrot with Girl Twirl waiting at Katherine Cafe’s (male has the red upper body)
Rosy the Rosella amongst the Lorikeets