Unique among Cockatoos
There is one bird in Australia that cannot be ignored by any person visiting this great land of many parrots. This is especially true after many thousands of foreign visitors that attended the 2000 Olympic Games that were held in and around Sydney, Australia. This parrot is known in Australia as the Galah. Its great color (pink and grey), its wide distribution and its vocalization are familiar to any of the locals and impressive to any visitor. The Galah can be observed in many of the local city parks where it forages in the grass looking for small seeds. It is very tolerant of humans and if disturbed, the flock will suddenly take flight only to land again very shortly. Often the Galah is observed in very large flocks and when the birds are in full flight, it is a spectacular sight to observe them wheel and turn together. At each turn the complete flock is in unison and where one second you see the pink of their chests they turn quickly to where one only observes the gray of their backs.
In the US the cockatoo known as the Galah 'down under' is better known as the rose-breasted cockatoo. This is slowly changing as many more people are now referring to them as Galah. There is, however, a great difference in the respect and value of this cockatoo to any local Australian in comparison to a US citizen than enjoys this bird. The rose-breasted cockatoo in the US is a highly prized bird where in Australia; it is almost considered a trash bird and is often killed because of habits of raiding crop fields. There are literally thousands of these birds in the wilds of Australia. A memorable experience occurred to several of us (American aviculturists) on a visit to a pet shop in Sydney, Australia several years ago. We were gawking at many Australian parrots including a red-tailed black cockatoo on the wall when a young teenage boy entered the shop swinging a very tiny cage in his hand. Within this cage was a Galah holding tight to a small, narrow perch. We observed the young lad discussing the Galah with the storeowner and it appeared that he was trying to sell the cockatoo but the storeowner continued to shake his head. It wasn't too many minutes later that the young lad had struck a deal with the storeowner and he seemed exceeding happy. They had agreed to a trade and the Galah was handed over for one gray cockatiel and a female red-rumped parakeet. To us this was an astonishing trade as we found that the value of the two smaller birds was under $30 US. When the owner of the pet shop removed the Galah from its small cage we also observed that it was perfectly tame and did not try to bite the owner. Later we asked the young lad about the Galah he had traded and with some embarrassment he explained that he had removed it as a youngster from a natural nest and had hand-reared it. He then got tired of this 'Cocky' and wanted to sell it. Instead he seemed quite pleased with his cockatiel (quarion to any Australian) and red-rump.
There are three distinct subspecies that most people generally accept. These are the eastern race, Eolophus r. roseicapillus, which is the most common race found in the US. It originates from the east side of the mainland of Australia. This race us recognized by its lighter, less pinkish crest and pinker body coloration. When its crest is in its full erect positioning, it does not form a continuous line from crest to nape - there is a break on the crown line. Weights of mature birds found in this race range from 280-300 grams. The second subspecies is the western race, E. r. assimilis. This race originates from the southwest up to the mid-west of Australia and as its name implies, is similar to the nominate race. The crest is fuller and there appears to be a very little break in the outline from the crest to the nape. Its crest is more pink while the body tends to be paler than the nominate race. This is the largest of the races with weights ranging between 290-390 grams for mature males and 240-290 grams for mature females. The third subspecies, E. r. kuhli, is the least known of the group and is the northern race. It has the smallest distribution of the group and originates from the tropical north and northwest. This race is also the smallest in size with a noticeably smaller head and lighter plumage. Its notable distinguishable feature is the deep red coloration of its bare eye skin coloration that really contrasts it from its body. There is some controversy over a subspecies originating from the Kimberley region.
The body coloration between sexes and individual birds is often times very evident. The grey back and wings can vary in shading. As the grey varies, so can the pink shades. They can vary from a dull washed out color to an almost vivid pink. The under wings are pink and this pink can flow around the butt of a folded wing. The pink of the chest flows up to the head at a mid-line exactly at the horizontal center of the eye. Above this is the paler pink cap from which this species gets its name ("capillus"). This cap is easily distinguished in the field. When raised the cap or crest has a higher front that drops off to shorter feathers to the rear. The eye ring (bare skin portion) can vary in color intensity and size between the sexes and individuals. The males usually show the greater intensity and size. Many times the males have wrinkles in this area that appear as folds. Below the eye ring is a lighter pinkish area that acts as a sunlight deflector. This is similar to the concept commonly used by cricket and soccer players.
Mature rose-breasted cockatoo males have a dark rusty brown iris while the females have a light brown to reddish-orange iris. There is a very visual difference when both sexes are displayed side by side. It must be mentioned that approximately five percent of all mature rose-breasted cockatoos cannot be sexed by eye color. If one has any doubts, please have your birds sexed physically (endoscopy) or by blood typing. Having had rose-breasted for many years, I had one pair of cockatoos that consistently reproduced and both birds had light brown eyes. They both had very visual light brown eyes that could easily be observed from a distance. I was forever being chided for having two females in a flight but my only reply was that these two 'females' produced beautiful babies.
Unique Among Cockatoos
There has been some discussion whether the rose-breasted cockatoo should be classified with the white cockatoos. For those researchers and people familiar to its breeding morphology, they agree that it makes better sense to classify the rose-breasted cockatoo in its own monotypic genus (classified alone due to behavior and reproductive habits). To most aviculturists that are familiar with several white cockatoos and the rose-breasted cockatoo, they feel they also have differences in their behavior.
The behavioral and appearance of the young of the rose-breasted cockatoo is very different than those of any white cockatoo. They seem to resemble the cockatiel development more than that of a white cockatoo. The incubation and fledging times of the rose-breasted cockatoo are significantly shorter than those of the white cockatoos.
Except for the little Corella (bare-eyed cockatoo) all white cockatoos lay one or two eggs and in the wild only one usually survives. The rose-breast species will lay between four and six eggs, and most of them will survive. The rose-breast young are very aggressive and vocal as they must fight to survive in a full nest of young. This is so different that the white cockatoos that seem to have a laid-back attitude in the nest. The down of the newly hatched rose-breasted is pink compared to the yellow of all the other Cacatua species (with the possible exception of the Goffin's and that being marginal).
The Galah now inhabits most of the Australian continent but this was not always the case. Since the history of Europeans entering the Australian continent around two hundred years ago, the Galah has expanded its range. The European settlers assisted in this expansion by making more permanent waterways available to this cockatoo. The settlers cleared the land and formed many permanent water supplies for their cattle by making stock watering troughs. The Galahs used the large land clearances to give them more feeding areas and water sources were also very close. As the settlers continued to expand their land clearance, so followed the Galah. When the settlers grew food crops this made a more procurable food source for the Galahs. Over the past 60 years the Galah has spread south through the Australian Capital Territory and Monaro region, east across the Southern Highlands into both Canberra and Sydney. This cockatoo is not a shy species and was not afraid of raiding crops or even entering many of the big city parks. It is easy to see why this and both of the Corellas were severely persecuted. Many hundreds, even thousands, are killed by several means in hope of discouraging them from destroying the farmer's food crops.
One of the main reasons why the Galah is so prolific is that it is a very early and opportunistic nester. There are just so many nesting cavities in trees for the many species of Australian cockatoos and parakeets. But being one of the first nesting species, the Galahs have first pickings. It is said that if a hundred thousand Galahs were eliminated through poison destruction or even exported, the following year the species would recoup its losses and become full strength again though the following breeding season. For those interested in the natural history of the wild Galah, a very good book printed in 1990 is the best available. One can learn so much if you are a breeder of this cockatoo but also if you are a pet owner. The name of this book is The Behavioral Ecology of the Galah in the Wheat Belt of Western Australia by Ian Rowley. This is the third monograph published by the RAOU (Royal Australian Ornithologist Union). It can be ordered through the internet from Andrew Isles, a publishing agent in Australia. In fact you will be amazed what you can find through this bookseller agent on the natural history (and aviary) of many avian subjects.
There are several mutations that occur in the rose-breasted cockatoo. As far as I know they have all occurred in the wild state. One of the most stunning of the mutations is the white Galah. In this mutation the grey back and wings turn white. There are two variants to this mutation and both have been brought into captivity. The first white mutation is the lutino in which the eyes are red. The other white mutation is one that has dark eyes and is a dilute. Another mutation is a cinnamon bird in which the back and wings are a pale brown intermingled with white. As the cinnamon's new plumage fades away the bird becomes almost white, although the flight feathers remain the original fawn color. During the molt this mutation almost appears pied but this is not the case. Another mutation called a silver has a light silvery-grey mantle and is sometimes referred to as a recessive cinnamon. Further reproduction will prove this out. Another mutation called a blue Galah is extremely rare. Within this mutation, the bird's pink coloration is pure white so it has a contrasting grey and white color. This bird has been reproduced in captivity but it took ten years to reproduce the original mutation color of its founder mother.
Even though the Galah from Australia is in the southern hemisphere, both time their breeding season with the first sign of an increasing light cycle. In the US, the shortest day is around the 21st of December and shortly after the interest in the nest log is greatly increased. In the wild the pair will keep checking or 'their' nesting hole but with the approach of the breeding season the birds will inspect their nest with increased frequency. Those in captivity have their nesting log nearby throughout the season but they too will herald the breeding season with a renewed interest in their nesting chamber.
It usually takes the three years for early maturity in rose-breasted cockatoos. This does not always mean that a three-year old pair will successfully nest. Many times it depends upon if the birds were hand-reared, the type and size of their nest box, size of their aviary and what kind of diet they have been reared on. I have had a young female rosy reproduce at one year of age but this bird was placed with a gentle older male that had great experience in rearing young in the nest. Obviously the wise male had courted and taught his new female how to be successful. In most parrot species it is the male who is responsible for the success of the nest and the female who is responsible for the rearing of the young. This is almost always true of pairs of psittacines where the female does the incubation and early rearing alone. Since rose-breasted cockatoos have both sexes involved in the incubation and rearing process, it is even easier to see why an older experienced male would be successful with a very young mate. He would obviously be doing most of the work. Even though both sexes do the incubation, it is of interest that the female usually takes the evening, night and early morning shift while the male takes the day shift. This is so similar to that of the small cockatiel.
Although a deep narrow wooden nest box will be used by these cockatoos, I have found that if given a choice, the birds will pick a natural log over a nest that has been built out of plywood or even thick timber. We would give all our cockatoos a choice of nest boxes and they chose a natural log over 90 percent of the time. Positioning of the log was also important. They preferred it to be under the leading edge of the roofline and not either in dim darkness or out in the open sunlight. We made our natural logs out of eucalyptus tree trunks that were split down the center and V-ed out to make a chamber through the center. We would use a chain saw to accomplish this and would add a five-inch entrance hole near the top of the log and place an inspection door about 8 inches above the bottom of the log. We used a small chain saw cut for the inspection door using the rounded edge of the saw. After four cuts, the plug could them be removed and this was used to replace with an exact fit during the breeding season. We preferred that there be no light source entering the nest log through the inspection door.
The nest log measurements can range in depth from 30-36 inches. Anything shallower may add stress to the birds as the interior becomes increasingly small with the addition of nest material. We used a standard 12 x 12 inches for the interior dimensions over twenty years ago and this measurement has dramatically decreased. We now use an in side chamber measurement of 6 x 8 inches and another very good breeder uses an 8 x 8 inch measurement. One may think the 6 x 8 dimension is very small but our pairs would easily rear four babies in this size. We allow our pair to incubate and begin rearing their chick in their natural nest instead of artificially incubating the eggs. We feel we have a much better success rate of rearing good, healthy babies this way.
At the beginning of the breeding season, the pair of rosies would then begin to build their nest in earnest bringing eucalyptus leaves into the nest. They would mainly do this by using their beaks but on some occasions they used their feet. They would build up a good supply of leaves often to the depth of six inches or more. Every pair is different and some were more diligent than other. Once egg-laying commences, an egg is laid with intervals of at least two days between eggs and incubation usually proceeds with the laying of the second egg. Their incubation period averages around 22-23 days but up to 25 days is not unusual. Newly hatched babies have a vermilion-pink down that is very evident during the first few days. They average between 8-10 grams at hatching and banding should take place around 12-14 days. One may not get a correct fitting band on their leg if they wait any longer that this. Rose-breasted cockatoos grow rapidly and will fledge around seven weeks of age.
As the babies mature within the nest the parents will continually renew and refresh the nest with new twigs and fresh leaves. By doing this the nest will begin to rise and often times the nest will be built up over the inspection door. We supply our rosies fresh eucalyptus branches every week starting the Christmas week and not ending until the breeding season is completely over. This may extend into the month of April depending upon the climate you have. For those that do not have access to fresh eucalyptus leaves, most any non-toxic green leaf material will be utilized. Why the rose-breasted cockatoo uses fresh nest material within their nest is somewhat a mystery. There are several theories including increasing the nest chamber humidity, insect control or simply raising the internal nest site against the advent of a heavy rain so the nest will not be flooded. We have observed how soiled a rose-breast nest can become with the babies aiming their fecal matter in an outward circle against the walls. I feel the addition of new nesting material is an ideal way of cleaning house. Just sweep the 'fecal material' under the rug.
Galahs in the wild often make long flights in search for food. When they do find a place to forage, it is usually feeding on very small seeds. This is important in several ways for the management of the captive bird. When bound to their cages and flights in captivity, these birds to not have the adequate space for exercising. Second of all these birds need plenty of greenstuffs to keep them trim. This means that dry seeds as sunflower can be detrimental to their health. The standard parrot mix given to so many of our captive charges will spell disaster if given to our rosies. Excess weight carried by rose-breasted cockatoos will form fatty lymphomas, usually on their undercarriage. This is usually evident around their vents. This often prevents rosies from breeding and it will shorten their lives. Surgery is possible but this often end in unsuccessful future reproduction. If you have an adult male weighing of the 400-gram mark, it should be monitored closely so it does not increase its weight. Limiting the total amount of nutritious food should be done and keep away from any fattening food items as dried seeds. They will even increase their weight when given an unlimited supply of dry parakeet seed. Sprouted seed is a different matter and it is enjoyed by this cockatoo. Some breeders will 'fly' their birds within their flights in the early morning. They will enter the flight and make the birds fly overhead for several laps to keep the birds in trim condition. This can work quite well but can often spell disaster to the exhausted aviculturist who has a heart condition.
Origins of Rose-breasted Cockatoo in the US
The great majority of our rose-breasted cockatoos found in the US originate from stock in Australia prior to their prohibiting of exportation of wild fauna in the late 1950's. At that time they came in quite cheaply and there was no knowledge of what regions they came from in Australia. The majority probably originated from the eastern and central states of Australia. Most of the birds appeared to be the nominate race, E. r. roseicapillus. There have been a number of birds that went the illegal route via Australia or New Zealand and on to Europe. In recent years there was a new source of rose-breasted cockatoos coming into the US. This was also an illegal one. Eggs were smuggled into the US in pretty good numbers resulting in their offspring being in our aviaries and being held as pets. I can remember so clearly the very young babies being offered for sale at drastically reduced prices around July and August. This matched the breeding season of babies hatched in Australia in the southern hemisphere. I was once given three baby rose-breasted cockatoos in late July because they were seriously sick. They were approximately 30 days old and weight less than a week-old bird. They were indeed very sick and deformed and even with the immediate assistance of an avian veterinarian all were lost. Smuggled eggs and birds should be avoided at all costs - they are illegal!!!
When rearing rose-breasted cockatoos as future breeders, it is all right to hand rear them. Obviously I would recommend one that was parent-reared in its early days. But the most important condition for good parenting is that they are reared around other rose-breasted cockatoos throughout their life. This includes the hand-rearing and weaning periods and especially during their first years before attaining breeding maturity. We place our individual pairs of rose-breasted cockatoos side by side with the nesting area being visually blocked. Allow a young pair to be next to a breeding pair and they will teach the youngsters the ways of good bonding and parenting. The rosy is a highly intelligent parrot and is a good pupil.
The rose-breasted cockatoo has a very outgoing personality when hand-reared. It is very trainable and enjoys the companionship of people. They are used as free-flying parrots in many a bird show, flying through hoops or taking a five-dollar bill from a 'willing' customer. This is a very active cockatoo and cannot be compared to the personality of any of the white cockatoos. The rose-breasted cockatoo would rather be in the middle of things instead of laying back and being comfortable. This cockatoo can be taught to mimic the human voice but they are not one of great talkers of the cockatoo world.
Whether you are a breeder of rose-breasted cockatoos or have one as a pet or even are a visitor to the 'Land of Parrots" down under, you will always enjoy this cockatoo who give so much energy into its world.
Photography by Susie Christian?
All Rights Reserved by respective parties. No portion of this site may be duplicated or
reused in any form without the express written permission of Susie Christian