Friday, November 27, 2015


Hybrid animals occurring in natural populations are rare and always arouse quite a bit of interest within the natural history fellowship whenever they’re encountered. Birds are the most often reported from the vertebrate classes probably because of the high visibility of these animals and the increasing popularity of birdwatching within the general community. And within the Aves, parrots and cockatoos feature highly as either captive bred mutations or naturally occurring hybrids. Over the years I’ve encountered Australian King Parrot and Red-winged Parrot hybrids a couple of times in the wild but recently got a “first” at Lake Galletly on the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus.

Earlier this year I was at this very popular birdwatching venue with good friend and fellow birder Terry Reis. At one stage our attention was drawn to an odd-looking cockatoo in company of about six Little Corellas. The bird looked like a very pale, “washed-out” Galah and Terry and I had decided that it was indeed one of this species with some sort of pigment aberration. At least this is what we thought until the cocky flew off with the corellas and starting calling to them in “Corella”. It was then that we realised that the bird was actually a hybrid of this species and the very common Galah; an interesting observation duly noted in our field books – then promptly forgotten. Forgotten at least until Sunday 23rd August when I was again birding in the Lockyer with another birdwatching friend Russell Jenkins over from his home in Japan for a couple of weeks.
On this morning we were at Pechey Swamp on Old Ropeley Road, Lower Tent Hill near Gatton. This is another very popular birdwatching venue but on this morning there was little to see. As we were preparing to leave a small flock of Little Corellas arrived at the water body with a pair immediately inspecting potential nesting hollows in the bankside eucalypts. In their midst was a bird very similar to, if not actually the same as the hybrid that Terry and I had seen at Lake Galletly a few weeks ago. Again it was obviously in company with the corellas and calling in the same vein. It was also apparent that it was an established member of this flock despite its odd plumage. A picture is worth a thousand words as the old saying goes and, as Russell is an excellent bird photographer, I have the luxury of two excellent images of this bird to illustrate this small offering. I firmly believe that the Lake Galletly and Pechey Swamp bird is one and the same animal; these waterbodies are not that far apart as the cocky flies.
In Australian Parrots Vol. 1 Loriinae and Cacatuinae Forshaw J.M. & Cooper W.T. (1980), Lansdowne Editions, Melbourne on p.119 under the account for the Galah it states that this species has been hybridised by aviculturists with Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Slender (Long)-billed Corella, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, Gang-gang Cockatoo and Little Corella. In the wild hybrids between Major Mitchell and Little Corella have been reported. Under the entry for Little Corella on p. 140 the species is stated to have hybridised in captivity with the Galah and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and in the wild with the Galah only.

It is curious how one subject leads to another when you start dragging books from your library shelf. My initial inquires in hybridisation of Australian parrots and cockatoos got me on to some other interesting titbits regarding these ubiquitous birds. In Ian Fraser’s and Jeannie Gray’s Australian Bird Names – a complete guide (2013), CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, we’re informed that the word ‘Cockatoo’ first appears in English in the early 1600’s in the form ‘Cock-a-two’ and its origin is the Malay word kakatua (probably onomatopoetic in origin), which was incorporated into Dutch as kakatoe. Vieillot (1817) is believed to have used ‘cockatoo’ based on the call of ‘white cockatoos’.

Corella is derived from an Australian indigenous language although which one is unclear. The Australian National Dictionary has suggested it to be derived from the Wiradjuri garala whereas the Australian Oxford agrees but suggests the root word is garila. Galah is believed to have come from gilaa from the Yuwaalaraay language group on north-western New South Wales. The Galah has a host of other old monikers mostly derived from the indigenous peoples’ names for this lovely animal including Goolie, Goulie, and Willock. I particularly like Willie-willock thought to be a corruption of wilek-wilek from the Wembawemba of the Riverina and Wim-mera of southern Australia. The Galah’s scientific name Eolophus roseicapillus literally translates as ‘rosy-haired dawn-crest’; brings to mind Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn”; Eos being the Greek goddess of Dawn and part of the Galahs’ generic epithet.
And so it goes … words – how lovely they are and what a fine tracery they weave through our language; end-lessly if you’ve a mind for it but I’d better stop now. Our Goolie is hanging by his feet from the roof of his cage clamouring for attention; a rose-mantled Narcissus with the screech of a Harpy.   
Article by Rod Hobson, photos by Russell Jenkins

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