Sulphur Crested Cockatoos: A place In History

Welcome to summer in Canberra!

Spring has come and gone, and I had hoped to write a post on spring flowers in the garden…but it can wait. Perhaps as a result of our long Lockdowns this year, the last few months have been very busy as we return, cautiously, to normal life, new Covid variants notwithstanding.

Recently I read a very interesting article in The New Yorker about a Renaissance painting called Madonna della Vittoria, the work of Andrea Mategna, painted in 1496, now hanging in the Louvre.

A British born historian, Heather Dalton, lived in Melbourne while doing a doctorate at University of Melbourne, and noticed a familar looking bird in a book of Renaissance paintings. The painting shows a slender white bird with a black beak and an alert expression, and an impressive-greenish yellow crest. Heather spent many years making sure she was right in thinking it was a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

early morning antics

At the time Andrea Mantegna painted the Madonna della Vittoria, the bird could have been taken from eastern Indonesia, partly by water and partly overland via the Silk Road. This journey would have taken years, but a well-cared for cockatoo regularly lives to be 60 years old and beyond.

After many years of research, Heather Dalton is sure that bird in the painting is alive and not copied from pages of a book. She writes “The cockatoo’s natural pose in the painting with its crest erect, suggests it was painted from life. Dalton argues the bird’s appearance suggests it is drawn from life. Taxidermy species show birds in profile, this bird faces forward, just as a curious intelligent bird would do.

Francesco 11 Gonzaga, owner of the cockatoo would have collected exotic birds for interest and fashion, and as a signal of of worldly power and wealth.

These young cockatoos were entertaining to watch

Somehow I am not surprised that the resilient Sulphur Crested Cockatoo had survived a long journey and was living in a totally different environment, thus playing their part in history, so very long ago.

Having lived alongside Cockatoos in Canberra for many years, I can appreciate their beauty and unique personalities, and despite their destructive qualities, I am glad they are now a protected species. The best place to view a bird is in its own natural environment.

The cockatoos in this tree are having a ”stand off” with a raven, eventually the raven left!

This is a photo from The Canberra Times, which I have used before, and it shows how destructive intelligent birds can be when winter comes and there is nothing to do!

As the local writer Jackie French says

There is no 100 per cent effective way of keeping Cockatoos out of your orchard or garden. Cockatoos are too intelligent to be deterred easily. Beware the bird that plots and plays.

Cockatoos seem to be unique birds in that they enjoy eating and playing, sometimes at the same time!

Many thanks for taking the time to read my post today, I hope you are able to enjoy your green spaces, and birds, where ever you are in the world today.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

14 Replies to “Sulphur Crested Cockatoos: A place In History”

  1. The information about the bird in the painting was fascinating, well done the researcher. So glad you are surviving the pandemic, it is nice to hear from you again. Thank you for your good wishes too.

    1. Thanks Susan, I agree the researcher did a very good job. When writing the details of the painting it was very time consuming trying to get it all right, I don’t know how you manage to describe a whole cathedral full of details! Best wishes.

  2. For those of us who look forward to your bird shots, it is too bad they do cause you grief because they certainly are beautiful to look at. Cold and windy here with a few flurries in the forecast so I’m not outside hardly at all and definitely don’t see many birds of any kind. Thank you for sharing yours and for the wonderful historical info.

  3. What an interesting post! I must admit I feel sorry for the bird that was snatched from its habitat and brought to a strange place. Your wonderful descriptions and photos give this northern reader a glimpse of an intelligent, fascinating, and sometimes pesky bird. Many, many thanks!

    1. Thanks Laurie, I agree snatching birds from their habitat is just awful. I’m glad the bird in the painting seems to have survived against the odds. You summed up the Cockatoo very well, intelligent, fascinating and pesty!

    1. Yes I agree, their intelligence shines through ….Also very good that they are protected…. amongst the gum trees is where they belong!

  4. A really interesting post, Gerrie. These beautiful birds do look very intelligent and also very sassy. It’s fascinating to to see the one in the painting from so long ago. I’m sure their species will survive forever. Wishing you a very happy Christmas season.

    1. Thanks Sylvia and wishing you a very happy and relaxing Christmas…and yes I agree, those cockatoos will survive forever.

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