Friday, 16 January 2009

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo (Cacatua leadbeateri)

Although its scientific name honours British naturalist Benjamin Leadbeater, its common name commemorates another man. Major Mitchell's cockatoo is a bird of inland Australia, where it is widespread but not abundant.

Explorer Thomas Mitchell was captivated by this species. While camped on the Darling River, he made notes about the birds that visited the area.
[This cockatoo] was rarely noticed, and it appeared to come from a distance, flying usually very high. The pink-coloured wings and glowing crest of this beautiful bird might have embellished the air of a more voluptuous region; and indeed, from its transient visits, it did not seem quite at home on the banks of the Darling.

Other birds caught his attention, not for their splendour but for their audacity.
But the air, however much adorned by the feathered race, had its thieves, as well as the earth. The crows were amazingly bold, always accompanying us from camp to camp. It was absolutely necessary to watch our meat while in kettles on the fire and, on one occasion, notwithstanding our cook's vigilance, a piece of pork weighing three pounds was taken from a boiling pot and carried off by one of these birds! The hawks were equally voracious. A pigeon had been no sooner shot by Burnett than an audacious hawk carried it away and, as if fearless of a similar fate, he flew but a very short distance from the fowler before he had taken half the feathers off.

He was lucky they didn't work together and steal his tent.

Reference
Major Thomas Mitchell (1838) Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia. Available from Project Gutenberg.

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