Story & photo Mary Gardner
‘The birds and I share a natural history. It is a matter of rootedness, of living inside a place for so long that the mind and imagination fuse.’
– Terry Tempest Williams
A pandemonium of parrots describes the scene well. Most afternoons, Little Corellas (Cacatua pastinator sanguinea) fill Memorial Park in Gympie. Some pairs playfully wrestle with each other while others are quietly grooming. All the birds are either cooing, chortling, exclaiming or screeching. Like us people at a market, they are here for while to socialise and eat before flying off to the next stop in their daily round. Aren’t they doing well?
Parrots are often called the primates of the bird world. They are intelligent, playful and determined, grasping and changing their world using their feet and beaks like hands holding scissors. They hold, cut, chop, pull, open and re-arrange things to suit themselves.
Safety in numbers
All the while, they are in almost constant communication with others in their group. Each bird’s safety truly relies on numbers: predatory birds tend to catch the ones that can be singled out from the group. So chattering is one way to stay in touch.
Another safety measure is what biologist Wayne Potts calls his ‘chorus line hypothesis.’ Like a Ziegfeld chorus girl, every bird is watching a number of other birds. Each uses their social awareness to coordinate their own movements. Just as the women’s synchrony amazes theatre-goers, the collective flock in flight dazzles bird watchers: hawks, falcons as well as humans.
The psychological term for this kind of sociability, this deep penchant and need for relationships, is rootedness. The range of relationships extends to land and water. Corellas, like people, adapt their daily rounds seeking the best available food and drink. The safest sites to preen, play and rest. The most secure and comfortable shelters for sleep and for raising their young.
In spite of the way people clear the land for their own concrete jungles and monoculture farms, Corellas seem to adapt. Even though people appropriate the flow of water and degrade its quality, Corellas manage to find the water they need every day. They seem to fit this altered world.
Indeed, the size of some flocks today may seem like a plague. But consider that these birds were in decline about 30-40 years ago. The flocks, which range over many kilometres, are still following the changing pattern of available foods. Their numbers boom as people create artificial abundances of food as well as kill off more predatory birds.
More young Corellas mature. The crunch will come when the new generation of birds seek nesting sites. They need secure tree hollows, as scarce as affordable housing for people. They’ll need more food. Then they must factor in global warming. Who knows how the parrots will be able to save themselves?
According to BirdLife’s 2018 report The State of the World’s Birds, many other species of parrot and a total of 40 per cent of all bird species are now in decline. This directly relates not simply to the overall size of the human population but more so to the glaring inequities of our social foundations. As the different species of parrot are finding, there is too much for some, too little for others, and the inequity will ruin it for all.
Our social necessity drives our imagination. Our minds are like members of a chorus line: attentive to and in synchronicity with others. We communicate incessantly, grasping at and relating to the wide world. All this fuses together into our stories of place, of science and art. The best tales will show us how to reshape inequity. The outcome is of special interest to many, including every population of parrot, facing either boom or bust.