The Australian Galah

 

THE GALAH

Eolophus roseicapillus (Vieillot)

Cacatua roseicapilla Vieillot, Nouv. Dict. Hist. Nat., 17, 1817, p.12. (In the Indies = New South Wales.)

 

OTHER NAMES
Rose-breasted Cockatoo, roseate Cockatoo, Willock Cockatoo.

 

DESCRIPTION

ADULT MALE
Forehead, crown. Lores and occiput white with a pink suffusion through the base of the feathers; mantle, black, wings and tail grey; secondary-coverts, rump and upper tail-coverts very pale grey (almost white); primaries, primary-coverts and tip of tail very dark grey; cheek patches, ear-coverts, nape and underparts, including under wing coverts rose-red; under tail-coverts, vent and lower abdomen pale grey; naked periophthalmic ring deep crimson; bill horn-coloured; iris dark brown; legs grey.

10 specimens: wing 257-275 (266.9) mm., exp. Cul. 24-30 (25.8) mm., tars. 25-27 (25.8) mm.
Tot. length 338 mm (13.3 ins.), wing 274 mm., tail 150 mm., exp. Cul. 25mm., tars 26mm., (AM. 014853, Coonamble, New South Wales).

ADULT FEMALE
Similar to male; iris pinkish-red.
10 specimens: wing 248-282 (259.6)mm., exp. Cul. 24-27 (25.1) mm., tars 24-27 (25.6) mm.
Tot. length 362 mm. (14.2 ins.), wing 282 mm., tail 150 mm., exp. Cul. 27mm., tars. 25 mm., (AM. 028661, Narrandera, New South Wales).

IMMATURES
Duller than adults; crown and breast strongly washed with grey; naked periophthalmic ring pale grey slightly tinted with pink; iris brown.

 

DISTRIBUTION
Australia generally, chiefly the interior. Accidental to Tasmania.

 

SUBSPECIES
1 Eolophus roseicapillus roseicapillus (Vieillot)
The nominate race inhabits the eastern section of the continent. Field observers are largely unaware of the subspecific differences so the distribution of races is poorly known.

The Galah is widespread throughout Queensland, except the east coast of Cape York Peninsula, the coastal areas between Cooktown and Townsville, and the extreme south-eastern corner.

McGill (1960a) says that in New South Wales it is found throughout all areas west of the Dividing Range, with small populations in some central coast parts. It is also present on the Southern Tablelands. My observation indicate that only the nominate race is found in the State. All birds that I have seen about White Cliffs, Tero Creek and Broken Hill in the far west have been roseicapillus.

Wheeler (1967) states that it is found in all districts of Victoria, but on the distribution map he shows that in the east it is absent from parts of the Gippsland.

According to Cordon (1962) the species occurs throughout South Australia, including Kangaroo Island. It is possible that birds from from the far north and from the western districts may not be roseicapillis.

According to Storr (1967) the Galah is found throughout the Northern Territory. Ordinarily it occurs north of the Victoria and Roper Rivers, but towards the end of the dry season wandering parties reach the far north coast. It is also present throughout the Kimberley Division, Western Australia. Both subspecies may occur in the Northern Territory, roseicapillus being distributed along the northern parts and assimilis up from the south west.

2 Eolophus rseicapillus assimilis (Mathews)
Cacatoes roseicapilla assimilis Mathews, Nov. Zool., 18, 1912, p. 366, no. 439. (Laverton, West Australia.)

ADULT MALE
General plumage paler; crown more strongly suffused with pink; naked periophthalmic ring white or greyish-white; iris dark brown.
5 specimens: wing 262-269 (264.8) mm., exp. Cul. 25-27 (26.2) mm., tars. 25-26 (25.6) mm.
Tot. length 368 mm. (14.5 ins.), wing 262 mm., tail 152 mm., exp. Cul. 26 mm., tars. 25mm., (WAM. A8117, Millstream Station, Fortescue River, Western Australia).

ADULT FEMALE
Similar to male; iris pinkish-red.
5 specimens: wing 245-273 (256.8) mm., exp. Cul. 23-26(24.3) mm., tars. 25-27 (26.1) mm., (WAM. A8117, Millstream Station, Fortescue River, Western Australia).

This subspecies is found in Western Australia as far north as the Fortescue and probably the De Grey Rivers. Birds from the Kimberley Division may be roseicapillus.

Serventy and Whittell (1967) state that the Galah is now fairly generally distributed in Western Australia, where in recent years it has spread rapidly into southern parts, particularly into the wheatbelt. It has been recorded once on Rottnest Island.

The only reliable distinguishing feature of the subspecies is the colour of the naked periophthmalmic ring and this is conspicuous in the field. Observers visiting central and Northern Australia should note which subspecies occurs in each particular locality. Care should be taken to avoid confusing immatures of roseicapillus with adult assimilis. The periophthalmic ring colouration is clearly shown in living birds and not in their skins.

 

HABITAT
Galahs inhabit most types of open country. They are typical birds of the savanna woodlands and open grasslands of the interior, but are becoming increasingly abundant in coastal mountainous areas. They are rarely seen above 4,000 feet (1,250 m.), though in August 1967, John Bywater found a small group at 5,000 feet (1,560 m.) near Perisher Valley in the southern Alps, New South Wales .

 

STATUS
The Galah is undoubtedly the most widespread and one of the most abundant of the Australian parrots. It is common to very common throughout its range. During the past fifty to sixty years there seems to have been an overall increase in the numbers as well as an extension of range, the latter having been more spectacular in the southern regions.

The increase in numbers and extension of range probably has been brought about by man-made changes to the environment, namely land clearance, extension of cereal growing and the provision of stock watering holes. Serventy and Whittell (1967) agree that the these factors have accelerated the process, but, they suggest that fundamentally, the extension of range was initiated by slight deteriorations of the inland climate during this century.

In the past decade they have spread into the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. In this region the mountains are interspersed throughout with valleys and hills which have been opened up for grazing and the cultivation of cereal crops, mainly oats. Galahs have moved into and established themselves in the open areas. They have now become one of the most common birds, even breeding in trees in suburban gardens. At Dry Plains near Adaminaby, New South Wales, the first pairs arrived as summer visitors in 1957; the first nest was located in 1960 and now there is a resident population of approximately one hundred birds.

Lendon (1951) says that the range appears to be expanding in South Australia and within the past thirty years the species has colonised the more settled, southern areas. According to Boehm (1959) the first Galah seen in the Sutherlands district, South Australia, was reported in 1918. A flock of five birds appeared in 1923, and the first recorded breeding took place in 1926. Within a few years flocks of up to twenty birds were common and by 1938 large flocks containing as many as two hundred individuals were occasionally seen. Thereafter they increased rapidly. The species is now well established on Kangaroo Island where it is said to have arrived in the 1920's.

The rapid extension of the range in Western Australia has been outlined by Serventy and Whittell (1967). Prior to settlement Galahs apparently did not occur south of the mulga-eucalypt line and were restricted to riverside eucalypt habitats of the north-western river systems, south to the Murchison. By 1928 they were very abundant at Mingenew, had reached the outskirts of the north-eastern wheatbelt, and were occasionally observed near Kellerberrin. However, the southernmost visitors did not persist at the time and it was not until the 1930's and early 1940's that Galahs became really plentiful in the northern wheatbelt. By 1950 they had penetrated in strength to a line from the Hill River to Goomalling and Wickepin. They now frequently visit the Perth district along the coast, and bypassing the heavy jarrah forest country, extend deep into the wheatbelt. Breeding occurs as far south as Nyabing and Kantanning and a few birds have appeared at Broome Hill.

 

HABITS
Galahs are usually seen in small parties or flocks, but large flocks, sometimes containing hundreds of birds are not uncommon. They are occasionally observed in the company of other cockatoos, mainly Cacatua galerita, C. leadbeateri, and C. sanguinea. When feeding with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos they respond to that bird's 'sentinel warning system', but at other times they are not timid. They spend many hours in the morning and late afternoon feeding on the ground, over which they move with a waddling gait. Occasionally a petty squabble will break out between two feeding birds. There will be a flapping of wings, a raising of chests and the emission of loud screeches. The remainder of the flock will cease feeding and, with chests raised in alarm, will watch the two birds. Soon all is quiet and feeding resumes.

During the heat of the day the birds shelter among the foliage of trees or shrubs, stripping the leaves or bark. They have been known to kill a tree by nibbling away the bark until it has been ringbarked. They frequently perch on telephone wires, even in towns and the outer suburbs of the large cities, and often swing upside-down from the wire. In outback districts they have been responsible for failures in telegraph communications; they sit on the top wire in such numbers that it is weighed down and comes in contact with lower wire thus causing a short circuit. After their evening drink the galahs drift in small groups towards their roosting trees. At sunset they commence pre-roosting aerobatics, flying swiftly in and out through the tree tops and swooping down towards the ground, screeching loudly all the while. They sometimes fly about and call at night, occasionally for long periods.

Many of these galahs, particularly the young birds, are killed by cars as they rise from the ground beside country roads. They are preyed upon by falcons and some of the larger raptors.

 

MOVEMENTS
Apart from the general extension of range in the south, there is evidence of some local movement, the extent of which appears to fluctuate with food availability and seasonal conditions. In central Queensland, west of Townsville, Galahs are said to be nomadic and at times arrive in immense flocks. It has been reported that along Gasgoyne River, Western Australia, they migrate in large flocks after the breeding season. Deignan (1964) found that Galahs, although completely absent from the Darwin (Northern Territory) area in March and April, were common there at the middle of September.

Most recoveries of banded birds have been near the banding points. However, a Galah banded near Lower light, South Australia in September 1963, was shot at Pira, Victoria, in August 1965, an easterly distance of 296 miles. A bird banded near Lucindale, South Australia, in October 1965, was recovered in April 1967 at Portland, Victoria, 105 miles to the east. A bird banded at Mulgundawa, South Australia, in October 1962, was killed at Keith, South Australia, in April 1967, a south-easterly distance of eighty miles.

 

FLIGHT
The flight is moderately fast with full, rhythmic wing-beats, which differ markedly from the shallow, erratic wing-beats in the flight of the Cacatua spp. The birds glide only when coming on to alight. They are strong fast fliers and frequently indulge in aerobatics, especially during a rainstorm and before going to roost.

Of all Australian birds the Galah is probably the best example of loss of appreciation because of familiarity. It is a beautiful bird, and a flock in flight is the most impressive sight. As the flock twists and turns the rays of the sun highlight first the rose-pink underparts and then the soft grey of the back and wings.


CALL
The normal contact call, generally given in flight, is difficult to describe; it is rather high-pitched. Metallic, disyllabic screech bordering on a cry. When alarmed, the birds emit a harsh, grating call. The begging call of young birds is a drawn-out, whining cry.

 

FEEDING
The diet of Galahs compromises seeds of grasses and herbaceous plants, cereal grain, especially wheat and oats, fruits, berries, nuts, roots, green shoots, leaf buds, blossoms, and insects and their larvae. They eat sprouting shoots of wheat and attack ripening crops and bagged grain, causing considerable damage.

They have been seen feeding on mistletoe berries (Loranthus spp.) and the seeds of the rolypoly bush (Bassia sp.). In western New South Wales I have often found them in the company of Little Corellas (Caatua sanguinea) and Mallee Ringneck Parrots (Barnardius barnardi) feeding on the seeds of paddy melons (Cucumis myriocarpus) and wild bitter melons (Citrullus lantatus) split open by the sun. In Canberra they have become fond of clover seeds (Trifolium spp.) and flocks congregate to feed on lawns and sports fields. Near Richmond, Queensland, Berney (1906) found them feeding on the succulent leaves of Atriplex spongiosa. Boehm (1959) says that about Sutherlands, South Australia, they feed extensively on the seeds of saffron thistles (Carthamus lanatus) and white stemless thistles (Onopordon acaule).

Ratcliffe (1936) suspects that the feeding activities of Galahs might be an adverse factor in the regeneration of the saltbush (Atriplex vesicarium) and bluebush (Kochia sedifolia); because of the provision of stock watering places these birds have become more numerous, thus increasing the depredations on these plants. Flocks settle on any patch of vegetation at the seeding stage and not only pick up fallen seeds but attack ripening fruits.

At Cunnamulla, Queensland, Allen (1950) investigated the effects of the feeding habits of Galahs on the regeneration of natural pastures and collected a samples over a period of twelve months. The seeds in the crops were mainly western button grass (Dactyloctenium radulans), Flinders grass (Iseilema membranaceum), and Mitchell grass (Astrebla lappacea), with small quantities of pepper grass (Panicum whitiei) and herbage seeds such as Calotis hispidula. The daily consumption of seed per bird was approximately fifteen to twenty grams. Although many of the natural pasture species seed prolifically, this amount could be important in poor seasons when regrowth is governed by the amount of seed present.

The crop contents from four birds collected at Mangalore, Victoria, comprised wheat grains and seeds, including those of Cryptostemma calendulaceum (cape weed) and Erodium cicutrarium. Cleland (1918) examined the crop contents from five birds collected in inland New South Wales and found seeds, wheat grains, fibrous vegetable tissue and grit.


BREEDING
The courtship display is simple and generally includes aerobatics. The male with his crest raised and head weaving slightly from side to side, struts along a branch towards the female, uttering a soft chattering note as he approaches. The female leaves the branch and, followed by the male, flies across the paddock, twisting and turning through the trees and calling excitedly. They alight in another tree, where the display is repeated, followed by mutual preening.

The breeding season is variable. In southern Australia it lasts from July to December or sometimes as late as February. In the north nesting follows the wet season. And usually takes place during the months February to May or June. In the central regions dry seasons may stop breeding altogether or abnormally small clutches may be laid, while in good years the clutch size may increase or two broods may be reared (McGilp, 1924).

The nest is a hollow limb or hole in a tree, usually a dead or living eucalypt standing near water. At Pennington Bay on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, nests have been found in holes in cliffs. Both birds clean out and prepare the hollow. The strip bark from around the entrance and expose the smooth wood underneath; the reason for this is not known. The bottom of the hollow is lined with eucalyptus leave, which the birds carry to the nest in their bills. Occasionally they add more leaves after the eggs are laid and such a quantity is built up that the eggs may be almost covered. The normal clutch, comprising two to five white, oval shaped eggs, is laid over a period of up to a fortnight.

A set of four eggs of the nominate race from Buckinguy Station near Coonamble, New South Wales, now in the H. L. White Collection, averages 34 (33.3-35.2)x26.5 (26-27.2) mm. A set of five eggs of assimilis from the Coongan river, near Marble Bar, Western Australia, also in the H. L. White Collection, averages 34 (33.3-35.2)x26 (25.2-26.7) mm.

Incubation lasts about thirty days. Both sexes brood and care for the young. While the nestlings are young the parents visit the nest together each three hours and in turn enter the hollow to feed the chicks. While the nestlings are young the parents visit the nest together each three hours and in turn enter the hollow to feed the chicks. While the young birds are being fed they emit an incessant, wheezy call interspersed with harsh, vibrating cries. The adult interlocks her bill with that of the chick and with jerking up and down movement passes regurgitated food to the young bird. It is this jerking movement that is accompanied by the vibrating cry.

The young birds vacate the nest approximately six weeks after hatching. They are fed by the parents for a further two to three weeks. In summer the begging cries from young Galahs sitting in the treetops is an integral part of the inland scene.
A combination clutch has been recorded from Mingenew on the Irwin River, Western Australia. Three young cockatoos taken from a nest proved to be two Major Mitchell's Cockatoos (Cacatua leadbeateri) and a Galah. Apparently the Galah deserted the nest after laying one egg and the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo took over hatch the Galah egg along with her own.
Two mutations are occasionally reported in the wild. In one the grey of the upper parts is replaced by white, while in the other the grey is retained but the undersurface is white instead of pink.

 

AVIARY NOTES
Because the Galah is so common in Australia few aviculturists bother to breed it. However, it is an extremely popular cage bird, and hand-reared birds make affectionate pets and will often become proficient 'talkers'. They are not as noisy as Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.

The basic seed mixture should comprise equal parts of sunflower seeds, oats, wheat and cracked maize supplemented by smaller quantities of millet and plain canary seed. Green-food, especially milk thistle, chickweed, lettuce and spinach, should be given regularly. Fruit will rarely be eaten, though some birds are fond of oranges.

For nesting, large hollow logs or nest-boxes should be erected in upright positions in the highest part of the aviary. Most birds will be satisfied with a lining of decade wood or sawdust, but green eucalypt leaves should be provided. Aviary-bred birds may be somewhat delicate and susceptible to chills and for the first six months should be protected from cold drafts.

The Galah has produced hybrids with the Gang-Gang Cockatoo, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, the Little Corella and the Long-billed Corella. Hybrids with Major Mitchell's and the Little Corella have also been seen in the wild.

 

Joseph M.Forshaw (1969). Australian Parrots. Lansdowne Press.
Pages 77-82

Note: Galahs have now spread to all areas of Australia, and the sub-species territorial boundries have further blurred. It is now not uncommon to find the western Galah species (Eolophus rseicapillus assimilis) along the east coast of Australia.


 


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