The Australian Galah

 

GALAHS:

TYPES
Living in Australia, there is rarely, if ever, a day that passes without the sight and sound of wild galahs. Galahs are found in every state and territory. But were you aware that there are different subspecies of the Galah ?

The Scientific name for Galah is Eolophus roseicapillus. Some authorities believe that the Galah is part of the Cacatua genus, which includes the white cockatoos. Whichever is correct, all agree that there are at least two, and possibly three, subspecies.

The most commonly seen Galah in the eastern states is the Eastern subspecies (E. roseicapillus roseicapillus). There are also small populations of a Western subspecies (E. roseicapillus assimilis) in Western Australia, and a Northern subspecies (E. roseicapillus Kuhli) in the north of Australia. The difference between the subspecies is slight, and involves the size of the bird, and the size and colour of the crest and the skin around the around the eye. By far the most common one, and the most commonly kept as a pet, is the Eastern subspecies.

There are also some new colour mutations of Galahs bred in Australia.
There is a 'blue' colour, where the pink is now white; a 'lutino' - white replaces the grey, and the eyes are pink; a 'silver' - the grey is diluted to silver; a 'cinnamon'- the grey is diluted to brown; a 'black-eyed white' - the grey is white and the eyes are normal; and a 'pied' - broad brands of white appear on the body. Although it will be some time before these are affordable for the average pet owner, they add a new dimension to keeping Galahs.

 

PURCHASING
A major problem in pet Galahs is an almost hysterical behaviour - feather-picking, screaming, and throwing themselves around the cage. While some of these cases are caused by skin conditions, many are due to behavioural problems. You can help to prevent these by thinking carefully if you can give a Galah the attention it needs. Galahs are very similar to young children, both in their IQ and their emotional needs. If you cannot give a Galah the sort of attention you would give a child, then it may not be the bird for you. Remember, a Galah can live for 30 to 40 years, so it is not enough to lavish care and attention on it for 6 months, and then put it in a small cage in the backyard and forget about it.

There are several ways to obtain Galahs. Often people have 'found' Galahs in a paddock, or have rescued injured birds on the roadside. Although their intentions are always the best, this rarely results in a good pet, and may be illegal in some states. Galahs can be purchased in pet shops, but these may be legally trapped birds, and once again do not make good pets. Fortunately for those wishing to have a good tame pet, some aviculturists are now turning their hand to breeding and hand-rearing Galahs for the pet trade, and these birds make the best pets.

It is very difficult to age a Galah. Young birds often have a suffusion of grey through their pink feathers. This usually moults out between 6 to 12 months, and from then they cannot be aged correctly. Female Galahs (hens) often develop a pink iris at about 12 months of age, and this can be used to sex them. However, while all Galahs with a pink iris are hens, not all hens have a pink iris !

When purchasing a Galah, examine it carefully. Warning signs include:
- ragged, un-kept plumage
- overgrown beak
- dirty feathers
- discharge matting the feathers above the nostrils
- feather loss around the eyes, and watery, swollen eyes
- droppings pasting the vent
- timid, fearful nature
- evidence of feather picking

Don't accept assurances that the bird is only moulting, or is stressed. Galahs, like many other parrots, are susceptible to some very serious diseases. These include chlamydiosis (psttacosis) and circovus disease (Beak and Feather Disease). These are very common in wild caught birds, and in some aviary-bred birds. Both of these disease spread readily from bird to bird and psittacosis will effect people as well. For this reason it is wise to insist on a money-back guarantee subject to a post-purchase examination by an avian vet. There are special tests for these diseases, but these need to be carried out and interpreted by a vet who knows and understands birds and diseases.

 

HOUSING
There are few sites sadder than a Galah confined in a so-called cockatoo cage, often with a piece of pipe as a perch, and a rusting galvanised dish for food and water. These cages might be okay for a bird that is allowed free range of the house or yard, and only uses the cage to sleep. In this situation the cage is like a 'security blanket'. However, to confine a bird in one of these cages 24 hours a day should be considered an act of cruelty.
Before buying a Galah, look around for the largest cage possible. You might have to pay a few hundred dollars for one, but remember that this should be a lifelong investment. Surely $10 a year is not bad value ?

Place the cage in a part of the house where the bird will see people and be part of the family activities. Remember that Galahs are a flock bird, and they regard people as part of their flock. It is very stressful for them to be out of sight and sound of the rest of the flock. Be careful though, not to put it somewhere where the traffic flow is so busy that your Galah gets stressed by constant activity !

Perches in the cage should be natural, non-toxic tree branches. Galahs particularly like chewing gum branches and these should be supplied regularly. Ensure that food and water dishes are not under the perches where the bird's droppings can fall in.

Position the cage and the perches so that the bird sits at about your chest height. If it is below that, it can become very timid and scared. Above your chest, your bird will think it is dominate to you. This can lead to problems with screaming and bitting.

Galahs are great chewers, and therefore the wire of their cage should be strong enough to withstand their beak. Use stainless steel feed and water dishes, or heavy ceramic dishes. Avoid galvanised dishes - not only are they poisonous in their own right, but they often have lead solder around their base.

 

FEEDING
The major problems seen in Galahs by avian vets is obesity. This causes heart disease, liver failure, diabetes, and fatty tumours under the skin. The single greatest cause of obesity is a diet of sunflower seeds.
Young Galahs should be introduced to as many different foods as possible, before they develop hard and fast dietary preferences. If these preferences have already formed, restrict the sunflower (or any other seed) to two small meals twice daily. Give the seed for 10 minutes while your having breakfast and tea. Take it away between meals, and offer a salad of sweet corn, peas, beans, silver-beet, carrot, sweet potato, capsicum and pumpkin.
Avoid or minimise fatty foods such as nuts or sunflower seed. Believe it or not, an occasional chop bone or chicken drumstick is much appreciated, and is quite good for your bird. 'Fun' foods, like pinecones, Casuarina and gumnuts, Banksia flowers, and Kikuyu runners, are not only good for your bird, but can keep it occupied for hours.
Although this sort of feeding appears expensive and time-consuming, remember it is still much cheaper than a vet trip !

 

ENTERTAINING
As I said before Galahs, are like small children. Tests have shown that they have an IQ and emotional development equivalent to a three to five year old child. This means that they can learn things, have likes and dislikes, can sulk and have tantrums, and usually love a good cuddle ! Just as you would leave a child in a bare room with nothing to do, Galahs will suffer greatly if confined to a cage with nothing to do. You do not have to spend a fortune on toys, although there are some very good ones available.

Some of the toys you can provide include:
- cardboard boxes
- toilet rolls
- gum branches and gumnuts
- pine cones, banksia flowers, etc
- stainless steel toys
- rope and wooded toys

 

LIVING
The key element to living with your Galah is learning to think like a Galah. They are flock birds, and relate to people as they would other Galahs. All of their behaviour stems from this simple understanding.

For example:
• Screaming to greet the dawn and dusk, or to attract the attention of the rest of the flock, is normal behaviour. Yelling back at your Galah reinforces that behaviour - after all, that's what Galahs do in the wild !

• Galahs that are higher than the rest of the flock are dominant. Dominant birds will discipline their flock mates by yelling at them, or with a well placed nip. They will expect the best of everything, and expect it first. If they fail to get this, they can react angrily.

• At around 2 to 4 years Galahs are old enough to choose a mate, and bond with them. Any other member of the flock coming between them and their mate requires disciplining. The sudden removal of that mate can be very stressful, and lead to behaviour such as feather picking.

 

To help deal with this sort of behaviour, try the following tips:
• Never let your bird's eyes be above yours. Never let it sit on your shoulder.

• Don't react to it's screaming by yelling back - that's just what it wants. If possible, Ignore it, or place it in a dark room for 10 to 15 minutes.

• Never hit your bird - it achieves nothing except a scared bird.

• Feed your bird twice daily. By controlling access to food, you establish dominance.

• Give your bird lots of love and attention, but don't start with levels of attention that you can't maintain.

 

Don't be afraid to seek professional help if abnormal behaviour such as feather picking, screaming or bitting starts. The sooner it is recognised, and treatment begins, the better the chance of a successful outcome.

Galahs can make wonderful pets but they have special needs and requirements. Recognising this, and taking steps to deal with it, can help you to enjoy what must be one of the most under-rated pets in Australia.

 

http://www.greatgalahs.homestead.com/galah_types.html
Accessed: 29/09/2001

 


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