The Australian Galah

DESCRIPTION OF GALAH

 

Species name- Eolophus roseicapillus

There are two recognized races, the nominate subspecies is Eolophus roseicapillus roseicapillus, which is mainly distinguished by its dark pink to red eye ring. The eye ring can vary in colour from light to dark pink, perhaps depending on which region it is from. This subspecies is found in eastern, north-eastern, southern and central Australia and also Tasmania. It can also be identified from the other subspecies by its white crest and a definite break in the feather formation of the crest when it is raised.

The subspecies found in western Australia are Eolophus roseicapillus assimilis. This bird has a greyish white eye ring and a longer, fuller, pinker crest than E.r. roseicapillus. The crest also has no division of feather formation when it is raised. This subspecies tends to be longer and slightly broader than the r. roseicapillus and its body is also a paler coloration. The head of the E.r. assimilis is bigger and appears flatter and more square than the E. r. roseicapillus.

There is very likely a third subspecies, although not formally recognized yet, Eolophus roseicapillus kuhli. These Galahs are about 2 3/8" smaller than the other species, with a smaller head and very high rounded crown. In these birds, the males tend to have a deep reddish pink eye ring, where as the females eye ring is a dull pink, eye rings are deeper in colour than in E.r. roseicapillus. These birds are considerably lighter in colour than the other subspecies. Found in the northern regions of the northern territory of Australia and Western Australia.

 

Average length- 13 1/2 " with males usually being slightly larger than females, but the ranges of measurements can overlap considerably.

 

Weight- the average weight is 330 grams. Birds weighed were 255-430 g, males typically weighing more than females. Wild Galahs in Western Australia weights, ranged from 275-430 g. for the males and 255-400 g for the females. Weights of flighted aviary birds at a US facility ranged from 285-390 g for the males, making the average male weight 338 g and females weighed in at 281-335 g, average weight being 307 g.

 

Eye colour-Young birds have a dark brown iris, similar to the males mature eye colour. Adult eye colour is attained at about 2-3 years of age although female galahs irises start to lighten up as young as 6 months of age. The iris is dark brown to black in most males, pinkish red to reddish-brown in females. Note: eye colour is usually correct in galahs for determining sex. Mature males in rare cases can have reddish-brown irises.

 

Sexual dimorphism- Galahs are said to be sexually dimorphic and easily sexed by eye colour, once they have reached 12 months of age, although there have been a few very rare exceptions to this with male birds. Males usually have a larger head and mandible than the females. The shape of the males head is rounder than the females. Males will *sometimes* develop larger more crusty periophthalmic carunculations than the female galahs.

 

Feathering- Very dense feathering on the forehead and crest. The crest is not apparent if not erected. Crest colour is white, with pink at the base in the E.r. roseicapillus. Crest is pale pink in the E.r.assimilis. Upper body is soft grey, paler on the rump area, underwing coverts, undertail coverts and around the vent. Tail is darker grey. The lower parts of the head, nape, breast and underwing coverts are pink to reddish pink.

 

Voice- a shrill chi'-chi'

 

Lifespan- Can live up to 50 years in captivity but likely has a shorter lifespan in the wild.



HISTORY

It is believed that cockatoos first evolved in Australia, later spreading to the South Pacific Islands. This would make the Galah, one of the oldest of the cockatoo species. The Galah was the most imported cockatoo from the time it first appeared in a London zoo in 1843 until 1960 when their exportation by Australia was ceased. For many years it was so numerous in the trade that its monetary value was quite low.

The galah was bred in several countries, although there were few successes until the 1920's, perhaps because this species was so inexpensive. Its first breeding in the US was in 1929.

This is one of the few species of parrots to have benefited by man's settlement. Due to the clearing of land in Australia, to grow crops, the Galah has had an abundance of food to thrive on. Since man's settlement, they had been released from their previous ecological restraints. Galahs were usually found in the arid regions but as a result of abundant food sources, water troughs for cattle and other man made water sources giving Galahs a larger food and water supply, they have expanded their territory, colonizing almost the entire continent. There are presently so many Galahs in Australia that they are now considered pests, (along with the Major Mitchell's, Long-billed Corella, Bare-eyed and Greater Sulphur Crested cockatoos) by grain producing Australian farmers and some others. Large flocks of Galahs will attack the farmers grain fields, devouring crops. Cockatoos in general have also been known to enter through an open window or unattended door, while the house is empty and trash the house. Although sometimes forgotten, there is a beneficial side of Galahs for farmers in that they devour certain noxious weeds.

Outside Australia, they are one of the most sought after and expensive cockatoos available, although recently they have become less expensive and more commonly kept as pets.

The Galah or rose-breasted cockatoo is very abundant in its native land. It is not an uncommon site to see a flock of galahs in flight, twisting and turning in unison, looking like a massive grey cloud, moving this way and that, just above the ground, then soaring into the treetops, only to dive again. They are very good at aerial gymnastics, shrieking with excitement as they fly, diving, taking swoops, spiralling down, twisting and turning this way and that. They are often one of the most memorable sights for tourists that visit Australia.

The Duke of Bedford kept and wrote about Galahs in the 1920's. He told a few stories, such as one Galah who seemed to develop a fondness for car riding. The galah would land on the back of a car, ride for a mile or two, then fly back home, later catching a ride on another car. Another galah enjoyed riding local railway engines. The smoke from the engine would blacken her plumage. The Duke of Bedford referred to these instances as "an odd fondness for mechanical travel".

 

NATURAL HABITS

These lovely birds can be found in open country, such as grasslands and fields, woodlands or open scrublands. Woodlands are areas where eucalyptuses are most often the dominant tree, the ground cover is grassy or shrubby and the distance between tree crowns are 1-20 meters (39 inches-65.5 feet). They can also be found in parks and gardens. Galahs can be seen in small groups or in large flocks of 200-1000 birds, not being an uncommon site.

It used to be that galahs were only found in the interior regions of Australia, but as land has been cleared for crops, and permanent watering holes have been established by man, an increase in the galah population has taken place. They are now seen in almost all of Australia, including the coastline regions. They prefer nesting areas with nearby water access.

Galahs living in arid regions, (such as northern Australia) where food supplies are inconsistent, are nomadic, especially during drought years. They have been known to vacate large areas, flying in large flocks. The furthest recorded movement of these flocks is 300 miles. In wetter regions where food is more plentiful, galahs tend to be sedentary. During breeding and nesting seasons, they are also sedentary. After breeding season if over, juvenile flocks sometimes consisting of thousands are nomadic, moving to different food sources.

In the wild, each day starts soon after first light, before sunrise. The first vocalization each day is a "chet". As more light is available, they start to move around the canopy, moving to more exposed branches to quietly sit in the rising sun for a short time. Then they move to bare ground and appear to forage, although the ground is mostly barren of food. After 15-30 minutes they fly into the trees again to sit and preen, then start to call "Lik-Lik", stretching wings and flying off to find food. When flying to a foraging area, if it is more than 1 kilometre away, the birds will pause in a large tree, and sometimes pick up other groups of galahs, then continue their journey.

The foraging area is usually an open paddock that might be a mixed pasture, harvested stubble or a growing crop. Foraging may last 30 minutes to five hours depending on the birds current needs and food availability. When their crops are full, they fly to a nearby tree to preen and rest while they digest their food. At midday most birds are quietly perched in trees. Later, foraging resumes and later on they will fly to a watering hole. After drinking, breeders will pair up and fly off to their usual roosts. Or neighbouring pairs will form a small flock and return to their roosting area. Non-breeders will roost in the nearest patch of woodland to the foraging site.

They are able to tolerate the temperature variations found in parts of Australia, such as those who live in the hot arid desserts where the temperature can drop 30 degrees or more at night.

Even though Galahs are extremely sociable birds they usually keep their own space away from their nearest neighbour. If one galah moves towards another one its motivation is usually friendly or agonistic. If the move is friendly, the galah will move while making a close contact call or invite the other bird to preen. If the move is agonistic the intruding bird will be met with a jab of the bill, or a bite on the foot but the victim usually perceives the intent and moves away, maintaining its individual distance and space.

A competition for perch space has been witnessed on many occasions. This can result in bill jabbing and foot biting. There is a hierarchy that often develops in which the most recently arrived larger males dominate the perch. As time passes he may leave, letting another male take his place.

Galahs are granivores that feed on a variety of seeds from native plants. Seeds are quickly eaten before competitors such as insects or other birds eat them. To maximize the effort the seeds are foraged by flocks, rather than individual birds. This is a strategy used by granivores, giving many eyes to find the resources and many individual birds to take the harvest before it disappears.

The wild eastern and western Galahs do not appear to have any significant differences in behaviour. These two races also readily mate in the wild, many of them around Perth Australia and they have readily mated in aviaries.

 

NEST

Galah nests are hollows or cavities, preferably carved out in eucalyptus trees, although Galahs have also been known to nest in rock crevices, cliff tunnels or vertical concrete pipes. Rotted, insect ridden trees are preferred by Galahs for carving their nest holes. The nest hollows are anywhere from 2 meters-20 meters (6.5 feet- 65.5 feet) above the ground. Nesting holes are usually at least 10 meters apart. Unfortunately there is now a decline of available nest hollows and this could threaten most species, even the common galah, as new pairs search for hollows. There are only so many natural hollows caused by action of fungi or termites, available for birds to use as natural shelter, roosting or nesting sites. Also, there are at least 94 Australian bird species that use nest hollows. Competition for hollows, not only exists among bird species but also includes reptiles, insects and mammals. Galahs only use nesting hollows for nesting and as soon as the babies leave the nest, the hollow is vacant for temporary occupation to take place by some other creature.

Galahs are resident occupants while nesting so they soon become of aware of any possible take over attempts by another creature. These cockatoos will defend their site and are agile strong opponents, armed with powerful bills and claws. Due to this, only about 5% of galahs lose their nesting hollows to other species.

Young Galah pairs have been observed at times spending many hours chewing on a tree, inspecting it, or playing and sleeping in that tree, making an observer think this is where they plan to nest. When it is actually time to nest, they will switch to a tree next to the one they were so involved with and make their nest there. Galahs prefer existing tree hollows if available, and most often use the same hollow year after year. The Rose breasted carries its chewing activity to the exterior of the nesting cavity as well, which is unique to the rose-breasted. They will chew away bark and rotted wood surrounding the entrance, then they will give it a smooth finish by rubbing their beaks on the entrances and will also rub the side of their face, leaving powder in the grain and at times even rub it with macerated gum leaves. After several seasons the nest entrance becomes as smooth as glass. The feather dust on the entrance makes the wood very slippery. This smooth entrance is thought to prevent snakes and lizards from reaching the inside of the nest hole. Galahs line the nest hollows with long narrow shaped green eucalyptus or gum leaves, before and during incubation, preferring the long narrow leafed eucalyptus over the rounded leaves. The amount of leaves can help to raise and lower humidity. Eucalyptus also acts as a natural pest repellent.

The hollows can have an inside diameter as small as 6 inches, yet they will raise from 3-5 chicks in these tight quarters. The inside of the nest hole, being well insulated, stays at a more even temperature, than temperatures outside, the nest hole being cooler in hot weather and warmer in cool weather and easily warmed by a brooding adult. Both the male and female will incubate the eggs for 23-25 days. Naked babies begin to get feathers at about two weeks old and start to open their eyes at fifteen days. At three weeks old they are covered with feathers and no longer need to be brooded.

Galahs will defend their territory, which is about a 3 metre area around the nest entrance. The nesting season for Galahs can vary, as it is dependant on rainfall. Galahs in different areas of Australia can go to nest at slightly different times. Nesting can take place as early as the last week of July and as late as mid November. A few clutches might be started the end of September. These are replacement clutches, for clutches that were lost .

Nest hollows are often very close together, even having more than one in the same tree, but are no closer together than 10 meters on average. Galahs are one of the first parrots to nest in the springtime. Once the babies leave the nest and go to the crèche, these nest holes are often taken over by rosellas or parakeets ready to nest.

Roosting trees are bare, being completely stripped of any foliage. The nectar found in blossoms, fresh gum leaves and gumnuts are possibly found to taste good and fun to chew and shred, so quickly disappear. At approximately 7 weeks of age, after a fledgling has learned to fly, they are taken from the nest by their parents to a creche, where the parents will continue to feed them for another 2 to 3 weeks, while still feeding any babies that may still be in the nest.

 

NURTURING

In the wild galahs grow up quickly. Babies are able to recognize their individual parents in the fifth week. By the time babies are 40 days old, they call to and answer their parents. By fledging, recognition of their parents is perfected. Its difficult for baby fledglings to exercise their wings before their first flight, since they are in a tree hollow. Fledging can take several days, sticking one wing out of a nest hole and flapping, then the other. The first flight is usually at the parents urging and is quite remarkable. Usually both parents are present during the first flight and fly on either side of the baby. In no time at all the fledgling looks as competent at flying as its parents. A long first flight is ended with a crash landing. Turning and landings take more time to master.

After babies fledge they are taken to a crèche (a protected group of trees that becomes a communal galah nursery consisting of many juvenile galahs the same age, easily identified by the constant begging cries for food coming from the babies) guided in flight to the crèche by their parents. Perhaps living in a crèche is seen by the parents as being more safety in numbers. Once in the crèche they are fed by their parents as well as by Galahs without mates and older adolescent birds. The parents must divide their time between the crèche and any babies that are still in the nest. The young crèche birds will fly around in peculiar flocks and respond to various alarms, independent of parental influence. These noisy inexperienced juvenile flocks however, attract predators such as Peregrine Falcons and Wedgetailed Eagles. When the parents return with food, they call out while they are approaching, the young recognize their parents call and meet them in a particular tree to be fed. Babies and parents recognize each other through calls, despite the confusion of the crèche. Once all nestlings have fledged and the family is reunited the family leaves the crèche and moves nearer to food supplies that has trees for resting. After two to three weeks juveniles begin to accompany their parents to the ground where the parents feed them and within a month they are eating food on their own. Babies are weaned within two months of leaving the nest.

Growing up with several birds in a crèche, being a large community, might explain some of the Galahs independent nature, since they must be more forceful or "pushy" to compete with one another, unlike some other cockatoos that are raised with only one sibling or as an only chick. These nursery Galahs form bonds with others of their own age in the crèche, and once they are weaned at approximately 3 months of age, they form flocks of their own.
Survival:

A study of wild galahs had a mortality rate of 19% during the time the fledglings left the nest and were deserted by their parents at 100 days old. 22% of those surviving birds died during the next two months and only 49% of the original fledglings lived to reach 6 months of age. After that it is thought that 19.5% of those fledglings lived to be two years old and only 9% reached three years of age. Deadly problems that a wild Galah faces everyday are being shot, collision with motor vehicles (young and inexperienced birds being the largest victims, this most often happens when grain is spilled on the roadways, and while eating the spilled grain, young galahs are slow to get out of the way of moving vehicles), cats (usually inexperienced juveniles), Wedgetailed Eagles, Peregrine Falcons......rare problems are slipping into watering troughs and drowning, electrocution while doing acrobatics on power lines, causing a short circuit.

When aerial predators are spotted Galahs often form compact noisy flocks, consisting of most of that local population, sometimes reaching numbers of 500 or more, that will circle and climb to more than one hundred meters. This is a defensive action which makes one galah part of an avian group, appearing like a storm of galahs.. discouraging predators.

If a predator is seen on the ground, Galahs will often hover by circling the predator, calling loudly, with their crests erect, using short abrupt wing beats and sometimes will pursue it or land nearby.
Companion bird personality:

Cockatoos in general are very active parrots, galahs being perhaps, one of the most active. Galahs are a bird that love life and all that it has to offer, seemingly getting much pleasure from life's everyday activities and occurrences. They are an independently natured bird, which is extremely energetic and always busy with this and that. They have a short attention span, so will move from object to object, requiring that they have lots of different activities/toys to keep them busy. As a rule, there does not seem to be much difference in personality between the males and females, although if there are differences then generally speaking, the males tend to have a more relaxed personality and the females might exhibit slightly more dominance or assertiveness and sometimes even be a little more active over the age of 2 years old.

Galahs are often known as beaky birds, meaning that they touch everything with their beaks, checking out every nook and cranny. Being "beaky" comes naturally to Galah's as they use their beaks a great deal in the wild, and in captivity to explore, dig, chew, preen, etc. Although most parrots, especially cockatoos, use their beaks for these purposes, those who spend a good bit of time on the ground foraging for food, such as rose-breasted, seem to utilize this practice more consistently. This is because they are essentially ground feeding birds.

Galahs are very sociable birds and often accept all family members as well as friends who may drop by. As with any larger parrot, caution should be exercised around small children.

Because they are a cockatoo, they are sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a cuddly bird. This is a wrong assumption. Although you might receive an occasional cuddle, of 10 minutes or so duration, they are not a cuddly cockatoo and should not be classified as such...they are much too busy and independent to sit and be cuddled. They do however welcome a good head scratch. They will lower their head, wanting you to gently rub the top and entire feather tiara. If you are looking for a cuddly cockatoo, a galah would not be a good choice. It is important that they be accepted for the independent and lively creatures that they are.


BASIC BEHAVIOUR

BODY CARE

Preening: Preening is done on a regular basis. Feathers are grasped with the bill and pulled with a nibbling motion to reattach disconnected barbules and to remove dirt and debris.

 

Nibbling: Nibbling of feet and legs regularly to remove dirt, debris and any loose skin.

 

Scratching: Generally directed at the head and neck area. This is to preen areas that cannot be reached by the bill.

 

Chewing: Chewing a variety of inedible objects is important to keep the mandibles in good condition. It prevents overgrowing and deforming if they are not regularly used.

 

Grinding: Beak grinding takes place when relaxed and produces an audible noise. The purpose is to maintain the surface of the maxilla and the cutting edge of the mandible.

 

Stretching: After resting, stretching will often occur before going on to another activity. Stretching will be in the form of yawning, arching both wings over the back or fully spreading one wing and leg of the same side, downwards...which is usually done on both sides.

 

Bathing: Galahs are very cautious of the water and seldom take baths in the wild unless it rains. When it rains, they can become very excited, hanging upside down from perches in what looks similar to acrobatics, flapping wings, ruffling feathers for about five minutes. After that time they seek shelter as not to become completely soaked which could keep them from flying and be a dangerous situation, since they are prey creatures.

 

Drinking: In the wild Galahs only drink once a day on average, towards evening. In aviaries they will drink five or six times a day. Wild Galahs are very cautious drinkers, due to possible predators watching. They will usually stand on an object to drink water such as overhanging branches or fences. They have also been seen taking a drink in flight, scooping up a bill full and flying away. When getting water from a lake or such, they have been seen raising wings straight up, as if someone has told them to put their wings up in the air.

 

LOCOMOTION

Walking: Galahs walk on the ground or level tree branches by moving one foot after the other in a rolling gait. Galahs will tend to avoid vegetation on the ground as they do not seem to like their plumage wet. Walking is slow so flight is used for escape.


Sidling: This is when a Galah moves sideways, one leg after the other to approach an individual with either aggressive or sexual motivation.

 

Tripoding: This is when a bird is in a tree, and other branches are close to it. It will use its beak as a third leg...grabbing branches while moving their foot onto it.

 

Promenading: This is a behaviour only seen in captive situations. The Galah will repeatedly walk across a perch, when at the end will abruptly turn its head, then turn the rest of its body and resume walking.

 

Flight: Galahs are strong fliers and have been timed by moving vehicles at 70 kilometres per hour. Flocks flying at this speed are still agile and manoeuvre easily between trees and can maintain this rate of speed for several minutes. Galahs do not intersperse normal wing beats with spells of gliding like some other cockatoos. Galahs only glide when they are about to land.

 

Hover flight: This is when the bird uses slow wing beats, usually hovering over an intruding predator.

 

SLEEP

Awake: A resting Galah usually has its feathers sleeked back while perching on a branch. Under very hot conditions feathers may be fluffed up and wings held slightly out from the body for cooling.

 

Freeze: Juveniles will remain motionless in tree branches while waiting for their parents return. Their patchy pink and grey plumage makes them hard to see.

 

Sleep: In short episodes the knee will be lowered, so that the body will touch the branch, with relaxed neck and head that sinks into the shoulders. In longer sleep periods Galahs often turn their heads around 180* and tuck their bills into feathers on their backs. Sleeping birds feathers are usually relaxed and not sleeked.

 

Natural Vocalizations: It has been said that Galahs have 8 or 9 and possibly up to eleven distinctive calls. The number of calls seems to be related to location and social group. There appears to be a difference between the number of calls used between the nomadic galahs that frequently travel in large flocks, appearing to need fewer calls than sedentary galahs. The main purpose of Galah vocalizations are for coordination of activities such as feeding, mobbing or flight. Calls are also important for maintaining pair bonds and synchronizing activities. They appear to play little part in sexual behaviour. Some calls are listed below.

 

Chet: This is the basic Galah utterance. It is brief and consists of two parts. This is a call that Galahs recognize each other with. This call is used in flight or rest and serves as a contact call. "Chet" is also used with more intensity , intervals between "chets" shortening if a predator is approaching. The closer danger approaches, the shorter the intervals will be. Staccato type "chets" are only given by a bird in flight.

 

Lik-lik: This double, occasionally triple call is given when the bird is about to fly off, most often after preening or resting. This call is often followed by a leisurely wing, tail or leg stretch before taking flight. In the wild, several birds will repeat the call and this results in several birds taking off together.

 

Cheat: This is longer than the "chet" call and often repeated two to four times. This is when a mated galah is returning to its hollow. It seems to advertise territorial ownership and is sometimes followed by a display.

 

Titew: This call clearly has two parts and will often alternate with a "cheat". This call is used in long flights.

 

Chet-it: This is similar to "Titew" but is heard when birds are perched and is used as a contact call to birds that are a good distance away.

 

Begging: This is done by a hungry nestling or dependent fledgling. The beak is held open, the crest raised and is sometimes accompanied by a gentle swaying from side to side. The sounds is a continuous utterance that goes for a long time, possibly until the bird runs out of breath.

 

Kwee: This is a greeting of a parent returning to the nest. Occasionally it will call "Kwee" softly to its babies before feeding them.

 

http://www.pacifier.com/~birdart
Accessed: March 2005

 


2005 © Copyright GALAHs Australia