I live with a Rosebreasted Cockatoo (Galah) who is at least 60 years old. Impressive considering that in the wild their expected lifespan is 30 years. I can’t tell you his exact age because anyone who knew him 60 years ago is now dead and that’s as far back has I have been able to trace him. What knowledge I have of his history, comes from the descendants of his original owners and from his own talking ability.
I know that Cocky Boy spent 60 years with a married couple. They had him for most of their lives, but he was particularly close to the man of the household, who from what I can tell was often a little on the grumpy side. I base this on the time that Cocky Boy spontaneously greeted me one morning by roaring: “WHERE’S MY DAMN BREAKFAST WOMAN?” in a seriously grumpy old man’s voice.
It’s safe to say he ate breakfast with this man almost everyday and that he was quite accustomed to getting his share. I got quite a shock the day he tried to intercept my cup of coffee yelling: “I just want my coffee thanks!!!” (Also said in a croaky old man’s voice).
There is no doubt that his diet was fairly rich in peanuts and sunflower seeds. He never stops talking about peanuts. There’s the polite “Wanna peanut?” as if he’s offering you one, although I can’t say he’s happy to share treats! Then there’s the ruder demands of which the politest version is: “Give me a damn peanut NOW!!!!!!!!!!” He talks about peanuts so much that he actually answers to the nickname “Peanuts”.
The granddaughter of the grumpy old man inherited him. In theory, this should have been fine as he went to an animal friendly family. These people loved animals, but were more inclined to play with a dog than a parrot. This was made worse because he wasn’t the cute cuddly parrot they’d seen with their grandfather. He was “vicious” and “bloodthirsty” according to the girl’s mother.
They had him on a diet of sunflower seeds and peanuts because “that’s what he asked for”. There were no perches in his cage because he would always fall off. He was outside in a rusty cage because he was too dangerous to have near children. (Apparently the granddaughter found herself in the hospital with her finger nearly ripped off.) His only toy was a dog choker collar, which hung on the side of the cage. He used to grab it with his beak and swing on it. So they re-homed him to me.
The thing is, the bird was grieving. 60 years is a long time to be with someone and it’s not like anyone explained to the parrot why his companion suddenly disappeared. He was also very ill. He had liver issues, he was seriously malnourished and he had one of the worst cases of osteoarthritis that I have ever seen. To me it was obvious that even the slightest touch from me caused him pain. No wonder he was vicious and hated fast moving children!
Fast forward to a few years later…
Cocky Boy is almost unrecognisable. He maintains a healthy average weight. The liver issues are completely gone. His arthritis is managed with regular medication. Admittedly, he needs to see an avian vet every few months to get this reassessed (so he’s expensive), but it seems to be working. He lives in a sheltered environment with other birds around him. He absolutely worships my mother, but also tolerates other people. He actually seems to enjoy visiting the nursing home and cuddling up to elderly residents. He still hates children and still swears about peanuts.
Due to our changeable weather, I’ve had to increase his arthritis medication lately. You can usually tell when he’s struggling because he becomes more slow moving and shaky. I often have the heat lamp on during colder days, just to give him somewhere warmer to sit.
The arthritis has crippled Cocky Boy. His legs are quite deformed, so there’s no option to perch like a normal bird. His toes twist in different directions and the ankle joints are pretty much permanently fused in place. He can’t fly. His walk reminds me of a snake, he kind of half slides half waddles over surfaces, pulling himself along by his beak. He can still close his toes around something if he wants and that beak is REALLY strong.
If he were human, he’d be in a wheelchair and would need rails and ramps everywhere to help him get around. He’d probably be in some sort of aged care facility. It’s something that I have taken into account when setting up his cage.
For the first 6 months, I put him in a cage with perches with dips in them so that he could rest more easily in the dips. Horizontal bars instead of vertical bars really made a difference as he could climb around and swing himself onto different perches. I made sure that there was always something he could grab to haul himself along or steady himself on a perch. This often meant putting thinner perches for him to grab with his beak (like a rail). This worked for a while, but I became concerned that he wasn’t moving around his cage as much as he used to. I stuck him under video surveillance, so that I could see how he would act without me around.
I noticed that he was sleeping on his favourite dipped perch but every few minutes would suddenly shake himself and grab the bars in front of him. He seemed to be afraid of falling and it was impacting on his sleeping patterns. He was still choosing to sleep on his perches, rather than the shelf in the cage – so I had no doubt he wanted to perch but just didn’t feel secure when he did. So I changed things up again.
I put in shelves directly under his favourite perches. It meant that if he fell – he wouldn’t fall more than an inch. Instead of standard food bowls, I gave him shallow dishes that he could climb into more easily. His feet wouldn’t grip a ladder, so I used ferret ramps to help him climb to higher platforms if he chose. He became more confident and active overnight.
The key to keeping him happy seems to be giving him a choice. He can choose to spend time on a flat surface if he is struggling, perch on a supported perch if he wants or I still had a perch that had no shelf under it that joined two platforms together. He climbs over this perch daily, but on his good days might even rest on it for a while.
I have met another galah that was about 40 years old whose condition was similar to Cocky Boy. This galah was kept completely on a flat surface because it was believed that was all he could cope with and maybe that was true for him. This bird had other issues caused by his environment that Cocky Boy doesn’t have to deal with. Cocky Boy hasn’t developed pressure sores and doesn’t have poo matted into his feathers because he can get away from his poo and change his resting position.
I placed a wire grill under his main sleeping perch, so that the majority of his poo would drop through. He quickly started to use this as a toilet. Similarly, I put a grill under his water dishes because he likes to splash. I cleaned the wooden platforms (untreated pine) in the same way that I would clean a perch.
I recently got rid of the wooden platforms completely because they were too difficult to disinfect. I completely replaced them with wire grills and ferret platforms. These aren’t ideal considering that Cocky Boy’s deformed toes could get caught and I didn’t want all of his food and toys to drop straight through. I solved this by picking up some floor tiles from my local hardware store. I chose ones with a matt finish so that they wouldn’t be too slippery for Cocky Boy to walk on. This has made the cleaning process soooooo much easier.
In terms of toys, he likes to have a string of wooden beads that he can rest on his back. I’m not sure why but he intentionally moves them so that they rest on him, it seems to be some sort of comfort thing. He loves foraging toys (as long as they rest on the tiles rather than hang). His favourite toy is a clear Perspex ball that I fill with food and shredded paper.
In terms of training, he’s never going to be able to lift his foot to wave but he’s quite capable of performing card tricks, learning new phrases and doing his own dorky version of a dance. So if anyone out there is wondering if an old bird is trainable? The answer is a definite yes!
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking as he occasionally drags out something from his past. He demanded a peanut the other day and I said “No, they’re bad for you!” He looked me in the eye and roared “FIDDLESTICKS!!!!” Which is something my grandfather would have said, and I certainly have never said to him. I can’t even begin to imagine how much being a pet parrot has changed in 60 years, so I have a feeling he’s going to continue to surprise me.