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THE COCKATOO

By: Efraim Harari



The cockatoo is arguably one of the most popular birds in the parrot family. Although it shares many of the same traits as other parrots, the cockatoo is most noted for its differences, such as its large, showy crest of feathers atop its head and the color of its plumage.

While most parrots have bright and colorful feathers, the cockatoo’s plumage is mainly white, gray, or black. (There are a couple of exceptions, as there are around twenty different species of cockatoos.)

The cockatoo uses its crest of feathers as a means to communicate. If the feathers are raised, it usually means that the bird is excited or nervous. When the feathers are relaxed, it usually means that the bird is calm, most likely either eating or resting. If the cockatoo is trying to intimidate other birds or show off to them, it will only partially raise its feathers. The cockatoo is also quite the acrobat. It is able to hold its food in one foot while balancing on the other!

Cockatoos are mainly found in Australia. They inhabit various types of forested areas, such as pine forests, rain forests, and eucalyptus groves. Just like all parrots, cockatoos have zygodactyl feet and are expert climbers. The ability to climb is essential for them, as they need to climb up, around, and through thick tree branches in order to reach the fruits, nuts, and seeds that grow on the trees.

Cockatoos are very loud and boisterous and usually travel in large flocks that can number over a thousand birds. Some flocks will even include two or three different species of cockatoos.

Like most parrots, cockatoos are cavity nesters, which means they live in holes in the trees. They are not capable of making these holes themselves, so the nest cavities that cockatoos live in are either natural tree hollows (naturally created by wood decay) or abandoned nests made from other creatures, such as termites or woodpeckers.

Although most cockatoos are medium- to large-sized birds of stocky build, there are exceptions. The smallest species is twelve inches long, while the largest is twenty-six inches. Similarly, the lightest species can weigh less than three ounces, while the heaviest bird can weigh up to thirty-five ounces.

In zoos, there are some species of cockatoos that live for over a hundred years. In the wild, the cockatoo can live to about sixty years of age.

Torah Traits

Although parrots are able to mimic our speech, their speaking skills pale in comparison to those of a human being, as they are simply not capable of having a meaningful conversation. Yet it is far more amusing and entertaining to listen to a parrot say, “Wanna showah (I want a shower)” than to listen to a person communicating a brilliant thought.

Why is this? It is because of the power of the chiddush, of the surprise, of the unexpected occurring. There is no surprise in a person speaking, but for a parrot – a bird – to open its mouth and speak... now that’s something unusual!

Hashem, too, as it were, enjoys a chiddush. And the greatest chiddushof all, the most amazing thing possible, is when a human being goes against his nature in order to fulfill Hashem’s command.

It is not natural for a person to want to part with his hard-earned money and give it to tzedakah, or for someone who is hungry to turn down a delicious meal because it lacks a proper hashgahah. Yet a shomer Torah u’mitzvot will do these thingsanyway!

It is for this reason that a Jew’s mitzvotand prayers give so much pleasure to Hashem. Hashem has many angels serving Him, yet none of them can provide Hashem with the same degree of pleasure that He receives from our keeping the Torah and mitzvot. Because just as the talking parrot brings amusement to its listeners simply since it is not the “norm” for a bird to speak, it is our ability to go against human nature and serve Hashem despite our natural tendency to “take it easy,” that gives Hashem so much joy and pride in us, His beloved children.

Another valuable lesson we can learn from the parrot is how, as Jews, we are supposed to help each other improve and become better people.

When you watch parrots in their cages, they seem to be fooling around and pricking each other with their curved bills. In reality, though, they are actually grooming, or preening, each other. Parrots preen themselves with their beaks to keep their feathers in top-notch shape and to keep themselves free from tiny insects that can harm their bodies. When it comes to parts of their bodies that their bills can’t reach, they are helped by other parrots.

Just as parrots help each other in the art of preening, people can help each other improve spiritually, too, with words of encouragement and by simply being a good influence on others.

Do Parrots
Really Talk?

Even though some parrots surely seem like they are able to talk, they are really not talking – at least not like we talk. Meaning, parrots do not have the ability to decide which words to use, with a specific meaning; they cannot have intelligent conversations. More accurately, what parrots do is called mimicry.They are simply imitating sounds, such as spoken words, that they have heard repeatedly.

Still, this feat is very impressive. Besides human speech, some parrots are able to mimic all types of everyday noises that they hear in a home, such as the sound of a barking dog, a teapot whistling, or an alarm clock ringing.

Something many people are unaware of is the fact thatparrots do not have vocal cords. They use the muscles in their throat to push air out of their trachea. By manipulating the shape and depth of their trachea, they are able to create different sounds.