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Cockatiel History

Australia's maidens a gift to the world

By Dick Ivy, Yorktown, Va.

The original cockatiel -- gray, a "Normal," is one of 431 unique native Australian birds, first described in the late 1700s. In Australia, they an found in the island's open treed and grassy plains when the temperature is between the aver-- ages of 60 and 80 degrees year round and much less populated than the coastal areas. Large nomadic flocks can be found on the main continent, especially in the eastern and southeastern states, but below the really hot zone and above the cold and damp region.

During dry seasons (less than an inch of min a month), flocks from the south migrate apparently looking for water,and sometimes are seen in the coastal cities such as Sydney, where it is said they sit on telephone wins in bunches. They are plentiful in nearby New South Wales end are very fast fliers, often appearing as a blur, and keep their distance from humans unlike some larger exotic species that reportedly alight on windowsills or porch railings. On the interior plateaus cockatiels can be seen with other birds searching for gram seeds, or eating herbaceous plants, wheat, fruits and berries, generally near lakes or rivers. They like large live or dead trees especially eucalyptus, where they perch lengthwise on the tree limbs. Their grey color helps them to blend in on the grey branches.

The breeding season in Australia depends largely on weather conditions, especially rainfall. Nesting usually is from dry August to a hotter (80-90 degrees) but wetter November and December, a time roughly equal 16 our March thru July, Nesting is known to occur as early as our April (their October), in tree holes or hollows. The eggs an laid on rotten wood dust from the insides of the hollow, The bird has been described as smaller than domesticated cockatiels by Tony Silva, and books identify it as being 12-13 inches long.

Eastern Australia was known} as New Holland off and on in the 1600 and 1700s. John Gould (1804-1881) was an English ornithoIogist and taxidermist who went to Australia in 1838 when it was used as an English prison colony and catalogued the many species of birds then, and with his wife's, drawings of the birds, later publishing Birds of Australia in England at the age of 36, following his success with collections of Himalayan and European birds published in his late 20s. He called the cockatiel which the Australians called "Quarrion birds" the "cockatoo parrot," and probably brought a few of them to England in 1840. Having compared cockatiel and cockatiel chromosomes, cytogeneticist Marc Valentine told a convention audience that if the cockatiel is related to the cockatoo, it "must be extremely distant" because their chromosomes are "totally different."

For a time they were even classified with Australian parakeets. East bred in Europe in 1845, by 1864 the birds were known as pets in England. An importer of exotic animals is credited with giving it the name of cockatiel, a Dutch word kakatielje, borrowed from the Portugese cacatilho meaning "little cockatoo."

A romantic scientist named Wagler wasn't far from wrong in naming their one of a kind Nymph(icus) in 1832, after a mythical order of beautiful maidens who lived in the woods, meadows, rivers and mountains and trees and who served a higher level goddess. The classified name eventually became Nymphicus hollandicus, of the Cacatuidae (Cockatoo) family (before chromosome testing), the Nymphicinae subfamily, Nymphicus genus. The name was simplified from a more complicated Latin classification to Hollandicus by Surgeon Dr. Robert Kerr of Edinburgh, Scotland a student of Natural history, in 1792. The cockatiel has been recognized by those in the past as the Beautiful Maiden of New Holland - and surely by those present as the Princess of birds.

Information also gleaned from Joseph Forshaw's Parrots of the World. George A. Smith's Encyclopedia of Cockatiels, Dr. Gerard & Connie Allen's Cockatiel Handbook, and World Book entries on Australia and several other items. This article first appeared in the National Cockatiel Society Bulltin, July-August 1986, written by Ivy who was then editor.

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