Editorial: The Silence of the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

Editorial: The Silence of the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

I cannot stress how much interviewing Sid (page 20) felt like interviewing Hannibal Lector.


We started off in the aviary’s kitchen, getting a safety debrief. We were told that this individual was highly intelligent, that he has a history with visitors, and not to let him get too close to our face or fingers in case he was feeling nibbly. We were told how to act if he were to misbehave, and we were told that he already knew we were here. He could hear us.


Then we were led into the main corridor, which was filled with the squawking of exotic birds. Just like in the movie, one side of the long corridor was covered in doors that led to various enclosures. We were told, almost word-for-word from Silence of the Lambs, that the star resident’s cell was all the way down on the end, past the others. On it, a sign warned: “Alone and prefers it this way. Can be aggressive so caution required.” We genuinely felt like Clarice Starling.


We were told that Sid “hates, like, 90% of men”, which is iconic but not exactly ideal for us men, especially our photographer, who had the brilliant idea to wear Birkenstocks. We were told Sid would make up his mind right away if he liked us or not, and if he didn’t like us, he would make it known. No way to find out but to try. We stepped through the door to his cage - one of two - and then we were in Sid’s world.


Sid’s world turned out to be awesome, actually, if he likes you. Which he did. But he was really cheeky about it, bouncing around and getting closer and closer, flaring that sulphur crest of his. There was no confusing what was going on: Sid was sizing us up, testing our boundaries. He wasn’t trapped in there with us; we were trapped in there with him, and he knew it. Then he spread his wings and jumped onto my shoulder.


I don’t know if you’ve ever had a large bird that close to your face, but you can see the fear in my eyes in this photo. Now, I’ve got deep, deep respect for how intelligent these animals are, but that’s also why I’m so scared of them. They’re not like spiders or bees, which I think of as little organic robots. If a cockatoo wants to scare you, it’s because it chose to. It’s having fun with you. And so when Sid stuck his sharp-ass beak into my ear and started clicking to me (softly, sweetly), I reckon it was his way of saying “there’s nothing you can do about this.” And fair enough, he’s the boss. But after a few of those interactions we were ready to get the heck out of there.


I don’t want it to sound like Sid’s in bird prison, though. It’s more like an aged care facility. He’s been there since the 80’s, and he and the other birds can’t just be released into the wild. So while the staff give these relic birds the best possible rest of their lives, they’re also focussing on conserving native species outside of the aviary, like kākā. And they’re not taking in new exotics.



And again, here’s where it parallels Silence of the Lambs. Clarice yearns for silence from her memories, because it means innocent lives have been saved. I yearn for silence from the aviary. When the squawking ceases, it means that the aviary’s long, long duty of care is finally finished. That their staff gave their exotic inhabitants all the love they deserved, and saw them through to the end. To the silence of the sulphies.


This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2023.
Posted 2:42pm Sunday 19th March 2023 by Fox Meyer.