Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather

An interview with Sid, the sulphur-crested cockatoo

Note: We’d like to thank the DCC staff who take care of Sid and his avian mates for letting us in and sharing Sid’s story. They’re keen to tell a bigger story about the ethics of aviaries, which are a relic of a more Victorian time. They can’t just get rid of the birds they’ve inherited, so instead they’re focused on giving them the best life possible while emphasising other projects, like their kākā breeding programme. We’d like to do a full story on the history of the aviary in the months to come.

Sid has black, beady eyes. When you stare into them, you can almost see your reflection. They’re like pools of shining obsidian. Behind those eyes is the brain of a mastermind; a bird with a chequered past, whose talons have prised at the locks of countless cages and whose calls have graced the air of many a sanguine sky. He is not just a sulphur-crested cockatoo; he’s a local legend. An icon. A rogue in white robes.


Sid does not normally talk to journalists. This interview was the product of a careful negotiation process, in which we traded him fourteen perfectly-shaped stones to add to his collection in exchange for fourteen minutes of his time. The bottom of his current enclosure, located at the top of the Botans, is littered with similar stones. But only a few have the right shape and texture to be considered perfect. Sid carries these around in his beak, using them to scrape against the black, woven fencing of his enclosure and the asphalt walls below.


His favourite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. In it, a young man with a penchant for geology uses a small hammer to carve his way to freedom through the prison’s walls. Sid told us that his perfect stones offered a similar salvation, and he showed us his project: a small area of smooth asphalt, shaved down and widened over the years by slow, steady scraping. He holds the stone in his beak and rubs it against his wall. “Patience is a virtue,” he reminded us. “Even the hardest boulder is broken by the will of steady water.”


Sid has not always been in this enclosure - in fact, this is a relatively new pad for the bachelor, who was moved here sometime around the 1980’s. He was moved into his new room a few years ago, after an altercation with his neighbour. Human staff told us that Sid instigated the fight – that he was the one who ruffled the feathers, as it were. Sid tells a different story: “That [squawk] had it coming,” he said. “If it were up to me, I would’ve finished the job.” The former neighbour declined to comment.


Despite his rough exterior, Sid is actually a very sweet animal. Those that he loves, he loves with all his heart. His passion manifests as fiery defensiveness, yes, but also as artistic flare; Sid is well-known in the aviary as a proud and skilled dancer. He told us that his favourite tunes come from Dolly Parton, Kendrick Lamar and, of course, Jimmy Buffett. “Margaritaville takes me back,” said Sid.


But back to where? We know from anonymous sources that Sid’s connections to the underworld run deep. He has family ties to at least one active “gang” of sulphur-crested cockatoos back home in Australia, who have made a name for themselves as the ‘Rubbish Bin Raiders’. The Raiders are known for their ingenious method of opening rubbish bins, displaying a level of intelligence and teamwork that has drawn the attention of the international scientific community. When pressed for details, Sid said he would never rat on the secrets of their method. “Raiders for life,” he said.


“The Raiders get a bad rep,” said Sid, who was quick to defend his mates. Birds of a feather, indeed. “They’ve done nothing wrong, at all,” he insisted. “These people move into our neighbourhood, cut down our trees, pave over our fields…and then, when we start eating their waste, their literal garbage, we get called ‘gangs’. How messed up is that?”


His time behind bars has given the old bird time to ponder. “Some say I’m going mad,” he said. “And maybe that’s true. But in old age, I’m learning to appreciate the finer things in life: the perfect stones, the sweetest berries. I’ve even made some human friends,” he said, gesturing to his favourite human staff. “It’s not all bad. I get a lot of visitors. I mean, heck, you came all the way to see me!”


By now, the clock read 13:26. We had just seconds left together. Sid clung to the black wire that separated bird from breatha. He rolled a stone end over end in his beak, using his muscular tongue like a thumb. We sat in silence. He stared intensely, and did not blink. The clock struck 14:00. “Time’s up,” he said. “You come back, now. You’ll know where to find me.” 

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2023.
Posted 2:34pm Sunday 19th March 2023 by Fox Meyer.