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The cockatoo who's afraid of heights

David Colvin shows the tricks his precious pet cockatoo Cocky can do.

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"Cocky's a bloody wrecker! Cocky's a noisy bugger!" he squawks, before erupting into ... was that laughter?

Cocky, an 18-year-old cockatoo, is young - some of his peers live to 80 or more.

If you give him a [tea towel], he'll throw it away and you get it and give it to him and he throws it away again - he's playing fetch with the humans 

But after caring for him for 13 years, Maxwell and Isabel Colvin, of Forbes, found him too much to handle in their late 70s, so their son Dave took over.

Cocky ...  only 18 and on to his second owner.

Cocky ... only 18 and on to his second owner.

Now, five years later, Cocky is very much a part of his new family in Catti, north-west of Sydney.

He sits on his owners' knees to get a rub and loves a cup of tea with buttered bread.

"If you give him a [tea towel], he'll throw it away and you get it and give it to him and he throws it away again - he's playing fetch with the humans," Dave Colvin said, adding that he's already arranged for his 12-year-old son, Max, to care for Cocky when he turns 40.

Money collector ... Elliott collects donation sat Taronga zoo.

Money collector ... Elliott collects donations at Taronga zoo. Photo: Taronga zoo

But not many cockatoos get the chance of a second life with a different owner.

Many outlive their owners, or are abandoned.

"It's a pretty big problem for us," said Leanne Taylor of wildlife rescue organisation WIRES.

Taking off ... the number of sulphur crested cockatoos around Sydney is believed to be rising.

Taking off ... the number of sulphur crested cockatoos around Sydney is believed to be rising. Photo: Sharon McCarthy

"[Cockatoos] live a very long time and often people no longer want them."

Kaye Parsons set up the charity Let The Birds Fly Free seven years ago with her friends to find new homes for birds.

"It is a predicament that a lot of people are in. It's hard," she said, adding that she and her husband went through the same dilemma when they first had their own birds.

"I said to my husband, 'Oh what are we going to do', because we didn't have kids at that time. 'Who is going to look after our birds? They are going to outlive us.' I don't know you can't put that on a child that is not born yet. They might not even like birds."

Ms Parsons says she can be faced with up to three cockatoo orphans a month, though last year only five birds were found new homes.

Five carers help her look after the birds.

In one case, a neighbour called Ms Parson's organisation after she realised her neighbour had moved and left his cockatoo Polly behind.

Polly, which Ms Parsons believed was only about six years old, was found in the backyard in a heavy metal cage with a "big hole in its chest", Ms Parsons said.

The vet said it was not clear if the hole was caused by self-mutilation or by cigarette burns, but a few operations were needed to close it up.

As Polly didn't like females, Ms Parsons' friend Roy agreed to look after her instead.

Polly went on to live another three years.

For Elliot, having a second-chance in life has meant a job at Taronga Zoo.

The sulphur-crested cockatoo in his 50s was at a loose end when his companion left the zoo after its show finished about 14 years ago.

The zoo's bird trainers decided to bring Elliot across to another show, but when he had problems landing because of the arthritis in his foot, they realised they had to find him a new gig.

Now Elliot collects donations at the zoo, taking money from people and putting it inside a box, in a scheme that has raised $100,000 for the zoo over the past few years.

He spends his free time hanging out with a group of young female cockatoos, trying to romance them and prove he's a "good nest builder", bird trainer Matthew Kettle said.

"Elliot's always trying to preen them. He's always chewing up bits of wood and stuff and making little piles as if to say I'm a good nest builder [and] I'll be a good dad. It keeps him very busy."

The population of cockatoos in Sydney has increased over the past few decades, said Birds Australia's Dr Holly Parsons. While it was hard to get exact numbers, she said Birds Australia's yearly surveys over the past few years had shown a 40 per cent increase in cockatoo sightings in 2010-11.

There was a 22 per cent increase of cockatoo sightings in 2008-09, she added.

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