When we bought this farm it came with 16 big old walnut trees. The walnut trees also came with their own mob of cockatoos, who'd arrive every year to eat every nut before they were quite ripe.
The previous owner had tried scare guns, as well as hanging dead cockatoos from the branches. The cockatoos failed to be scared and used their dead comrades as perches to get to the more difficult nuts. He finally settled on positioning a grandson with a shot gun till picking time.
This was not an option for us.
We tried loud radios, snake-like rustling computer tape, and much else. We even thought the methods had worked till we found out the cockatoos had turned into stealth bombers, flying low undetected under the trees line, and sitting silently, guzzling walnuts. Finally I picked a half bath tub of unripe nuts each year to pickle, and left the rest. And then we got tired of pickled walnuts. The cockatoos won the lot.
But then they discovered the newly bearing fruit trees by the house. Walnuts they could have, but not apples, oranges, or mandarins, especially when they really just wanted the seeds and spat out the rest. I was wondering what to try next when I noticed a solitary white bird, siting apart.
It was a white goshawk. White goshawks eat white cockatoos. The white cockatoos departed. So did the white goshawk, but it – or its relative – returns when the cockatoos do. It means that we never have white cockatoos for more than a day. I suspect that before white settlement most cockatoo mobs were followed by cockatoo predators, who stopped them lingering.
Every time I gave a gardening talk (which I no longer do) someone would ask hopefully if I knew of a deterrent for cockatoos. This week's emails included a plea from a reader – their neighbour feeds the cockatoos, who then flap over the fence to devastate his flower beds and roses. Would garlic or some other repellent stop them?
Sorry, no, nope, and no way. Nothing easy deters white cockatoos. They probably aren't even even eating the rose buds or flowers, just having fun. Cockatoos like chewing things and spitting them out. This may include the wood on your veranda.
Basically, while a neighbour continues to feed them, the flock will hang around. Garlic may deter vampires, but there is no known scent that puts of white cockatoos – I've tried many.
There are only four things that scare off white cockatoos (or five if you count the grandson with a shotgun, which by the way is illegal. Do not kill white cockatoos.) White cockatoos don't like the colour white. Natural wood railings may get eaten. White painted ones do not.
They don't like white goshawks either – or cut-outs that look like white goshawks, or eagle or little eagle shapes, but paint them white rather than their natural shade of tan. I've heard a claim that keeping white homing pigeons may deter cockatoos, but not tried it. I suspect that while this may work on an isolated property, it may not when the cockatoos regard next door as ''home''.
Strong wire netting keeps them off. This may not be a look you want for your garden. Fishing line criss-crossed over tomato stakes looks almost invisible and is a major nuisance to white cockatoos. It may work, especially if they are going for the flowers and rose bushes from sheer destructive pleasure or beak sharpening, rather than for food. Cockatoos are also creatures of habit – if they decide not to attack your flower beds because of the fishing line, they may not return for months or years or even ever. On the other hand, they may come back next week.
Commercially available hawk-shaped ''kites'' can be hung over the garden, but need to be moved often or the cockatoos realise that they are, indeed, just kites. A motion-sensing scarecrow that shoots out water is the best prevention of all, if they are still available. They may have been taken off the market due to their tendency to also shoot water at passing posties. You can also trying hosing cockatoos with a hard jet of water – often. But it may take a fortnight of this to get them to leave your place alone.
None of which is easy, or 100 per cent effective. Cockatoos are too intelligent, and cunning, to deter easily. Beware a bird that plots and plays.
+ Planning to restrict myself to only tomatoes and apple cucumbers in the vegie garden this season, due to sore knees and lack of rain. Plus a few drought-hardy melons, and parsley and basil, of course, and a pumpkin vine or two never goes astray … or rather they always do, up the lemon trees or under the house. It is an annual joy seeing where pumpkin vines end up;
+ Telling myself I should be making summer's cordial from the last of the limes, and lime butter, and not getting around to it;
+ Greeting the king parrots, which should have been here two months ago. Trust a parrot never to stick to a schedule;
+ Wishing I had kept note of which crab apple varieties I planted, as a brilliant pink flowered one is in full bloom weeks before the others. If I remember correctly it was a the progeny of seedling sold simply as ''red flowered crab''. Our other crab with red flowers (and leaves) isn't even budding yet;
+ Celebrating the first rose of spring, a Parson's Blush, and a short-lived one as the wind swept away its petals;
+ Trying to remember to water while we still have some, so at least the trees have one deep drink before summer.
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