Cockatoos and Sunflowers

Bananas, sunflowers and cockatoo - oh my!

Bananas, sunflowers and cockatoo – oh my!

Yesterday I spotted a sulphur crested cockatoo swooping in my backyard (not unusual). It looked like it must have landed on the side fence (unusual). I went and took a look and found it in the banana plant (unusual) near the sunflowers (aha! not unusual at all).

Cockatoo in my banana, eyeing my sunflowers

Cockatoo in my banana, eyeing my sunflowers

The sunflowers are beginning to bloom. A couple of days ago I noticed that the petals on the biggest flower were missing. I suspected birds and in fact laid the blame at the feet of the Crimson Rosellas which I saw in my back garden the day before yesterday. Not that it couldn’t have been that pair, but yesterday I caught a cockie red-handed (ahem, sorry, taloned).

Check out the cheeky bugger – he’s picked a flower-head (note the stem behind him) and is sitting there taking his time eating his way through the heart.

Cockatoo eating my sunflower

Cockatoo eating my sunflower

My chickens were not impressed. They kept their distance for a while, then moved in as the cockatoo dropped bits. When the cockie dropped the whole sunflower (or the half left after he was finished) right on top of my girls, they withdrew to reassess the situation.


After picking a 2nd sunflower, nibbling one corner of it and then dropping it, the cockatoo flew away to the neighbour’s roof and squawked at me. I think he was complaining that the seeds weren’t ripe enough. And by the look of the cockie’s leavings, they never will be.


Sunflower season really brings the parrots into my garden. The flowers don’t last long in their talons but what a way to go. I know gardeners (and home owners) who bemoan the destruction by parrots – especially cockatoos – but I say bring it on. They are magnificent creatures.


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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16 Responses to Cockatoos and Sunflowers

  1. Your garden looks amazingly tropical with the banana trees and the cockatoo. They are just too beautiful to get really angry with, a bit like the wood pigeons in the UK. But it is a bit cheeky eating the sunflowers before they are even ripe. I hope they never invade the Charente or there would be a lot of unhappy farmers.

    • Today my garden feels tropical – 31 and humid (ugh). It’s a funny garden, some bits look tropical (I love the look of banana leaves) and other parts look almost European (our neighbour’s huge oak tree). Sydney is a really nice climate that allows so many different plants to survive even if they don’t actually thrive.

      The farmers here hate cockatoos. So do many suburbanites – and not just because of their garden destruction. Cockatoos have incredibly strong beaks and have been known to rip corners of roofs off houses!

  2. It makes me smile to see the different birds and animals that you have problems with in your garden. Here we are hanging up seeds and nuts to feed the garden birds, sparrows, robins, blackbirds, blue tits and then there are the pheasants that hang around the bottom to munch what has dropped down, along with the crows and the magpies. Your birds are far more exotic!!

    • We get magpies so there’s some overlap.

      We never feed our native birds (is planting sunflowers the exception that proves that rule 🙂 ) Here the climate is so good that there is always something for them to find on their own and feeding them just makes them lazy (which is a hobby reserved for us humans). We do provide water which is something that is not always present in this climate and the birds appreciate that.

      The flighty visitors are one of the things I most appreciate about my garden – even the less exotic ones.

  3. Lately we have been woken at dawn by the rainbow lorikeets as they come to feast on the flowers of the umbrella trees. I will always be in awe when I see exotic birds in my own garden. Great photos you got there. I hope you weren’t expecting to harvest those sunflower seeds for yourself?

    • People who read our blogs and see pictures of these amazing birds are always so impressed. What the blogs can’t share is the sound parrots can make. Holy Cow – what a way to be awakened!! 🙂 Regardless of the ruckus, like you, I will always be in awe of them. Being raised in Seattle I thought a robin was colourful!

      I wasn’t expecting to harvest all of my sunflower seeds but I’m still hoping for enough to allow me to plant more next year. I have found that my own seeds don’t sprout as readily as storebought so I need a lot of them – but one flower head holds about 4 times “a lot” so if I can see one through to ripeness…. Or am I dreaming?

  4. Linda says:

    I always say how much I wish we had parrots here, but seeing the destruction they can do as pets and in the wild like this makes me really rethink the thought! Even the invasive Quaker Parrots we have here are incredibly destructive due to their colony-style nesting habits. They are quite lovely though!

    • Since gardening is a hobby for me I vote yes for parrots. I’m sure it would be different if I really depended on a harvest for food for my family (imagine a time before grocery stores!). I have the luxury of loving the native animals and still having a full belly. As you say, they are quite lovely.

      • Linda says:

        Yes, I own a Galah and I always hear how they can be quite destructive to farmed fields there! They sound like our pigeons and seagulls!

        • This week we had a Galah in our back garden which was a wonderful treat. We rarely get them here and I’ve no idea why. I do see them in suburban Sydney sometimes but just not often. Pigeons and seagulls tend not to come in my garden either, but they are easy to find in Sydney – and I think everywhere (near the coast, obviously). Well, maybe not Antarctica.

          • Linda says:

            Squirrels here sound like they can be about as destructive as your parrots to a garden…if only squirrels looked as nice and colorful as parrots! I’d surely tolerate them a lot more! Seagulls here seem to live anywhere and live off trash and freshly plowed fields–even earning the name “rats with wings.”

            • Yeah, seagulls are pretty nasty things. And why do so many of them have missing feet and legs? Anyway, I think squirrels are really cute – how can you not love that sweet little face and bushy tail? They’re like tiny little possums or bandicoots – ya gotta love ’em.

              • Linda says:

                I have often wondered the same about pigeons…they’re always missing legs and toys! I feel so bad for the poor, filthy creatures. They must get their legs caught often.
                Squirrels are awfully cute, but they’re just so destructive! They pick a lot of my fruit before they ripen and only eat a bite or two, they break branches and stems off my plants, they pull up seedlings and greens and even all my carnivorous plants. They dig in my pots and destroy the plants in them…they’ve even been known to knock them off my balcony! I recently caught one even trying to bury a large piece of bread in a pot. They have also raided my bird feeder and became so destructive while doing so that I had to quit feeding the birds and now I have a large amount of of unused bird seed. 😦 I have had the worst luck with them! They’re not even afraid of me.

  5. Your squirrels sound exactly like our possums. I suppose the difference being the possums only attack at night. In the morning you find fruit with just a couple of bites out of it. Today two tomatoes were like that – side by side under the bush. Why not eat all of one and leave the 2nd one alone??? Possums raid bird feeders, overturn pot plants, strip bark, break branches, dig up seedlings… Why? Because they’re there I suppose.

    My sister lives in North Carolina and has squirrels in her back yard. One year when I was visiting we sat on the back porch watching the squirrels climb up into the bird feeder, stealing all the seeds. She went into the kitchen, grabbed the vegetable oil, marched out to the bird feeder and oiled the pedestal. We then sat and watched the squirrels try to climb up the feeder and slip down. it was hysterical (for us, obviously not for the squirrels). Of course if you have a hanging feeder, they would just jump right in.

  6. Lisa McAully says:

    Hi Laura, I just happened across your blog. We experienced a sunflower cockatoo raid for the first time today! It looks like they had an excellent time. Once the flower has been chopped off (by the cockatoos), is the plant done (in terms of flowering)? I thought I’d just dig them in as green manure.

    • Lisa, I’m afraid so, once the robbers have done their job you’re left with a headless stick 🙂 Unless you have a multi-headed sunflower but you’d know that by now. I’m not sure how good they’ll be as green manure though – mine, at least, have very woody stalks.

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