The cockies are back!


Ken Johnson’s efforts in controlling exotic grasses and allowing native vegetation to re-establish on the east bank of the Todd in town have paid off with one spectacular dividend.
For three days running now, a flock of Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos have been attracted to this area, hanging around for hours at a time. They’re attracted to the seeds (not least the prickles!) which they are munching out on.
I’m fairly sure they first turned up only three days ago, as I walk across the river every day and never noticed their presence earlier. The other give-away of their initial presence was that they caused quite a stir amongst the local crows, which are not used to the presence of black cockatoos in this location. There was a bit of a barney going on! It all seems to have settled down now.
Black cockatoos are a fairly common sight in the rural area but it’s rarer than a blue moon event to see even one or two birds flying over town, as they are wary of people and normally skirt around suburbia. I cannot recall any previous occasion of a substantial flock of these birds actually frequenting an area literally in the middle of town, let alone for a few days.
They may have done so before buffel and couch grass took such a strangle-hold but that would have been when I was a school-boy and didn’t live in town. It’s just delightful!
PHOTO at top (in the rural area of Alice Springs) by ERWIN CHLANDA. Urban cockies by ALEX NELSON.


  1. Great post by Alex, saw these beautiful birds myself today, definitely feeding in the area Ken works on. Magnificent sight. Well done Ken, and thanks for the post Alex.

  2. Late last week I had the unexpected pleasure of stopping while riding the bicycle path along Sturt Terrace to watch these magnificent birds go about their business.
    A tourist couple coming the other way also pulled up, and after the birds flew off we shared the sort of quiet smile strangers can exchange when they know they have witnessed something special.
    While I have sometimes seen black cockatoos on the built bicycle path between Flynn’s Grave and Simpson Gap, it is gratifying to know they can still find a feed on one of their infrequent forays into our carefully tended urban landscape.

  3. Alex and Hal have demonstrated the power of our fauna to attract both locals and tourists. In terms of our Tourist Industry, wouldn’t it make sense to focus up tight on these images, promoting to the world that we are still very much a wilderness in the NT?
    It is, by far, our strongest feature. Interest in Indigenous art and culture is also strong and both need to be promoted up-close and personal, big time.
    Regarding the grog and its devastating effect on Indigenous culture, this story reminds us of what we have to lose by a non-coordinated, all-of-community approach to getting things right, so that our Tourist promotion goes ‘kaching!’ We all know how dependent we are on the Tourist economy.
    To those who control the image-making machine for NT Tourism, can we expect a greater focus on our wildlife? A simple thing like a wedge-tailed eagle and its antics capture the heart of tourists every time.
    “Isn’t he cute?” one Swiss woman said to me this morning. Then began a discussion about the hunting methods of the eagle, road-kill, kangaroos etc. All stuff we’ve got in spades and the world is hungry for it.
    It’s such a precious resource and we seem to be so unimaginatively fixated on mineral resource.

  4. My favorite writer on Centralia and all of her human woes would have to be Alex Nelson.
    Regards, David Chewings

  5. My thanks to David Chewings for his kind compliment but I really should be forewarned of such comments before I come indoors, as my head will swell too large to fit through the door-frame when I attempt to go outside again!
    Seriously, Russell Guy’s comment is accurate – it’s often the surprisingly simple sights that we all take for granted that makes tourists’ visits to Alice Springs and Central Australia become quality experiences. My article about “How to attract tourists with mulga” (Alice Springs News, February 18, 2010) illustrates the point very well.
    Recently Alice Springs Town Council workers slashed the tall grass on the Todd River-bank adjacent to the town centre. The following day a large flock of galahs had descended upon the cut grass to feast on the buffel grass seed (these birds are one of three native species that readily consume this seed, the others are zebra finches and budgerigars – but they all prefer open spaces with clear fields of view to watch for predators). Nearby was a tourist with a camera, stealthily stalking the birds for that special photo opportunity. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing happen. It’s very simple yet rewarding for many of our visitors, especially those from overseas.
    Incidentally, there are still a few Red-tailed Black Cockatoos appearing each morning to feast on the prickles on the east bank of the Todd across from the town centre.


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