Bonzer, you little beauties! Woodland Park Zoo needed to socialize hundreds of free-flying Australian parrots so they'd eat out of people's...

Share story

Bonzer, you little beauties!

Woodland Park Zoo needed to socialize hundreds of free-flying Australian parrots so they’d eat out of people’s hands by Saturday when the new Willawong Station exhibit opens, so, tall poppies (overachievers) that we are, we answered the call.

(Keep track of these Australian words, you Yanks, because we’ll have a quiz on Australian culture before we pull up stumps for the day.)

Crikey! The poor Aussie budgies, cockatiels and parrots, while real bewdies, needed someone to get to the duck’s guts (heart of the matter) on this. The volunteers did their best to make the birds feel at home, but we wouldn’t give a brass razoo for their chances. Those birds yearned for a countryman, an authentic Australian publican, to climb inside their holding cages to tempt them to nibble from a millet-seed stick in his hand.

Fortunately, past research, at night, belly up to the bar, told us where to find one. And it took no coaxing to get the ever-homesick Brad Howe, 36, to step away from pouring the amber fluid for his cobbers and mates at the Kangaroo and Kiwi Pub on Aurora, and into the cages.

“Now, it’s millet time,” Zookeeper Lorre Myers said.

Go on a walkabout at Willawong Station

You’ll have birds eating out of your hands

Grab a stick of millet seed to take into the new Willawong Station at Woodland Park Zoo and try to coax some of the 150 free-flying bright-colored budgies, cockatiels and rosellas to eat from your hand.

Visitors age 3 and older will be charged an extra admission of $1, which buys one seed stick. Additional sticks cost another buck.

The exhibit opens Saturday and is located in the former tree kangaroo exhibit in the Australasia bioclimatic zone, which includes wallaroos, keas and kookaburras.

The birds will be on display at Willawong Station, which looks like a half-abandoned sheep station in the outback at the junction of two rivers (called a willawong). Before Howe and Greg Federighi, exhibit fabricator, could get too deep into yabbering about the best way to make corrugated steel look old (Howe also has a paddock fence around his bar), and before Howe could wax too nostalgic about the Kookaburra (“Real old man in the bush, that one”), we shoved him in with the parrots.

“No worries,” Howe said.

Our goal was both to socialize the knock-dead gorgeous parrots and also teach the rest of us local yobbos a bit about Australian culture so the birds won’t chuck a wobbly (have a tantrum) when they give us a squiz (scrutinize us).

Since Howe was almost immediately struck silent at the glorious greens and reds and yellows, which reminded him of how much he misses the morning chorus at home, we had to enlist several Australian Slang dictionaries to help.

Good thing we’re easy as the Australians say. By jingoes, it worked!

The birds are domestically bred, Zookeeper Myers told us, but they haven’t had much human contact. Howe stood wide-eyed and silent in the first large cage with a dozen budgies. He stuck his millet stick out in front of him.

The zookeeper tried not to show her skepticism about the birds recognizing a fellow Aussie (perhaps because they were born in California), but she was wrapped (extremely happy) when three-four-five! budgies landed on Howe’s hands.

“There you go,” Myers said, “that’s the best I’ve seen!”

Too right!

“It’s great,” Howe whispered, standing completely still. “Very good. I miss the wild birds. They’re just everywhere at home.”

But budgies are not a real test since they’re so laid back, sort of like Australians themselves.

Details on the birds

Budgerigars get their name Melopsittacus udulatus from their swift, erratic flight. Commonly known as budgies, an entire flock may rest in a eucalyptus tree, and the combined weight has broken branches. Face and forehead are yellow with blue cheek patches, tail is greenish-blue. Cheerful with a great ability to follow rain and grain.

Cockatiels are very expressive and can mimic human words. They have a movable crest and subdued color compared with most parrots. They have yellowish-gray faces and gray plumage with large white wing patches and orange cheek patches. The male’s dark gray tail and female’s gray tail with yellow laterals are so long, they have to go into nest holes backwards.

Rosellas have bright red heads and breast, with white cheek patches. Lower breast is yellow, changing to green on abdomen and rump. Acquired name from settlers who first encountered them on a Sydney suburb, Rosehill, and were originally called “Rosehillers.” They are not friends to fruit tree owners.

Other interesting parrot facts

Parrot fossils date back to 40 million years in North America and Europe, where there are no wild parrots today.

Their movement patterns make them hard to study, plus they often remove their identification bands.

Hybrids occur in the wild but captive breeding has created many new color varieties.

The name Willawong means the junction of two streams, and Station is the name for a ranch.

Source: Woodland Park Zoo, Australian Parrot Society.

So we moved on to the cockatiels, those yellow crested, expressive parrots who’ve been taught to make lewd suggestions in some Australian pubs, though certainly not the Kangaroo and Kiwi, which has only a fake galah.

“Their appetite is endless, no doubt,” Howe said from inside the cage. “They’re just going for it.”

On to the real test, the bright, beautiful but shy rosellas, which make Howe’s heart go pitter patter.

“I do miss the color,” he said. “I’ve seen three or four rosellas flying around up in the Mapleleaf neighborhood. Someone must have let them get away.”

The cautious rosellas would get near Howe’s hand but not quite near enough. He slowly lifted it higher, and one took a small bite of seed but didn’t chew.

“They let you have your hand up there pretty close,” Myers said. “That’s actually good progress.”

She’ll be apples.

The birds are in the exhibit now for Saturday’s opening where they’ll fly free (except for airport taxes) and come down to eat if they like from the visitors’ hands. Their real meals will be behind the scene because they’re messy, which means their enclosure looks like the dog’s breakfast.

“We don’t have any parrot species here, and Australia is the land of the parrots,” Myers said. “It will be really nice for people to see these bright, colorful birds, and to realize they are really common as pets, but they came from the wild someplace.”

Howe says he’ll be back. He wants to plant eucalyptus trees in his yard, which may attract some birds. But not too many.

“They’re just great,” Howe said. “But if you’ve been up too late at night, they might annoy you.”

Good onya, mate.