A Gang Gang Family Returns

This is a guest article by Tanya Loos.

Gang gang cockatoos are known mainly in this district for their habit of feasting on hawthorn berries in Autumn. But one winter delight I am privileged to witness is the behaviour of a family of gang gangs on my bush block.

Gang gangs are small, stocky cockatoos that are mostly grey, with finely patterned feathers that are tinged with red and green. The males sport a red cap and a delightful fringed and floppy crest of bright red feathers. They are not as conspicuous as other cockies, and it is often the sound of their creaking calls, or the gentle dropping of half-eaten gumnuts that belies their presence. They feed primarily on the seeds of eucalypts, wattles and hawthorn berries, and will also eat insects and their larvae. The gang gang is one of the few birds that can eat sawfly larvae, or spitfires – they may work their way through a whole clump!

A pair of gang gang cockatoos - the male on the left sports a bright cap of red feathers. Image: David Cook Wildlife Photography - originally posted to Flickr as Gang-gang Cockatoos (Callocephalon fimbriatum), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6025730

A pair of gang gang cockatoos - the male on the left sports a bright cap of red feathers. Image: David Cook Wildlife Photography - originally posted to Flickr as Gang-gang Cockatoos (Callocephalon fimbriatum), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6025730

Image: Rowan Mott

Image: Rowan Mott

Gang gangs are known as altitudinal migrants: they move up and down the forests of the Great Dividing Range, inhabiting mainly tall, wet forests in summer, then moving down to more open dry forests, or even box-ironbark in winter. They only occur in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and the ACT, the latter of which they are the faunal emblem. In New South Wales, they have declined in numbers to such an extent that they are listed as Vulnerable. Their main threats are timber harvesting (which removes the large old trees required for nesting), wildfire events and planned burns, and climate change impacts.

Very little is known about their breeding habits in the wild. I was delighted to host not one but two gang gang families in the winter of 2012. One family had a young male, the other a young female. I have not seen them here since.

Then late one afternoon two weeks ago, I heard the familiar rising, creaky call and saw a couple of grey shapes flitting through the canopy. An adult male and female, with a young female! Once they had perched together, the young bird made the classic, constant begging call characteristic of the cockatoo family, although a gang gang baby is not quite as crazy and insistent as a corella baby. My bird book, Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB), refers to the young gang gang’s call as a buzzing Morse code. The female fed the young a few times, while the male fed quietly on messmate nuts nearby.

On Sunday 23 July, in the morning and in the afternoon, the three birds could be seen in a messmate gum cracking and devouring. This time, the young gang gang was fed by the adult male. During feeding, the young stares at the adult with a crouched, somewhat ridiculous posture, and sways back and forth with its bill open, wheezing incessantly.  When the adult regurgitates seeds and other plant matter into its mouth in a pumping motion, the baby makes a series of gurgling notes known as a 'food swallowing vocalisation’.

The carefully chewed remains of gumnuts beneath a large emergent messmate next to our house. Both the gang gang family and a couple of cockies were responsible. Image: Tanya Loos

The carefully chewed remains of gumnuts beneath a large emergent messmate next to our house. Both the gang gang family and a couple of cockies were responsible. Image: Tanya Loos

According to HANZAB, gang gangs mostly breed in October to January, but breeding can occur anytime between August and March. Evidently, they can breed outside of this time because in 2012, it was June when I noticed the first family, and feeding of the baby continued until early August. Gang gangs nest in hollows in tall, living Eucalypts, and the nest is usually very high up – up to 40 metres has been recorded!

The female selects the nest hollow, and two or sometimes three eggs are laid. Both sexes incubate the eggs. In captivity, the young are in the nest hollow until 7 or 8 weeks of age, then after they fledge, are fed by the parents for 4 to 6 weeks after. All up then, the care period lasts for approximately three months – which suggests that the baby I am observing now was born two months ago in May. I took detailed notes on the gang gang families in 2012 and I will do so again. I would love to hear if you have any breeding observations – especially if you have an active nest hollow!

This article was originally published on From Forest to Forest.


Tanya Loos is a field naturalist, birdo and nature writer who lives on a bush block in the Wombat Forest. She is the monitoring and engagement coordinator for Connecting Country, a non-profit environmental organisation in Castlemaine. You can read more of her work on her blog, From Forest to Forest.


Banner image courtesy of JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.