White cockatoos abound where we live.  Snow white with a magnificent brilliant yellow crest, they are beautiful, raucous, prolific, large and destructive.  At the moment we are in the throes of a very severe drought and large flocks of them, should I say ‘gangs’ of them, descend on food providers who take pity on their plight of little or no food available, which, together with the freezing weather, makes life intolerable for them.

A good while ago one started hanging around on his own.  He - it is nigh impossible to distinguish between the sexes - is a loner for whatever reason, probably old or has been excommunicated from the gang for some reason known only to themselves. They do live to eighty or ninety years of age.  

In any case Charlie, as he is known to us, arrives here frequently and is usually fed by one of us.  He obviously noticed that a pair of King Parrots had been fed here when there was no or little feed around in the area.  In the middle of winter birds usually find their way to places where they know food to be in the offing and sit around looking pathetic until some is handed out.

Charlie noticed this and followed the parrots, watching and waiting.  They are very bright, these birds, and notice everything.  There are a few Rosellas also which follow these particular parrots and eat the leftovers.  Sometimes there’s a pair of doves as well but they mostly like the small bird seed.

He became a regular visitor and not long ago while I was sitting on the front verandah in the beautiful winter sun, he arrived and sat no more than a metre from me on the other side of the plastic blind, and kept me company the whole afternoon while I was writing my book, listening to The Beatles on Spotify.  I wasn’t quite sure whether it was the company or the music.  Anyway, we had a pleasant afternoon together. 

Earlier in the year he arrived with a bedraggled friend who was obviously very old and who looked so miserable that we gave him the name of Misery.  A friend who was visiting us at the time and hearing the story, named Charlie the Social Worker.

This feeding has been going on for quite some time, particularly lately with the drought and subsequent scarcity of usual food sources and especially now with the advent of freezing weather and snow.  Charlie had been a few times but the gang started to watch him and hide in the close vicinity until he had been fed, then they’d swoop down, hunt him away, guzzle the seed, de-head any flowers in sight, mostly jonquils, wreck anything else they could see, snap off the just sprouted blossoms on the nectarine tree and generally make nuisances of themselves.  

I told Charlie I would’t tolerate this and he agreed.  I’d hunt them when they arrived en masse while he’d sit and watch, sagely nodding his head from time to time.  He didn’t want them there either.  He is a strange little man and rarely makes any noise, just the occasional “Eh?” in case I hadn’t realised he was there.  He’s easy to get on with and never seems to do any damage.  Misery is quiet as well, just has his fill and departs.

I hadn’t seen Misery for a couple of weeks when the snow arrived about a week and a half ago but on going out to do a bit of frolicking in the snow ourselves, we found Charlie and Misery hunkered down, feathers fluffed out against the cold and obviously hungry.  Misery didn’t look good at all.  His scrawny neck, like a buzzard’s, was scrunched down between his hunched shoulders and he looked decidedly grubby, as if he hadn’t cleaned himself for a while.  After several icy days of intermittent feeding I realised he was trying to eat the sunflower seeds but making a bit of a welter of it and when I put small seed out for the smaller birds, he discovered it and spent his time chewing on that without worrying about the large seed at all.  He seemed to lack energy and wouldn’t even move away on the tank when I put more food out for him. 

Then the sun came out.  I was taking advantage of its warmth in which to sit on the verandah and do the last out-loud reading of the book.  Misery spent a long while sucking small seeds and then flew over from the tank to sit on an outdoor light sitting in a pot plant a couple of metres from me.  He made himself comfortable on the light then went to sleep in the sun, his bottom eyelid coming down every now and again to show he was still there, smiling and relishing the warmth while I read to him for a couple of hours.

Eventually the weak winter sun slid down behind the trees and the chill crept in quickly.  Misery lumbered off, I moved inside and that companionable moment in time was broken.  I haven’t seen him since.

The last couple of days have been freezing again with a wicked, icy wind cutting through everything.  I like to imagine that he departed this life full, warm and content.