The galah or rose breasted cockatoo (scientific name – Cacatua roseicapilla) is commonly refered to as the clown of the bird world due to its cheeky, playful and sometimes apparent crazy behaviour.
Being one of the most common birds in Australia, they are well known to most Australians and are even a pest to many farmers in particular areas. In Europe and the US they are considered to be somewhat exotic and can be very expensive to purchase, being highly sought after by many bird collectors.

Distribution & Habitat

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In Australia, there is barely anywhere that galahs cannot be found.
They are distributed widely throughout all states of Australia, found everywhere apart from the driest of desert land and Cape York Peninsula.
Before Europeans came to Australia, were nowhere near as prominent as they are today and were located in more central areas of the country. This is because farmland and de-forestation has provided them with a far greater food source, which has in turn, helped them to multiply to the point that they are currently at now and spread to any areas with some sort of human population. Galahs prefer open grassland and woodland, semi desert, plains, grain fields, and parklands as opposed to thick forest vegetation, so human backyards and gardens are perfectly suitable for them. Towns and even certain city areas are a common place to spot a galah, often found on the side of the road where grain trucks have spilt some of their cargo. Galahs can even be found on certain offshore islands around Australia.

Social Qualities

galah-eating-seeds

The galah is a highly social animal. They can be seen in flocks of anywhere between ten to many hundred birds, and even have a pecking order (no pun intended). When a galah wants to show dominance over another, they will often bite and screech at their opponent to establish who is in charge. This is generally common amongst groups. They do not like most avian species, but seem to feel quite comfortable with the sulphur crested cockatoo. It is unknown why galahs and sulfer crested cockatoos mingle so well, but they can often be seen in mixed groups feeding, playing and flying together. Usually, each individual galah has a preferred friend or mate, but still has a close bond with their entire group. When a member of the group is killed by a car or other cause, members of the group will often get very stressed and try to wake the dead bird up, demonstrating just how strong the bond is. Galahs tend to be well organised as a group. When feeding, there is usually a lookout galah that signals the rest of the flock when danger is approaching, giving the flock a chance to escape.

Diet

In the wild, the galahs main source of nutrition comes from seeds, fruit and green leafy plant material, gathered from the ground. Large flocks are often sighted in fields and paddocks feeding from seeds spread across the ground and occasionally small insects as well.
Fields of grain and oats are popular places to feed, causing much dismay to farmers. In some areas of Australia, licences can be obtained to cull populations of galah that effect these crops. Galahs love to eat sweet things like corn, apples and berries.

In captivity their preferred food is almost always sunflower seeds. This is not a suitable food for a galah in large doses, as excessive use of sunflower seeds and other fatty foods can lead to tumours and obesity, and so, sunflower seeds should only be provided as part of a meal and used in moderation.
They can be fed fruit nuts, local grasses, bread as a treat, bought seed mixes and vegetables, although avocado can harm or even kill parrots. Chocolate should also be avoided (although that should seem pretty obvious to most). When feeding, they will often scatter their seeds across the floor of their cage or avairy and then forage for the food they just spilled.

Lifespan

Surprisingly, captive galahs can live for up to 80 years! This means that they will often outlive their owner thus consideration should be taken when purchasing a galah to make sure that there is someone to take care of the bird if the owner dies. A wild galah’s lifespan usually averages only 30 years or so. This is mainly due to the birds being hit by cars or shot by hunters and farmers.

Sexing

There is almost no visible difference between male and female galahs. Males have a very dark eye, although, so do some young females. Mature females have a reddish coloured eye.

Determining age

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The other method is a DNA test whichcan also be very unreliable.t can be very difficult if not impossible to determine the age of a galah.
Adolescent galahs have a lot of gray feathers amongst their pink chest feathers, and slowly lose these over time. To determine the age of a mature galah, wrinkles around the eye can be a giveaway. The problem with this method is that you need a galah with a known age to compare to, and some birds will age quicker than others. Supposedly , the more wrinkles around the eye, the older the bird, but this is not proven.

Breeding patterns

Breeding season for galahs will vary depending on local climate. In the cooler southern regions, breeding begins in July and continues until December, but in the tropical north breeding starts in February and ends in July. Galahs are usually capable of breeding anywhere between their second and fourth year of age.

Once breeding season begins, the galahs will pair up and temporarily leave the flock to build a nest.
The nest is built in the hollow of gum and eucalyptus trees. The galah will carry leaves and small twigs into the hollow to line the floor creating a soft bed for the eggs to rest on, and chew away at the edge of the hollow entrance. The clutch is usually made up of anywhere between 2 and 5 small white glossy eggs around 3.5cm X 2.5cm in size. The parents both incubate the eggs over a 1 month period until they hatch. After 8 weeks or so the young galahs are ready to leave the nest and begin feeding themselves, although mum and dad are never too far away to help out.
At around 5 weeks after leaving the nest the young galahs become independent, although sadly almost half of young galahs below the age of 6 months die from numerous causes.

When breeding galahs in captivity, be sure to provide them with a suitably sized nesting box and eucalyptus leaves and twigs to help them pad up the box with. Just place the leaves and twigs around on the aviary floor and ensure the nesting box is well away from the floor.

Sub Species

There are three main sub species of galah. C. r. roseicapillus, C. r. assimilis found in Western Australia, and C. r. kuhli found in North Western Australia and in the Northern Territory.
Some mutations have occured as well as breeding with other species such as the cockatiel.

Galahs as pets

galah-in-treeGalahs make excellent pets provided that their owner has the time to spend with them and can deal with the excessive noise. When kept without another galah or sulphur crested cockatoo to make friends with, a tamed pet galah will usually bond with a particular member of the household, usually the person who spends the most time with it or tames it originally.
They are extremely noisy, often screeching, hanging upside down, dancing and playing. This can be highly amusing, but can also become extremely annoying to some, taking into consideration just how loud they can screech.
Galahs love to be the centre of attention. They are very well natured and love a scratch on the top or back of their head and some even love to cuddle up in your lap. Bright toys and objects are often carried around in their mouth whilst they are flying or running along the floor, and they will often steal watches and jewellery to have a nibble on.
With such a loving playful nature there is no question as to why they are growing in popularity amongst bird owners all over the world.

Keeping galahs with other birds

Galahs are known to be occasionally vicious towards other avian species. They are best kept amongst the sulphur crested cockatoo and other galahs, although particular galahs are often more than happy to share their cage or avairy with unfamilure species whether they are larger or smaller in size.

Suitable enclosure (cage & aviary)

A suitable galah enclosure needs to be as large as possible. Outdoor aviaries need to be at least 5 metres long by 1.2 metres wide and 2 metres tall. The aviary needs to be made of sturdy materials in order to keep out predators and to keep the galahs from chewing their way out.
It is best to use a cement floor to withstand rats and other animals that may dig their way into the aviary and eat the birds. You will need to fill the aviary with plenty of branches to chew and climb on. Supply toys as listed below. Nesting boxes and feeding trays off ground will also need to be supplied.

Indoor cages also need to be very large. 1 metre wide by 1 metre long and 2 metres tall will be sufficient, but the bird should be tamed as quickly as possible so that you are able to let it get out of the cage, stretch its wings and have a play. Plenty of toys will also need to be supplied.
The cage should be covered with a thin blanket at night to make the galah feel comfortable and safe, and don’t let them stay up too late at night as they can be cranky the next day.

Toys

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Galahs are very active creatures and become bored very quickly. When they get bored they will make a lot of noise and demand attention, amongst other bad behavioural problems, thus it is important to keep them occupied with plenty of toys. The best toys for galahs are usually bright, colourful and chewable.
Bird toys can be expensive and you will need to buy a lot of them to switch every couple of days and keep things interesting. If you leave the one toy in the enclosure permanently, the galah will become bored of it after a week or so and lose interest completely, screeching and annoying you once again.
Suitable toys can be purchased from basically any pet store. Preferably, toys should have chewable wooden parts with rope or bells. Puzzle type toys can create hours of entertainment for your bird.
Alternatively, you can make toys for your galah at home using rope, shiny things, wooden objects etc. Just make sure that the galah cannot choke on any parts of the toy or get stuck in it somehow (if they can they will).

Nesting boxes

Nesting boxes need to be 60 to 90 cm deep and about 30 cm in diameter. The boxes will need to be placed well off the ground, usually near the top of the aviary.
Eucalyptus leaves and twigs will need to be scattered around the bottom of the aviary where the galahs can collect them and place them in the bottom of the nesting box to make a soft bedding. If you are unable to aquire eucalyptus leaves, other leaves will suffice. Indoor cages will not require a nesting box.

Taming

It is much easier to tame a young galah rather than an older one. Generally, you need to take things slowly and remember that birds can sense your fear meaning that when you are scared they feel that they should be as well. While taming galahs, you do risk getting bitten a few times and they will hiss and screech at you, but this is merely a defensive attitude, they really are not a violent bird.
The bite of a galah is nothing compared to a lot of other parrots as their beak is relatively blunt and weak.
Each day, you will need to gain the birds trust as it is expecting that you wish to harm it. Start by just sitting and talking to it. This sounds a little silly, but it shows the galah that you mean it no harm and helps it to become comfortable around you. After a few days, the galah will begin to seem a lot less terrified around you, and you can start to place your hand in the cage. Do not try to touch the bird or put your hand too close to it at this point as it will set you a few days backwards if the galah becomes too frightened. Once the bird is comfortable with your hand in the cage you can try hand feeding it with a sunflower seed or a piece of bread or fruit. The galah will probably try to bite you for the first few attempts, and it is important not to flinch when this happens as you will scare the galah even more. As said above, it is surprising just how little the bite actually hurts.
Finally, once the galah has taken to happily eating from your hand, you can try to pat it. It is important to remember that the galah probably wants to make friends with you by now considering that they are such a social animal. After a few days of being able to pat the galah without being bitten, you can begin taking it out of the cage, but be sure not to crowd it, it will be very sensitive at this point.
Eventually, your galah will be comfortable being out of its cage and around the family, and will create a close bond with the person who tamed it and to a lesser extent, the rest of the family.
Just make sure that nobody (such as small children) are rough with the bird as it will grow bitter and sometimes vicious towards them.
It is nearly impossible to tame galahs when they are paired with another bird. Mirrors in cages will make the process a lot more difficult as well.

Feeding

Galahs can be fed anything mentioned in the diet section above. Although fatty foods like nuts and sunflower seeds should be avoided to some extent, they can be offered as a treat.

Wild galahs as pets

A lot of pages on the web claim that galahs from the wild are not suitable pets and are poorly behaved, vicious and untameable etc. This is not true, these birds when caught in the wild can make excellent pets.
Catching a wild galag to keep as a pet is illegal. The only time they should be taken from the wild is when it is badly injured or when a young galah has been abandoned by its parents (make sure that it has been for sure). There are numbers you can call to have the animal taken and rehabilitated, or you can choose to take it to a vet where they will treat the bird and send it to be rehabilitated. It is not reccomended to keep a wild galah as a pet (although it can work out very well) because it is illegal, but if you do choose to keep one, do it at your own risk of prosecution and seriously take the animal’s welfare into account. To view a list of birds that can be legally kept in Australia without a licence, click here

How to teach a galah to talk

Very little effort is needed in order to teach a galah to talk. Being such an inquisitive breed that they will mimic you just for fun. If you want to teach a specific word or phrase to your bird, all you need to do is say it constantly around it, so that it remembers the words over all others.
They will not learn to talk over night and it can take days, weeks or even months depending on the bird, so be persistent. In most cases, the first words that birds will learn to speak are those that are unintentionally taught by the owner such as “hello” and their own name.
Some owners will intentionally say the words they wish to teach each time they see the bird of walk past it’s cage, and make a habit of doing so.

How to deal with excessive noise

Unfortunately, the galah is an extremely vocal species and this is somthing that cannot be stopped.
Luckily, some noise may be reduced using various methods, but different birds respond to these methods in different ways. The main reason that galahs are so noisy is because they have a naturaly playful nature and enjoy being vocal and this is somthing you cannot stop, nor should you try to. Reasons for noise also include boredom and demanding of attention (usually loud screeching). These situations can be helped by making sure that there is plenty of toys and branches to entertain the galah, by giving the galah more attention more often, and by ignoring it when it screeches. If you give it any kind of attention when the bird makes too much noise, it will learn that this is a successful way to gain your attention and continue to do so in the future.

How to stop galahs from biting

As with excessive noise, biting can be reduced or stopped by ignoring the galah every time it displays this type of behaviour (although this can be difficult). When tamed galahs bite, it is a sign of dominance, so you need to show them that you are unfazed by their bite as if immune to it. Do not react at all.
Galahs will often bite and nibble as a demonstration of affection, and unfortunately, this behaviour should be nurtured if it is for affectionate reasons.
Never hit or in any way hurt a galah, it will either get even with loud noise, or eventually hate or fear you.