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Galah behaviour question

Expert Question

Hi, Our 15 year old male galah began exhibiting some new behaviors on his own during the past year or so that we are interested in understanding.
1. He often drapes hanging toys over his back.
2. He climbs down to his cage’s grate, walks to one of the back corners,
“hunkers down” (difficult to explain this, and difficult to come up with
other words to identify it), then begins bobbing his shoulders up and down while making a quiet clucking vocalization. Our impression is that this behavior occurs more often during the evening than during the day.
3. He pumps his wings when we scratch him.

Are 2 and 3 species typical mating behaviors?

BTW: we are sure he’s a male based upon 1) surgical sexing, 2) eye color, and 3) total absence of eggs during the ~13 years we’ve owned him.
Many thanks!
Submitted by:  Barry Fass-Holmes

Expert Answer

Hi Barry, Great question! I really appreciate the observational anecdotes, as they help to form a visual picture of what you are experiencing. As a fellow keeper and keen observer of Galahs, I share your intrigue into the behaviours you have described. Your observations provide the platform for me to share a few insights into Galah behaviour from my own experiences. This is certainly an amazing and challenging Cockatoo to share your life with! Here are a few thoughts of mine that you might hopefully find useful in understanding the behaviours of interest in your Galah…

Observation 1: Draping hanging toys over his back
The functional reason for this behaviour is open to hypothesis, and there are potentially a number of reasonable suggestions that could be made to explain it. This behaviour is not exclusive to Galahs in pet or aviary environments and similar behavioural interactions in captive enclosures with enrichment objects might be observed with a range of parrot species. One consistent link that I have noted in my experience is that species we observe doing this are most often those that naturally engage in physical pair bonding through tactile interaction. My thought is to consider the lack of conspecific or compatible partner interaction and how the physical interactions with the hanging toys perform a functional substitute for tactile stimulation. Physical interactions, close spatial orientation and even 'play' between wild Galahs suggest that when we observe Galahs performing behaviours such as draping a hanging toy over their back in a captive environment, we may be seeing the Galah seeking to engage with objects in its environment that serve as a replacement stimulus in the absence of natural stimuli. Could the action of draping the hanging toys over the back be providing a substitute for the lack of allopreening and close physical contact your Galah would otherwise direct towards and receive from a compatible partner? It's possible -- but there may be other explanations so keep observing and keep critically thinking.

Observation 2: 'Hunkering down' in the corner of the cage
This is another behaviour that might have a number of possible antecedents and plausible functions. One thought I have though is based on actually having spent the past few weeks observing my own Galah pair go through some fascinating stages in the preparation of their nest. Male Galahs are highly active in the preparation and performance of nest maintenance, defence of the nesting site, display of ownership and even incubation of the eggs. This can perhaps lead to us observing behaviour in male Galahs that we might normally consider representative of 'female' behaviour. Is it possible that the behaviour of your male Galah can be explained as 'nesting' behaviour? It's certainly plausible, but to make a definite call I'd really need to observe the behaviour first hand in the context of the environment he is in to understand your specific situation better. Once again -- I'm inclined to consider behaviour such as this as a redirection of natural behaviours in an unnatural environment. It's also worth noting that much 'normal' behaviour can become exaggerated, repetitive and potentially lead to stereotypical categorisation when we keep Cockatoos in unnatural environments.

Observation 3: 'Pumping wings' when being scratched
This sort of behaviour can be commonly observed in juvenile Galahs soliciting attention from parents, but wing pumping is also retained into adulthood as a behavioural response during mutual feeding between mature, bonded Galahs. Scratching him potentially provides a similar stimulus and results in behaviour that essentially communicates receptivity to the physical interaction and a cue for it to continue. Keep in mind that preening Cockatoos (and a variety of parrot species) over the back, particularly the lower back, can be sexually stimulating. Male Galahs will 'tread' on the back of the female as she lowers her posture, arches her back and accepts him as he climbs on to her for copulation. The behavioural interactions between the pair are fascinating to observe. The pair we have here regularly copulate throughout the year -- to be honest, ours are almost embarrassing in their 'Bonobo like' regular indulgences in copulative behaviour!

All up I'd say your behavioural observations are 3 for 3 as representative of a Galah engaging in physical interactions with his environment associated with the need for tactile stimulation, and to some degree may be indicative of some forms of mate solicitation and breeding behaviour. When we think about it, what could be more 'normal' for Galah in his prime?  If you would like to depth your understanding of the natural, wild behaviour of Galahs then I can recommend a great book that encompasses the most in-depth natural study of the species. The title is 'The Behavioural Ecology of the Galah' by Ian Rowley. Whilst difficult to find sometimes, it can usually be located at This is a great bookstore for rare books on birds, wildlife and the natural history of animals. They post throughout the world!

You've done really well to be still engaging with a companion Galah after 13 years and should be congratulated on having obviously built a lasting and positive relationship with him. Good luck with your Galah in the future and thankyou for being a World Parrot Trust member.

Kind Regards from 'Down Under',
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations ( He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators ( and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at