Ringbarking by Galahs

To: Philip Veerman <>, 'Canberra Birds' <>
Subject: Ringbarking by Galahs
From: John Harris <>
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2015 10:20:51 +0000

Thanks Philip. I agree that captive birds can show obsessive behaviour due to boredom. However I have myself observed this polishing in the wild. Irrespective of whether they polish or not, or why they do it, I still believe that if the instinct is strong enough to engage in this or any activity, that galahs and indeed any birds can seem to display obsessive behaviour, carrying on with an activity far more than TO US logically necessary.  But none of this is OUR logic, or any kind of logic for that matter. If they like doing it, there will always be individuals who will carry on more than ‘normal’, whatever ‘normal’ is.

From: Philip Veerman <>
Date: Thursday, 30 July 2015 2:42 pm
To: John Harris <>, chatline <m("","canberrabirds");">>
Subject: RE: [canberrabirds] Ringbarking by Galahs

Interesting and all quite believable. There are a couple bits of context to add. Clearly the behaviour of these captive birds is not fundamentally different from wild ones but relatively intelligent animals can in captivity lead to boredom and sometimes odd and compulsive behaviour (obsessively doing something they would normally do to a lesser extent), which is suggested by this story. The wiping the beak and face on the branch can be an extension of the chewing behaviour or can equally be for a quite different reason of beak cleaning, display, or head scratching, they may likely find the face scratching pleasurable.


I earlier wrote to John Leonard As possums can climb smooth and rough barked trees, it is hard to see how this would create a smoother surface and so that would appear unlikely to be a successful strategy.


I suspect the same applies to goannas (maybe not snakes) so I’m not convinced that the idea of making it harder for climbing predators works very well. Or maybe just making it slightly harder is sufficient benefit to change the odds enough..........




From: John Harris
Sent: Thursday, 30 July 2015 10:07 AM
To: Canberra Birds
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Ringbarking by Galahs


Galahs like to chew and that chewing can become damaging.  My Grandfather used to hand raise Galah chicks which were given to him by timber workers who had felled nesting trees.  He gave them away if he could when adult. He got into trouble once for releasing them back to the wild because local farmers regarded them as pests.

I had a breeding pair he gave me for many years as a boy and youth. I used to supply them with a new semi-hollow log every year because they loved chewing at it so much. They enlarged the hollow and chewed off the bark all around the entrance. They took a lot of care about that area, chewing off even the smallest rough piece and then rubbing it smooth with the side of their beaks. I always gave them leafy branches to play with and because they liked to eat lerp and scale and such.  In the breeding season they would get Eucalyptus leaves and rub them on the area they had smoothed outside the hole and even polish the smoothed wood with their cheek feathers.

They were very turned on to this activity and it seemed never finished to them. They would gradually remove all the bark from the log and extend the smoothed area up to a metre sometimes.

I often wondered what was the point of the smoothing. I though maybe it was just removing uncomfortable rough bits but Grandfather thought that in the wild it was to make it too slippery  for predators such as lizards to enter the nest. Evolution of behaviour is a fascinating thing. I am certain that predators were not in their minds and I am equally certain they liked doing it and were reluctant to stop while ever there was bark to chew off.

I think some of the recent postings border on confusing instinct with intent, if those are the right words. It may well be that the ringbarking of trees eventually produces dead trees with good nesting hollows but that takes many years. The galahs enjoy the activity, some no doubt more obsessively than others. It is not however an intent to create future hollows. Personally, I just think they like doing it and that this energy is concentrated in the breeding season.



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