The drum of the cockatoo

   The quiet of the December night is almost over. Soon the soft scratchings of tree rats, marsupial mice and possums will give way to a raucous dawn chorus punctuated by harsh screeches and shrill whistles, revealing the many birds that live in this rain forest in Cape York peninsula in northern Australia.
   By day, courting and nest-building birds fill the trees with their impressive displays and loud songs. Now and again a drumming sound can be heard. The drummer is a bird - a male palm cockatoo hitting the hollow trunk of a eucalyptus tree with a small stick held in his foot. Some animals use tools to crack nuts or poke out insects, but the drumstick is one of the most superior tools in the animal kingdom. The cockatoo makes it himself, breaking off a small branch with his strong beak, snipping it to length and removing any leaves.
   As he drums, the cockatoo pirouettes, watched by his female companion. Then, dropping the stick, he strokes her neck with his beak. When courting and nesting, cockatoos drum frequently. If two males dispute over a nest site in a tree hollow, the victor drums regularly to proclaim ownership. The female incubates the one egg, which hatches in about a month and the chick spends just over three months in the nest, fed on nuts, berries and seeds - especially the seeds of the palm-like pandanus.

Palm cockatoo