Cockatoo – Black and White

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Cockatoo strutting about next to a river.

Cockatoo strutting about next to a river.

The Australian cockatoo is either black with striking red or red and yellow tail feathers (the female also has yellow feathers on her head), or more commonly, white with a yellow crest.  Both types represent powerful spiritual symbols in the Dreaming.

The white cockatoo has been linked to the first death in one Dreaming (see Southern Cross). The death spirit, Yowie, takes the first deceased person into the sky in a tree and two white cockatoos follow, squawking angrily as they chase their home. They are the left and right stars in the Southern Cross, the vertical part being the tree.

In another Dreaming, (see Butterfly) it is the cockatoo that is the first creature to ever die, causing the beginning of a quest to understand mortality.  The result – immortality through rebirth.

The Aboriginal people of Melville Island believe a flock of screaming black cockatoos accompany the newly deceased to the ‘other world’, thus heralding their journey[1].

In one Dreaming[2], the Black Cockatoo was a young girl who broke tribal law to be with her lover. She was transformed into the Black Cockatoo and stills calls out for him; he was changed into the Frilled Neck Lizard.

According to bush lore, Black cockatoos will screech before coming rain; rain on another level representing the emotions, nurturing, sustenance and replenishment.

White cockatoo is a popular caged bird worldwide. Your interpretation of cockatoo here would depend on the personality of the bird – was he loud and talkative, quiet and subdued, young and raucous, or old and bedraggled?

They are very affectionate and social pets, much happier with a partner than solo. Is this the case for you? Some birds become so bored alone, they pluck their feathers out of frustration – do you self-inflict something similar? Or have some obsessive compulsive patterns?

Older birds of over forty or fifty years of age are often ‘naturally’ bald, looking like overgrown fledglings. If this is how Cocky crosses your life’s path, be prepared to look at issues around aging or being dependant again; or maybe bald Cocky tells you it’s time to be getting beneath the surface of someone or something . If cocky in this state makes you feel cold, cover up, on some level!

In their natural state, cockatoos nest in the hollows of large trees; a Dreaming[3] accounts for this: a woman lived with her man out in a swamp land, however she could not swim and missed her plains country. One time, while her husband was absent, it flooded, so she climbed into the hollow of a tree. The water rose higher and higher, trapping her. Transforming herself into a cockatoo, the woman used her powerful bill to dig her way out of the top of the tree. To this day, cockatoos nest in hollows and retain their hooked beaks. If you see cockatoo nesting, maybe you feel you have to ‘dig your way out’ of a situation where you feel caught. Or are you feeling caught somehow?

Wherever Cockatoos are, feeding or resting, they always have a sentinel on guard, ready to warn them of approaching danger.  This has become part of Australian colloquialism, a ‘cocky’ being a lookout.  One well-known context for this was for the illegal gamblers and prostitutes in Sydney in the early part of this century.  A cocky was needed as a warning of approaching police! The issue of protection may be important, so be a cocky and keep a look-out! In the wild, any lookout which fails to warn of danger is killed as retribution by the flock – so maintain your responsibilities!

These characters get into all sorts of mischief and comical situations exploring the wonders of life, and they appear to enjoy themselves thoroughly! If Cockatoo has flown into your life, singly or as a noisy squawking cloud, perhaps you need to be more aware of what is going on around you. Explore, satisfy your curiosity!

  • It’s interesting to note cockatoo is both black and white – there’s some symbolism there!

[1]               Mountford, Charles P.  “The Dreamtime.”  Roberts, D. And A. “Shadows in the Mist.”

[2]               Isaacs, J. (ed)  “Australian Dreaming.” Lansdowne Press, Sydney, Australia. 1980

[3]               Bozic, Sreten.  “Aboriginal Myths.”



Comments 5

  1. Mayka

    Hi there,

    Today I heard a call from a yellow tail black cockatoo and so I stepped outside and when s/he saw me it flew down and landed on my railing only a few centimetres away from me.
    At first I was frightened at how close s/he flight was to me. It began to speak to me, wondering around my railing and stepped off and began walking on the deck. I am completely overwhelmed by this experience as I understand something like this is most bizarre.
    Can it be a visit from the spirit world? Am I at the door step of a powerful spiritual awakening? I ask this because s/he stayed with me for almost an hour observing and speaking to me. The time was after midday, to be precise the bird arrived at exactly the same time my mother’s spirit left the earth 4 years prior.
    It was my mother’s birthday today.
    Peace ♥

  2. Lana

    Its funny that I saw a white cockatoo last night while talking about a friend we lost up at boulia in December last year. He became lost and bogged his vehicle sadly he died. What is a spin out for me right now is that the name Daryl wallace is written down on some notes that were made while my partner was franticly contacting people in the area where he was lost.

  3. Darryl Wallace

    Hey there my name is Darryl wallace from Cairns and im Aboriginal kuku yalanji tribe i have a yellow crest cookatoos following me around everywhere i go what is the meaning of this dreaming

    1. Post

      Hi Darryl, Lovely to hear from you. My suggestion is to see what ‘speaks’ to you in the above post, or go to the ‘Quick Guide’ on the left. And also to think about what qualities in cockatoo you see in yourself – are they things you could grow into more? Or strengths that you can be proud of? There’s definitely something important and special connecting you with this ‘power’ animal!

      Are there any Elders you might be able to ask as well? I see ‘Native Symbols’ as part of the modern Dreaming – the Dreaming lives on and it includes us all today, that is how it is..yesterday and today and tomorrow. So now post-invasion we have caged birds, smuggled birds, jackeroos thinking it’s funny to shoot a nest and see the explosion of feathers, cockies on properties (interesting, huh, cockies) that view them as a pest that eat in competition to stock or on crops… but going to the LORE of your people can be powerful in the messages and insight you might receive in your own growth and connection to this land.

      It’s ‘funny’ that yesterday I got a link from another site about this page, then dreamt about a flock of cockatoos last night, and now your post! I love that cockatoo is bringing me my own message. I wish you well, Darryl. x

  4. Pingback: Five things I learnt from a squabbling flock of cockatoos – Sharing The Magic

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