Kerry has been writing radio copy for donkey's years, & also dabbles in short stories & travel writing. She works, plays and explores largely in the CDB and inner suburbs, gets everywhere by public transport and is the self-professed Zone One Queen.
Published March 27th 2016
Want to meet a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo in person?
There's a great little spot on the outskirts of Ballarat that can introduce you to the colour and character of numerous Australian parrots and cockatoos, run quietly by a bird-loving family who've made it their personal project to protect our feathered friends.
Ballarat Bird World is in Mt Helen, located in a bush gully. On arrival, one passes through the office and shop, with a tidy tea room off to the side. An open wooden deck with wooden tables lies beyond, and here we found the ideal spot to conduct our picnic prior to bird-watching.
It was nice to be surrounded by peace, quiet and nature while we snacked. Bird sounds at this stage seemed oddly absent – where were all the birds? We simply weren't yet in the zone. Following a walk down through light foliage, along a boardwalk track, across small footbridges and past man-made waterfalls, the sounds of some of Australia's most raucous birds soon started to land on our ears as we arrived at the bird housing area. Here were rows of fenced pens containing parrots, rosellas, galahs, cockatoos, cockatiels, lorikeets; colourful and noisy.
The journey through Ballarat Bird World was not a guided tour, but we came across Paul the owner, who is likely to be out and about greeting visitors. The interaction with Paul and his favourite birds was a great part of the experience. He let us into an enclosure to meet a gorgeous Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo who made a perch of our shoulders (and heads) in turn.
As we toured the area, we were introduced to all the birds by name, and it's very clear each is regarded with great affection. Some of the more outgoing cockatoos and parrots were keen to attract our attention – talking, bobbing, calling up a racket, hanging from the roof wiring – while others sat in quiet observation. It was a delight to observe them at close quarters, and note the differences between, say, the Major Mitchell Cockatoo and the Gang Gang Cockatoo. Informative signs (along with Paul) let us know about behaviour, breeding patterns and habitats.
Eventually we left the enclosures via a free-flight aviary, where several species flitted between trees, a little harder to observe. This aviary has housed more birds in the past, but ongoing repairs to the netting may affect your experience here.
Back past a lily pond to the office / café, we had a great chat with Paul and Joan who have been running the place for 40 years, and were shown photos of landscaping in progress. Much labour had clearly gone into preparing the site, and retaining the authenticity of a bush habitat.
You could be forgiven for first being alarmed at finding the birds living a rather plain caged existence. But as Paul explained to us, all his birds are born and bred in captivity as part of the essential preservation of the species. They are not perplexed by a life suddenly restricted and freedom curtailed. As with zoo animals and breeding programs, these colourful creatures not only have the opportunity to breed successfully, they also make their contribution by being representatives of their species and allowing us to realise and respect their beauty and character. They live without fear of predators, have their own space which they may share only with a mate or a 'friend', and have all their health needs met. It's something you yourself will make peace with, or not. (Certainly, you'd be in the right place to ask questions and learn.) Likewise your attitude to the entry fee may be a personal one. Are you someone who needs value for money—or who'll happily contribute to the family's bird conservation goals?
Ballarat Bird World is not large, is not a theme park, and is not landscaped or easy to traverse the way a zoo might be. But if you're attracted to Australia's more colourful birds, enjoy a bush environment, and can leave large expectations at home, you may find it honest and humble, and refreshing for being so. Take a picnic; take home a few feathers.
All the information in this article is correct. I have been to this place back in 2010 and decided that it's the best native bird sanctuary. When friends will visit from overseas, this is the place I'll take them to see our beautiful native birds!