The Galah: A Cockatoo Unlike Any Other

By | May 17, 2022

Galahs are in the cockatoo family, although they look very different from most other species of cockatoo. They have pink feathers on their chest, sides, and back and grey feathers on their heads and wings, as well as large bright red patches on their cheeks. They’re known for being one of the smallest cockatoos, with an average length of 25 cm and weight of up to 250 grams. Galahs can live more than 30 years in captivity; they reach sexual maturity at around three years old and are able to breed at least twice during their lifespan.

Galah Cockatoo

In the wild

The galah is mostly frugivorous, but feeds on a variety of seeds, grains and nuts when these are available. The species is an extremely versatile feeder and has been recorded consuming more than 80 different food items.  It will also eat small vertebrates such as reptiles, frogs and mice; invertebrates such as insects, centipedes and worms; nectar from flowers; and even fungi. When foraging for food in trees it usually hangs upside down.

Physical characteristics

Like all members of its genus, it is mainly pink with light grey on its wings. However, unlike most other cockatoos, it does not have a crest; instead it has ear-like feather tufts on top of its head. Both sexes are similar in appearance and about 43 cm long. The beak is grey with a black tip and yellow cere (base), which extends to cover part of their face around their eyes, giving them some limited protection against egg-eating predators. Their tongue is a bright red colour. 

The Galah: A Cockatoo Unlike Any Other

©James White

They have pale blue skin around their eyes, under their beaks and at the base of their tails. Their feet are greyish-pink and they have brown irises. Young galahs resemble adults but lack any red markings or sexual dimorphism until they reach sexual maturity at two years old. They moult once or twice each year after breeding.

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Behaviour and reproduction

The galah is mostly sedentary and pairs bond for life. Outside of breeding season, they will roost in groups of 20 or more birds. They are well known for their ability to mimic speech and other sounds. Nesting occurs once per year and a clutch size of two eggs are incubated for approximately 26 days. Chicks fledge after 40–45 days. Both parents care for young. 

Galahs reach sexual maturity at about four years of age. Lifespan is up to 25 years in captivity but less than 10 years in the wild due to predators such as owls and foxes.

Galah pairs will continue to return to the same nest site every year and will defend it from other Galahs or animals. Both parents get the nest ready for the eggs by lining it with soft eucalyptus leaves. Galahs like to keep their beaks sharp by chewing on branches. While breeding, they will do most of their chewing on one branch near the nest which is used as a sign to others that this nest is occupied.

The female Galah will lay 4 to 6 eggs in her tree hollow but unfortunately only half will usually survive. However, once the chicks make it to adulthood they will usually live for about 25 years in the wild or up to 80 years when kept as pets.

The Galah: A Cockatoo Unlike Any Other

When the young Galahs are ready to leave their nest the parents will continue to look after them for a few weeks but then they will become independent.

Like other cockatoos, the Galah is an excellent mimic of voices and sounds. Their vocal talents, along with their colour and hilarious personalities, have made them a very popular pet choice.

Conservation status

Not threatened. The galah is common across its range, and appears to be resilient to human changes in habitat. But like many other parrots, galahs are susceptible to Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). There is no effective treatment for PBFD, but it can be prevented by limiting contact between captive birds and their wild counterparts. Captive birds should also be kept in well-ventilated aviaries with adequate space, or preferably indoors.