Galahs, are notorious for their playful, cheeky and often insane behavior.
Being one of the most common birds in Australia, they are well known to most Australians and are even a pest to many farmers in particular areas. In Europe and the US they are considered to be somewhat exotic and can be expensive to purchase, being highly sought after by bird collectors.
Distribution & Habitat
In Australia, there is barely anywhere that galahs cannot be found.
They are distributed widely throughout all states of Australia, found everywhere aside from the driest of desert land and Cape York Peninsula.
Before Europeans came to Australia, galahs were far below their current numbers, and were located in more central areas of the country. Surprisingly, this spread is attributed to the advancement of farmland and deforestation, which has provided them with a far greater food source (open plains), which has in turn, helped them to multiply to their current enormous population and spread to areas that they were once unable to inhabit.
Galahs prefer open grassland and woodland, semi desert, plains, grain fields, and parklands as opposed to thick forest vegetation, so human backyards and gardens are well suited to them. Towns and even certain city areas are inhabited by galahs, which are often found on the side of the road where grain trucks have spilled some of their cargo. The galah can even be found on many offshore islands around Australia.
A galah is a highly social bird. They can be seen in flocks of anywhere between ten to many hundred birds, and generally have a hierarchy within their won flock. When galahs want to demonstrate their dominance, they will often bite and screech at their opponent. This is common among groups.
They do not mix well with most breeds, but usually are comfortable in the presence of the sulphur crested cockatoo. It is unknown why galahs and sulphur crested cockatoos have adapted so well to each other, but they can often be seen in mixed groups feeding, playing and flying together. Usually, each individual galah has a preferred friend or mate, but still has a close bond with their entire group. When a member of the group is killed by a car or other cause, members of the group will often try to revive the dead bird, effectively demonstrating just how strong their bond is.
Galahs tend to be well organised as a group. When feeding, there is usually a lookout galah that signals the rest of the flock when danger is approaching, providing a chance for escape.
In the wild, a galah’s primary source of nutrition comes from seeds, fruit and green leafy plant material gathered from the ground. Large flocks are often seen in fields and paddocks feeding from seeds, and occasionally small insects as well.
Fields of grain and oats are popular places to feed, causing much dismay to farmers. In some areas of Australia, licences can be obtained to cull galah populations that effect these crops.
Galahs love to eat sweet things like corn, apples and berries.
In captivity their preferred food is almost always sunflower seeds. This is not a suitable food for a galah in large doses, as excessive use of sunflower seeds and other fatty foods can lead to tumors and obesity, and so, sunflower seeds should only be provided as part of a meal and used in moderation.
They can be fed fruit, nuts, local grasses, bread as a treat, bought seed mixes and vegetables, although avocado can harm or even kill parrots. Chocolate should also be avoided (although that should seem pretty obvious to most). When feeding, they will often intentionally scatter their seeds across the floor of their cage or aviary and then forage for the food they just spilled.
Surprisingly, captive galahs can live for up to 80 years. This means that they will often outlive their owner and thus consideration should be taken when purchasing a galah to make sure that there is someone to take care of the bird if the owner dies.
A wild galah’s lifespan usually averages only 30 years or so. This is mainly due to the birds being hit by cars or shot by hunters and farmers.
There is almost no visible difference between a male and female galah. Males have a very dark eye, although, so do some young females. Mature females have a reddish coloured eye.
It can be very difficult if not impossible to determine the age of a galah.
Adolescent galahs have a lot of gray feathers among their pink chest feathers, and slowly lose these over time. To determine the age of a mature galah, wrinkles around the eye can be a giveaway. The problem with this method is that you need a galah with a known age to compare to, and some birds will age quicker than others. Supposedly , the more wrinkles around the eye, the older the bird, but this is not proven.
The other method is a DNA test which can also be very unreliable.
Breeding season for galahs will vary depending on local climate. In the cooler southern regions of Australia, breeding begins in July and continues until December, but in the tropical north breeding starts in February and ends in July.
Galahs are usually capable of breeding anywhere between their second and fourth year of age.
Once breeding season begins, galahs will pair up and temporarily leave the flock to build a nest.
The nest is built in the hollow of gum and eucalyptus trees. Galahs will carry leaves and small twigs into the hollow to line the floor creating a soft bed for the eggs to rest on, and chew away at the edge of the hollow entrance. The clutch is usually made up of anywhere between 2 and 5 small white glossy eggs around 3.5cm X 2.5cm in size. The parents both incubate the eggs over a 1 month period until they hatch. After 8 weeks or so the young galahs are ready to leave the nest and begin feeding themselves, although their parents are never too far away, and keep watch over them.
At around 5 weeks after leaving the nest the young galahs become independent, although almost half of young galahs below the age of 6 months die from various causes.
When breeding galahs in captivity, be sure to provide them with a suitably sized nesting box and eucalyptus leaves and twigs to help them pad up the box with. These should be placed on the aviary floor.
There are three main sub species of galah. C. r. roseicapillus, C. r. assimilis found in Western Australia, and C. r. kuhli found in North Western Australia and in the Northern Territory.
Some mutations have occurred, along with cross breeding with other species such as the cockatiel.
Galahs as pets
Galahs make excellent pets provided that their owner has the time to spend with them and can deal with the excessive noise. When kept without another galah or sulphur crested cockatoo to make friends with, a tamed pet galah will usually bond with a particular member of the household, usually the person who spends the most time with it or tames it originally.
They are extremely noisy, often screeching, hanging upside down, dancing and playing. This can be amusing, but can also become annoying to some, taking into consideration just how loud they can be.
Galahs love to be the centre of attention. They are very well natured and love a scratch on the top or back of their head, and some even love to cuddle up in your lap. Bright toys and objects are often carried around in their mouth whilst they are flying or running along the floor, and they will often steal watches and jewelry to play with.
With such a loving playful nature, there is no question as to why they are growing in popularity among bird owners globally.
Keeping galahs with other birds
Galahs are known to be occasionally vicious towards other avian species. They are best kept among the sulphur crested cockatoo and other galahs, although particular galahs are often more than happy to share their cage or avairy with unfamiliar species whether they are larger or smaller in size.
Suitable enclosure (cage & aviary)
A suitable galah enclosure needs to be as large as possible. Outdoor aviaries need to be at least 5 metres long by 1.2 metres wide and 2 metres tall. The aviary must be made of sturdy materials in order to keep out predators and keep the galahs from chewing their way out.
It is best to use a cement floor to withstand rats and other animals that may dig their way into the aviary and eat the birds. You will need to fill the aviary with plenty of branches for chewing and climbing on. Nesting boxes and feeding trays off ground will also need to be supplied.
Indoor cages also need to be very large. 1 metre wide by 1 metre long and 2 metres tall will be sufficient, but the bird should be tamed as quickly as possible so that you are able to let it get out of the cage, stretch its wings and play. Plenty of toys will also need to be supplied.
The cage should be covered with a thin blanket at night to make the galah feel comfortable and safe.
Galahs are very active and become bored quickly. When they get bored they will make a lot of noise and demand attention, among other bad behavioral problems, thus it is important to keep them occupied with plenty of toys. The best toys for galahs are usually bright, colourful and chewable.
Bird toys can be expensive and you will need to buy a lot of them to switch every couple of days to keep things interesting. If you leave the one toy in the enclosure permanently, the galah will become bored of it after a week or so and lose interest completely, screeching and annoying you once again.
Suitable toys can be purchased from basically any pet store. Preferably, toys should have chewable wooden parts with rope or bells. Puzzle type toys can create hours of entertainment for your bird.
Alternatively, you can make toys for your galah at home using rope, shiny things, wooden objects etc. Just make sure that the galah cannot choke on any parts of the toy or get stuck in it somehow (if they can they will).
Nesting boxes need to be 60 to 90 cm deep and about 30 cm in diameter. The boxes will need to be placed well off the ground, usually near the top of the aviary.
Eucalyptus leaves and twigs will need to be scattered around the bottom of the aviary where the galahs can collect them and place them in the bottom of the nesting box to make a soft bedding. If you are unable to acquire eucalyptus leaves, other leaves will suffice. Indoor cages do not require a nesting box.
It is much easier to tame a young galah as opposed to an older one. While taming galahs, you do risk getting bitten a few times and they will hiss and screech at you, but this is merely a defensive attitude, they really are not a violent bird. The bite of a galah is nothing compared to a lot of other parrots as their beak is relatively blunt and weak. Avoid flinching as much as possible, because this may scare the galah.
Each day, you will need to gain the birds trust.
Start by just sitting and talking to it. This sounds a little silly, but it shows the galah that you mean it no harm and helps it to become comfortable around you.
After a few days, the galah will begin to seem a lot less terrified around you, and you can start to place your hand in the cage. Do not try to touch the bird or put your hand too close to it at this point as it will set you a few days backwards if the galah becomes too frightened.
Once the bird is comfortable with your hand in the cage you can try hand feeding it with a sunflower seed or a piece of bread or fruit. The galah will probably try to bite you for the first several attempts, and it is important not to flinch when this happens as you will scare the galah even more. As said above, it is surprising just how little the bite actually hurts.
Finally, once the galah has taken to happily eating from your hand, you can try to pat it. It is important to remember that the galah probably wants to make friends with you by now considering that they are such a social animal. After a few days of being able to pat the galah without being bitten, you can begin taking it out of the cage, but be sure not to crowd it, it will be very sensitive at this point.
Eventually, your galah will be comfortable being out of its cage and around the family, and will create a close bond with the person who tamed it and to a lesser extent, the rest of the family.
It is nearly impossible to tame galahs when they are paired with another bird. Mirrors in cages will make the process a lot more difficult as well.
Galahs can be fed anything mentioned in the diet section above. Although fatty foods like nuts and sunflower seeds should be avoided to some extent, they can be offered as a treat.
Wild galahs as pets
Catching a wild galah to keep as a pet is illegal. The only time they should be taken from the wild is when they are badly injured or when a young galah has been abandoned by its parents (make sure that it has been for sure). There are numbers you can call (depending on your area) to have the animal taken and rehabilitated, or you can choose to take it to a vet where they will treat the bird and send it to be rehabilitated. It is not reccomended to keep a wild galah as a pet (although it can work out very well) because it is illegal, but if you do choose to keep one, do it at your own risk of prosecution and seriously take the animal’s welfare into account. To view a list of birds that can be legally kept in Australia without a licence, click here
How to teach a galah to talk
There is no specific way to teach a galah to talk. Some are fast learners, and are quick to mimic, while others seem to have little interest.
Making a habit of speaking to your galah, and repeating the same words or phrases as often as possible will increase success. Many uninterested galahs will not learn to speak in the end, and unfortunately this can’t be helped.
How to deal with excessive noise
Unfortunately, the galah is an extremely vocal species and this is something that cannot be stopped.
Luckily, some noise may be reduced using various methods, although different birds respond to these methods in different ways.
The main reason that galahs are so noisy is because they have a naturaly playful nature and enjoy being vocal, and this is unchangeable. Reasons for noise also include boredom and demanding of attention (usually loud screeching). These situations can be helped by making sure that there is plenty of toys and branches to entertain the galah, by giving the galah more attention more often, and by ignoring them during bouts of bad behavior. If you give them any kind of attention when they make too much noise, they will learn that this is a successful way to gain your attention and continue to do so in the future.
How to stop galahs from biting
As with excessive noise, biting can be reduced or stopped by ignoring the galah every time it displays this type of behavior (although this can be difficult). When tamed galahs bite, it is often a sign of dominance, so you need to show them that you are unfazed by their bite as if immune to it. Do not react at all.
Galahs will often bite and nibble as a demonstration of affection as well.