Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) are a familiar site in both urban and rural landscapes across Australia, with their distinctive pink and grey plumage and bold nature, foraging in noisy flocks and making their presence known to landowners.
These common cockatoos are cavity nesters, laying eggs and raising young in hollows deep inside tree trunks.
We’ll be taking a look at the breeding habits, site selection, and timeline for hatchlings’ early days in our guide to galah nesting, so keep reading if you want to know more.
Galahs are cavity nesters, meaning that they establish nest sites in hollows in trees, spaces between rock crevices, and occasionally in a purpose-built nest box that is specially designed for breeding galahs.
Nest sites can be between 2 and 20 m (6.5 and 65.5 ft) above ground level, and are located at least 10 m (33 ft) away from other cavities.
More than 90 Australian bird species lay their eggs in tree cavities, so suitable sites are highly sought after and the subject of much competition.
Once they have found a cavity that meets their approval, a galah pair will avidly defend it against other birds, animals and even reptiles that may wish to use it to raise their own young, and will return to the same site each breeding season.
A Galah perched outside of their nesting hollow
Existing cavities in decaying tree trunks provide the preferred nesting spots for galahs. These hollows are then lined with a thick bed of small, leafy branches on which the eggs are laid. Occasionally nest boxes may also be used, providing a large secure shelter in which galah pairs can raise their young.
Nest cavities used by galahs can be anything from a rather cramped 16 cm to a cavernous 7 m deep (6 in to 23 ft), depending on what the mating pair can find. Established holes are preferred, and other parrot species may be driven out of a desired spot by a galah pair that have set their sights on claiming it for themselves.
Internally, there is great variance on the size of the cavity, with some hollows being a tight squeeze for both adult birds to enter. The benefit of using a smaller nesting cavity means that the inside temperature remains relatively stable, and is rarely too hot or too cold for the nestlings.
Galah perched in its nesting hole
When galahs nest varies according to geographical location, with the weather and climate being a major factor on when a mating pair will lay eggs. In periods of intense rain, nesting will be delayed until more settled weather prevails.
For most galah populations, nesting takes place from as early as the end of July and may not be completed until as late as mid November. Some of the latest clutches each year are laid during September.
In the extreme northern populations, nesting has a different schedule, with eggs being laid between February and June.
For most galah populations, nesting begins from July onwards when between 2 and 6 eggs are laid, with one new egg being added to the clutch every two to three days. Eggs are incubated by both female and male galahs in turn for 22 to 26 days.
Nestlings are fed by both parents in the nest cavity for between 45 and 59 days, when the chicks are ready to start fledging.
Once young galahs have left the nest, they continue to be supported and fed by parents and other flock members for another few weeks until juvenile birds are able to fend for themselves.
The most common time for galahs to lay their eggs is between August and September. Some birds may begin laying their eggs as early as late July, with the latest clutches reported to be laid into November.
In the northern part of their range, this time frame is reversed, with nesting occurring instead between February and June.
A breeding pair of Galahs, grooming each other in an affectionate manner, outside of the nesting cavity
Galahs seek naturally occurring cavities in which to set up home, and will compete with other bird species to lay claim to hollows in decaying tree trunks that have been created by termites or fungus. These holes are then lined with leaves or fresh shoots on new branch growth of eucalyptus trees.
Where a hole needs extra work or modifications, galahs will use their beaks to chip away at the wood to carve out the cavity until it is fit for habitation.
Before a nest site is established, the galah pair chew on any branches near the cavity entrance, and strip all leaves and foliage from the chosen tree.
Galahs repeatedly rub the entrance to the cavity with their beaks and feathers, sometimes wiping the tree surface with chewed-up eucalyptus leaves.
Over a period of time, the tree trunk around the cavity entrance becomes polished and slippery, which prevents snakes, lizards and other small intruders from being able to grip sufficiently to gain entry and raid the nest.
A pair of Galahs inspecting a nesting hollow
Like the eggs of many cavity-nesting birds, galahs’ eggs are white with no markings, blotches or streaks. Between 2 and 6 eggs – most commonly 4 or 5 – are laid, and measure 3.6 by 2.5 cm (1.4 by 1 in).
Male galahs take turns with females to incubate eggs, to brood young in the initial days after hatching, and bringing food to nestlings. Females take on overnight incubating duties, but during daylight hours, the task is shared between the pair. Once the young birds have left the nest, males and female galahs continue to feed young birds together for around 2 to 3 weeks after fledging.
Galahs gathering nesting materials, to line to hollow
Baby galahs leave the nest between 45 and 59 days, with the average being 49 days after hatching. Chicks hatch asynchronously, and the first-hatched young are ready to fledge before their younger nestmates.
After leaving the nest cavity, it is common for juvenile galahs to spend time in so-called communal “creche” settings with other young birds, supported at first by their parents for another 2 to 3 weeks.
Gradually, in the company of unmated older galahs, the newly independent chicks form their own flocks.
It is typical for a pair of galahs to raise just one brood per year. If a brood fails, a second brood may be attempted, but as the chick-raising process is quite prolonged, it is not possible for galahs to successfully hatch more than one set of chicks in the same year.
A young Galah chick begging for food
If disturbed by an opportunistic predator, galahs will likely abandon their nests. If this unfortunate event happens early enough in the breeding season, a second clutch may be laid.
If a backyard contains the right conditions, including eucalyptus trees, foraging grounds and a nearby water source, there is no reason for galahs not to take up residence there.
Specially designed galah nest boxes may also be fixed to trees, facing away from direct sunlight and at a height of at least 5 m (16 ft) above the ground, and may have some success in attracting nesting galahs to your yard.
If a natural cavity is proving impossible to claim, breeding galahs may take advantage of a purpose-built parrot nesting box, provided it is placed in a suitable position and offers a big enough internal chamber in which to raise chicks.
To attract nesting galahs, a box needs to have an opening of around 16 cm (6 in) and to measure at least 70 cm (28 in) in depth and 35 cm (14 in) across.
Galahs will treat the artificial nest box in a similar way to a natural cavity, adding a comfortable internal lining of fresh eucalyptus shoots as a bed on which they lay their eggs.
Galah outside a nest box
Eucalyptus is by far the most common tree species used by breeding galahs for their nest cavities. Bark from the trees is stripped and used as a rudimentary nest lining, together with soft shoots from newly growing leaves and branches.
Galahs seek safe, sheltered cavities in which to lay their eggs, and the vast majority of the time these are natural hollows in tree trunks. In the absence of a natural cavity, galahs may resort to using artificial nest boxes, a crack or gap between rocks, a tunnel in a cliff face, or even an upright concrete pipe or tube.
It is not usual practice for galahs to nest on or near the ground, with nest sites chosen that are normally at the very least 2 m (6.5 ft) off the ground.
During the breeding season, galahs shelter overnight in their nest cavities. Outside of this time, large flocks spend nights roosting close together in the branches of eucalyptus trees.
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