Current range of cockatoos – red
Finds of recent fossils – blue
Plyctolophinae Vigors 1825
A cockatoo is a parrot that is any of the 21 species belonging to the
bird family Cacatuidae, the only family in the superfamily
Cacatuoidea. Along with the
Psittacoidea (true parrots) and the
Strigopoidea (large New Zealand parrots), they make up the order
Psittaciformes (parrots). The family has a mainly Australasian
distribution, ranging from the
Philippines and the eastern Indonesian
Wallacea to New Guinea, the
Solomon Islands and Australia.
Cockatoos are recognisable by the showy crests and curved bills. Their
plumage is generally less colourful than that of other parrots, being
mainly white, grey or black and often with coloured features in the
crest, cheeks or tail. On average they are larger than other parrots;
however, the cockatiel, the smallest cockatoo species, is a small
bird. The phylogenetic position of the cockatiel remains unresolved,
other than that it is one of the earliest offshoots of the cockatoo
lineage. The remaining species are in two main clades. The five large
black coloured cockatoos of the genus
Calyptorhynchus form one branch.
The second and larger branch is formed by the genus Cacatua,
comprising 11 species of white-plumaged cockatoos and four monotypic
genera that branched off earlier; namely the pink and white Major
Mitchell's cockatoo, the pink and grey galah, the mainly grey
gang-gang cockatoo and the large black-plumaged palm cockatoo.
Cockatoos prefer to eat seeds, tubers, corms, fruit, flowers and
insects. They often feed in large flocks, particularly when
ground-feeding. Cockatoos are monogamous and nest in tree hollows.
Some cockatoo species have been adversely affected by habitat loss,
particularly from a shortage of suitable nesting hollows after large
mature trees are cleared; conversely, some species have adapted well
to human changes and are considered agricultural pests.
Cockatoos are popular birds in aviculture, but their needs are
difficult to meet. The cockatiel is the easiest cockatoo species to
maintain and is by far the most frequently kept in captivity. White
cockatoos are more commonly found in captivity than black cockatoos.
Illegal trade in wild-caught birds contributes to the decline of some
cockatoo species in the wild.
2.1 Genera and species
4 Distribution and habitat
5.2 Diet and feeding
5.3 Predators and threats
6 Relationship with humans
6.2 Status and conservation
8.1 Cited texts
9 External links
The word cockatoo dates from the 17th century and is a derivation from
the Malay name for these birds, "kakak tua" (meaning "older sibling")
or from the call of the white cockatoo itself. Seventeenth-century
variants include cacato, cockatoon and crockadore, and cokato,
cocatore and cocatoo were used in the eighteenth century. The
derivation has also been used for the family and generic names
In Australian slang or vernacular speech, a person who is assigned to
keep watch while others undertake clandestine or illegal activities,
particularly gambling, may be referred to as a "cockatoo".
Proprietors of small agricultural undertakings are often jocularly or
slightly disparagingly referred to as "cocky farmers."
Phylogeny of the family Cacatuidae [thick
lines=supra-generic clades; thin lines=(sub-)generic clades ]
The cockatoos were first defined as a subfamily
Cacatuinae within the
parrot family Psittacidae by the English naturalist George Robert Gray
in 1840, with
Cacatua the first listed and type genus. This group
has alternately been considered as either a full or subfamily by
different authorities. The American ornithologist
James Lee Peters in
his 1937 Check-list of Birds of the World, Sibley and Monroe in 1990
maintained it as a subfamily, while parrot expert Joseph Forshaw
classified it as a family in 1973. Subsequent molecular studies
indicate that the earliest offshoot from the original parrot ancestors
were the New Zealand parrots of the superfamily Strigopoidea, and
following this the cockatoos, now a well-defined group or clade, split
off from the remaining parrots, which then radiated across the
Southern Hemisphere and diversified into the many species of parrots,
parakeets, macaws, lories, lorikeets, lovebirds and other true parrots
of the superfamily Psittacoidea.
The relationships among various cockatoo genera are largely
resolved, although the placement of the
Nymphicus hollandicus) at the base of the cockatoos remains
uncertain. The cockatiel is alternatively placed basal to all other
cockatoo species, as the sister taxon to the black cockatoo
species of the genus Calyptorhynchus or as the sister
taxon to a clade consisting of the white and pink cockatoo genera as
well as the palm cockatoo. The remaining species are within two
main clades, one consisting of the black species of the genus
Calyptorhynchus while the other contains the remaining
species. According to most authorities, the second
clade includes the black palm cockatoo (Probosciger), the gray and
reddish galah (Eolophus), the gang-gang cockatoo (Callocephalon) and
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo (Lophochroa),
Probosciger is sometimes placed basal to all other
species. The remaining species are mainly white or slightly
pinkish and all belong to the genus Cacatua. The
Cacatua are hypomelanistic. The genus
Cacatua is further subdivided into the subgenera Licmetis, commonly
known as corellas, and Cacatua, referred to as white
cockatoos. Confusingly, the term "white cockatoo"
has also been applied to the whole genus. The five cockatoo
species of the genus
Calyptorhynchus are commonly known as black
cockatoos, and are divided into two subgenera— Calyptorhynchus
and Zanda. The former group are sexually dichromatic, with the females
having prominently barred plumage. The two are also distinguished
by differences in the food begging calls of juveniles.
The fossil record of cockatoos is even more limited than that of
parrots in general, with only one truly ancient cockatoo fossil known:
a species of Cacatua, most probably subgenus Licmetis, found in Early
Miocene (16–23 million years ago) deposits of Riversleigh,
Australia. Although fragmentary, the remains are similar to the
western corella and the galah. In Melanesia, subfossil bones of
Cacatua species which apparently did not survive early human
settlement have been found on
New Caledonia and New Ireland.
The bearing of these fossils on cockatoo evolution and phylogeny is
fairly limited, although the Riversleigh fossil does allow tentative
dating of the divergence of subfamilies.
Genera and species
The palm cockatoo has a strong bill and red cheeks. At 55–60 cm
(22–24 in) long and weighing 910–1,200 g
(2.01–2.65 lb), it is the largest cockatoo.
Carnaby's black cockatoo
Carnaby's black cockatoo with a zoo keeper at Taronga Zoo, Sydney,
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo flying at Taronga Zoo, Australia
There are about 44 different birds in the cockatoo family Cacatuidae
including recognized subspecies. The current subdivision of this
family is as follows:[Note 1]
Nymphicus hollandicus (Kerr, 1792)
Subfamily Calyptorhynchinae: The black cockatoos
Calyptorhynchus (5 species)
Subgenus Calyptorhynchus – black-and-red cockatoos
Red-tailed black cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus banksii (Latham, 1790) (5
Glossy black cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus lathami (Temminck, 1807) (3
Subgenus Zanda – black-and-yellow/white cockatoos
Yellow-tailed black cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus funereus (Shaw, 1794)
Carnaby's black cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus latirostris Carnaby, 1948
Baudin's black cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus baudinii Lear, 1832
Tribe Microglossini: One genus with one species, the black palm
Probosciger aterrimus (Gmelin, 1788) (4 subspecies)
Tribe Cacatuini: Four genera of white, pink and grey species.
Callocephalon fimbriatum (Grant, 1803)
Eolophus roseicapilla (Vieillot, 1817) (3 subspecies)
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo (also Leadbeater's cockatoo), Lophochroa
leadbeateri (Vigors, 1831) (2 subspecies)
Cacatua (11 species)
Subgenus Cacatua – true white cockatoos
Yellow-crested cockatoo (also lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo),
Cacatua sulphurea (Gmelin, 1788) (4 subspecies)
Cacatua galerita (Latham, 1790) (4
Cacatua ophthalmica Sclater, 1864
Cacatua alba (Müller, 1776)
Cacatua moluccensis (Gmelin, 1788)
Subgenus Licmetis – corellas
Cacatua tenuirostris (Kuhl, 1820)
Cacatua pastinator (Gould, 1841) (2 subspecies)
Little corella (also bare-eyed cockatoo),
Cacatua sanguinea Gould,
1843 (4 subspecies)
Tanimbar corella (also Goffin's cockatoo),
Cacatua goffiniana Roselaar
and Michels, 2004
Cacatua ducorpsii Pucheran, 1853
Cacatua haematuropygia (Müller, 1776)
A captive sulphur-crested cockatoo displaying its crest in the US
The cockatoos are generally medium to large parrots of stocky build,
which range from 30–60 cm (12–24 in) in length and
300–1,200 g (0.66–2.65 lb) in weight; however, one
species, the cockatiel, is considerably smaller and slimmer than the
other species, being 32 cm (13 in) long (including its long
pointed tail feathers) and 80–100 g (2.8–3.5 oz) in
weight. The movable headcrest, which is present in all
cockatoos, is spectacular in many species; it is raised when the
bird lands from flying or when it is aroused. Cockatoos share many
features with other parrots, including the characteristic curved beak
shape and a zygodactyl foot, with the two middle toes forward and the
two outer toes backward. They differ in the presence of an
erectile crest and their lack of the
Dyck texture feather composition
which causes the bright blues and greens seen in true parrots.
Like other parrots, cockatoos have short legs, strong claws, a
waddling gait and often use their strong bill as a third limb when
climbing through branches. They generally have long broad wings used
in rapid flight, with speeds up to 70 km/h (43 mph) being
recorded for galahs. The members of the genus
larger white cockatoos, such as the sulphur-crested cockatoo and Major
Mitchell's cockatoo, have shorter, rounder wings and a more leisurely
A pair of gang-gang cockatoos in NSW,
Australia (male with red head
feathers). Cockatoos make lasting pair-bonds.
Cockatoos have a large bill, which is kept sharp by rasping the two
mandibles together when resting. The bill is complemented by a large
muscular tongue which helps manipulate seeds inside the bill so that
they can be de-husked before eating. During the de-husking, the
lower mandible applies the pressure, the tongue holds the seed in
place and the upper mandible acts as an anvil. The eye region of the
skull is reinforced to support muscles which move the mandibles
sideways. The bills of male cockatoos are generally slightly
larger than those of their female counterparts, but this size
difference is quite marked in the palm cockatoo.
The plumage of the cockatoos is less brightly coloured than that of
the other parrots, with species generally being either black, grey or
white. Many species have smaller areas of colour on their plumage,
often yellow, pink and red, usually on the crest or tail. The
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo are more broadly coloured in pink
tones. Several species have a brightly coloured bare area around
the eye and face known as a periophthalmic ring; the large red patch
of bare skin of the palm cockatoo is the most extensive and covers
some of the face, while it is more restricted in some other species of
white cockatoo, notably the corellas and blue-eyed cockatoo. The
plumage of males and females is similar in most species. The plumage
of the female cockatiel is duller than the male, but the most marked
sexual dimorphism occurs in the gang-gang cockatoo and the two species
of black cockatoos in the subgenus Calyptorhynchus, namely the
red-tailed and glossy black cockatoos. The iris colour differs in
a few species, being pink or red in the female galah and Major
Mitchell's cockatoo and red-brown in some other female white cockatoo
species. The males all have dark brown irises.
A white cockatoo's left foot clasping aviary bars showing claws, scaly
skin and zygodactyly—the middle two toes forward and the outer two
Cockatoos maintain their plumage with frequent preening throughout the
day. They remove dirt and oil and realign feather barbs by nibbling
their feathers. They also preen other birds' feathers that are
otherwise hard to get at. Cockatoos produce preen-oil from a gland on
their lower back and apply it by wiping their plumage with their heads
or already oiled feathers. Powder-down is produced by specialised
feathers in the lumbar region and distributed by the preening cockatoo
all over the plumage.
Moulting is very slow and complex. Black cockatoos appear to replace
their flight feathers one at a time, their moult taking two years to
complete. This process is much shorter in other species, such as the
galah and long-billed corella, which each take around six months to
replace all their flight feathers.
The vocalisations of cockatoos are loud and harsh. They serve a
number of functions, including allowing individuals to recognize one
another, alerting others of predators, indicating individual moods,
maintaining the cohesion of a flock and as warnings when defending
nests. The use of calls and number of specific calls varies by
Carnaby's black cockatoo
Carnaby's black cockatoo has as many as 15 different
calls, whereas others, such as Major Mitchell's cockatoo, have fewer.
Some, like the gang-gang cockatoo, are comparatively quiet but do have
softer growling calls when feeding. In addition to vocalisations, palm
cockatoos communicate over large distances by drumming on a dead
branch with a stick.
Cockatoo species also make a characteristic
hissing sound when threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Tanimbar corella is restricted to the islands of Tanimbar in
Indonesia; a few feral escapees are found in Singapore.
Cockatoos have a much more restricted range than the true parrots,
occurring naturally only in Australasia,
Indonesia and the
Philippines. Eleven of the 21 species exist in the wild only in
Australia, while seven species occur only in the islands of the
Philippines, Indonesia, Papua
New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Interestingly, no cockatoo species are found in
Borneo (despite their
presence on nearby
Palawan and Sulawesi) or many Pacific islands,
although fossil remains have been recorded from New Caledonia.
Three species occur in both
New Guinea and Australia. Some species
have widespread distributions, with the galah, for example, occurring
over most of Australia, whereas other species have tiny distributions,
confined to a small part of the continent, such as the Baudin's black
cockatoo of Western
Australia or to a small island group, such as the
Tanimbar corella, which is restricted to the
Tanimbar Islands of
Indonesia. Some cockatoos have been introduced accidentally to areas
outside their natural range such as New Zealand, Singapore, and
Palau, while two Australian corella species have been introduced
to parts of the continent where they are not native.
Cockatoos occupy a wide range of habitats from forests in subalpine
regions to mangroves. However, no species is found in all types of
habitat. The most widespread species, such as the galah and
cockatiel, are open-country specialists that feed on grass
seeds. They are often highly mobile fast flyers and are nomadic.
Flocks of birds move across large areas of the inland, locating and
feeding on seed and other food sources. Drought may force flocks from
more arid areas to move further into farming areas. Other cockatoo
species, such as the glossy black cockatoo, inhabit woodlands,
rainforests, shrublands and even alpine forests. The red-vented
cockatoo inhabits mangroves and its absence from northern
Luzon may be
related to the lack of mangrove forests there. Forest-dwelling
cockatoos are generally sedentary, as the food supply is more stable
and predictable. Several species have adapted well to human
modified habitats and are found in agricultural areas and even busy
Cockatoos are diurnal and require daylight to find their food. They
are not early risers, instead waiting until the sun has warmed their
roosting sites before feeding. All species are generally highly social
and roost, forage and travel in colourful and noisy flocks. These vary
in size depending on availability of food; in times of plenty, flocks
are small and number a hundred birds or less, while in droughts or
other times of adversity, they may swell up to contain thousands or
even tens of thousands of birds; one record from the Kimberley noted a
flock of 32,000 little corellas.
Species that inhabit open country
form larger flocks than those of forested areas.
Some species require roosting sites that are located near drinking
sites; other species travel great distances between the roosting and
feeding sites. Cockatoos have several characteristic methods of
bathing; they may hang upside down or fly about in the rain or flutter
in wet leaves in the canopy. Cockatoos have a preferred
"footedness" analogous to human handedness. Most species are
left-footed with 87–100% of individuals using their left feet to
eat, but a few species favor their right foot.
Hand-reared white cockatoo chicks bred for sale as pets
Cockatoos are monogamous breeders, with pair bonds that can last many
years. Many birds pair up in flocks before they reach sexual maturity
and delay breeding for a year at least. Females breed for the first
time anywhere from three to seven years of age and males are often
older. Sexual maturity is delayed so birds can develop the skills for
raising and parenting young, which is prolonged compared with other
birds; the young of some species remain with their parents for up to a
year. Cockatoos may also display site fidelity, returning to the
same nesting sites in consecutive years. Courtship is generally
simple, particularly for established pairs, with the black cockatoos
alone engaging in courtship feeding. Established pairs do engage in
preening each other, but all forms of courtship drop off after
incubation begins, possibly due to the strength of the pair-bond.
Like most parrots, the cockatoos are cavity nesters, nesting in holes
in trees, which they are unable to excavate themselves. These
hollows are formed from decay or destruction of wood by branches
breaking off, fungi or insects such as termites or even woodpeckers
where their ranges overlap. In many places these holes are scarce
and the source of competition, both with other members of the same
species and with other species and types of animal. In general,
cockatoos choose hollows only a little larger than themselves, hence
different-sized species nest in holes of corresponding (and different)
sizes. If given the opportunity, cockatoos prefer nesting over 7 or 8
metres (23 or 26 ft) above the ground and close to water and
The nesting hollows are lined with sticks, wood chips and branches
with leaves. The eggs of cockatoos are oval and initially white, as
their location makes camouflage unnecessary. However, they do
become discoloured over the course of incubation. They range in size
from 55 mm × 37 mm (2.2 in × 1.5 in)
in the palm and red-tailed black cockatoos, to 26 mm
× 19 mm (1.02 in × 0.75 in) in the
cockatiel. Clutch size varies within the family, with the palm
cockatoo and some other larger cockatoos laying only a single egg and
the smaller species laying anywhere between two and eight eggs. Food
supply also plays a role in clutch size. Some species can lay a
second clutch if the first fails. Around 20% of eggs laid are
infertile. The cockatoos' incubation and brooding responsibilities
may either be undertaken by the female alone in the case of the black
cockatoos or shared amongst the sexes as happens in the other species.
In the case of the black cockatoos, the female is provisioned by the
male several times a day. The young of all species are born covered in
yellowish down, bar the palm cockatoo, whose young are born naked.
Cockatoo incubation times are dependent on species size, with the
smaller cockatiels having a period of around 20 days and the
Carnaby's black cockatoo
Carnaby's black cockatoo incubating its eggs for up to
The nestling period also varies by species size, with larger species
having longer nestling periods. It is also affected by season and
environmental factors and by competition with siblings in species with
clutch sizes greater than one. Much of what is known about the
nestling period of some species is dependent on aviary
studies – aviary cockatiels can fledge after 5 weeks and
the large palm cockatoos after 11 weeks. During this period,
the young become covered in juvenile plumage while remaining in the
hollow. Wings and tail feathers are slow to grow initially but more
rapid as the primary feathers appear. Nestlings quickly reach about
80–90% of adult weight about two thirds of the time through this
period, plateauing before they leave the hollow; they fledge at this
weight with wing and tail feathers still to grow a little before
reaching adult dimensions. Growth rate of the young, as well as
numbers fledged, are adversely impacted by reduced food supply and
poor weather conditions.
Diet and feeding
Wild long-billed corellas in Perth. The bird on the right is using its
long beak to dig for food in short grass.
Cockatoos are versatile feeders and consume a range of mainly
vegetable food items. Seeds form a large part of the diet of all
species; these are opened with their large and powerful bills. The
galahs, corellas and some of the black cockatoos feed primarily on the
ground; others feed mostly in trees. The ground-feeding species
tend to forage in flocks, which form tight, squabbling groups where
seeds are concentrated and dispersed lines where food is more sparsely
distributed; they also prefer open areas where visibility is good.
The western and long-billed corellas have elongated bills to excavate
tubers and roots and the
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo walks in a circle
around the doublegree (Emex australis) to twist out and remove the
Many species forage for food in the canopy of trees, taking advantage
of serotiny (the storage of a large supply of seed in cones or gumnuts
by plant genera such as Eucalyptus,
Banksia and Hakea), a natural
feature of the Australian landscape in dryer regions. These woody
fruiting bodies are inaccessible to many species and harvested in the
main by parrots, cockatoos and rodents in more tropical regions. The
larger cones can be opened by the large bills of cockatoos but are too
strong for smaller animals. Many nuts and fruits lie on the end of
small branches which are unable to support the weight of the foraging
cockatoo, which instead bends the branch towards itself and holds it
with its foot.
While some cockatoos are generalists taking a wide range of foods,
others are specialists. The glossy black cockatoo specialises in the
cones of trees of the genus Allocasuarina, preferring a single
species, A. verticillata. It holds the cones in its foot and shreds
them with its powerful bill before removing the seeds with its
tongue. Some species take large numbers of insects, particularly
when breeding; in fact the bulk of the yellow-tailed black cockatoo's
diet is made up of insects. The large bill is used in order to extract
grubs and larvae from rotting wood. The amount of time cockatoos have
to spend foraging varies with the season. During times of plenty
they may need to feed for only a few hours in the day, in the morning
and evening, then spend the rest of the day roosting or preening in
trees, but during the winter most of the day may be spent foraging.
The birds have increased nutritional requirements during the breeding
season, so they spend more time foraging for food during this time.
Cockatoos have large crops, which allow them to store and digest food
for some time after retiring to a tree.
Predators and threats
The peregrine falcon and little eagle have been reported taking galahs
and the wedge-tailed eagle has been observed killing a sulphur-crested
cockatoo. Eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to many hazards.
Various species of monitor lizard (Varanus) are able to climb trees
and enter hollows. Other predators recorded include the spotted wood
owl on Rasa Island in the Philippines; the amethystine python, black
butcherbird and rodents including the giant white-tailed rat in
Cape York; and brushtail possum on Kangaroo Island. Furthermore,
galahs and little corellas competing for nesting space with the glossy
black cockatoo on Kangaroo Island have been recorded killing nestlings
of the latter species there. Severe storms may also flood hollows
drowning the young and termite or borer activity may lead to the
internal collapse of nests.
Like other parrots, cockatoos can be afflicted by psittacine beak and
feather disease (PBFD). The viral infection causes feather loss and
beak malformation and reduces the bird's overall immunity.
Particularly prevalent in sulphur-crested cockatoos, little corellas
and galahs, it has been recorded in 14 species of cockatoo to date.
Although unlikely to significantly impact on large, healthy
populations of birds in the wild, PBFD may pose a high risk to smaller
A white cockatoo and a sulphur-crested cockatoo were found to be
infected with the protozoon
Haemoproteus and another sulphur-crested
cockatoo had the malaria parasite
Plasmodium on analysis of faecal
samples at Almuñecar ornithological garden in
Granada in Spain.
Like amazon parrots and macaws, cockatoos frequently develop cloacal
papillomas. The relationship with malignancy is unknown, as is the
cause, although a parrot papilloma virus has been isolated from an
African grey parrot
African grey parrot with the condition.
Relationship with humans
A sulphur-crested cockatoo visiting a balcony in Eastern Sydney for
Human activities have had positive effects on some species of cockatoo
and negative effects on others. Many species of open country have
benefited greatly from anthropogenic changes to the landscape, with
the great increase in reliable seed food sources, available water and
have also adapted well to a diet including foreign foodstuffs. This
benefit appears to be restricted to Australian species, as cockatoos
favouring open country outside
Australia have not become more
abundant. Predominantly forest-dwelling species have suffered greatly
from habitat destruction; in the main, they appear to have a more
specialised diet and have not been able to incorporate exotic food
into their diet. A notable exception is the yellow-tailed black
cockatoo in eastern Australia.
Several species of cockatoo can be serious agricultural pests.
They are sometimes controlled by shooting, poisoning or capture
followed by gassing. Non-lethal damage mitigation methods used include
scaring, habitat manipulation and the provision of decoy food dumps or
sacrifice crops to distract them from the main crop. They can be a
nuisance in urban areas due to destruction of property. They maintain
their bills in the wild by chewing on wood but, in suburbia, they may
chew outdoor furniture, door and window frames; soft decorative
timbers such as western red cedar are readily demolished. Birds
may also target external wiring and fixtures such as solar water
heaters, television antennae and satellite dishes. A business
in central Melbourne suffered as sulphur-crested cockatoos repeatedly
stripped the silicone sealant from the plate glass windows. Galahs
and red-tailed black cockatoos have stripped electrical cabling in
rural areas and tarpaulin is targeted elsewhere. Outside
Tanimbar corella is a pest on
Yamdena Island where it
raids maize crops.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos damaging the Sturt Mall shopping centre
facade, made of polystyrene
In 1995 the Government of the state of Victoria published a report on
problems caused by long-billed corellas, sulphur-crested cockatoos and
galahs, three species which, along with the little corella, have large
and growing populations, having benefited from anthropogenic changes
to the landscape. Subsequent to the findings and publication of the
report, these three species were declared unprotected by a Governor in
Council Order under certain conditions and are allowed to be destroyed
where serious damage is being caused by them to trees, vineyards,
orchards, recreational reserves and commercial crops. Damage
covered by the report included not only that to cereal crops, fruit
and nut orchards and some kinds of vegetable crops but also to houses
and communications equipment. The little corella is a declared
pest of agriculture in Western Australia, where it is an aviculturally
introduced species. The birds damage sorghum, maize, sunflower,
chickpeas and other crops. They also defoliate amenity trees in parks
and gardens, dig for edible roots and corms on sports grounds and race
tracks, as well as chew wiring and household fittings. In South
Australia, where flocks can number several thousand birds and the
species is listed as unprotected, they are accused of defoliating red
gums and other native or ornamental trees used for roosting, damaging
tarpaulins on grain bunkers, wiring and flashing on buildings, taking
grain from newly seeded paddocks and creating a noise nuisance.
Several rare species and subspecies, too, have been recorded as
causing problems. The Carnaby's black cockatoo, a threatened Western
Australian endemic, has been considered a pest in pine plantations
where the birds chew off the leading shoots of growing pine trees,
resulting in bent trunks and reduced timber value. They are also
known to damage nut and fruit crops, and have learnt to exploit
canola crops. The Baudin's black cockatoo, also endemic to the
south-west of Western Australia, can be a pest in apple and pear
orchards where it destroys the fruit to extract the seeds. Muir's
corella, the nominate subspecies of the western corella, is also a
declared pest of agriculture in Western Australia, as well as being
nationally vulnerable and listed under state legislation as being
"rare or likely to become extinct".
Status and conservation
The red-vented cockatoo is a critically endangered species endemic to
The blue-eyed cockatoo is a vulnerable species endemic to New
According to the
IUCN and BirdLife International, seven species of
cockatoo are considered to be vulnerable or worse and one is
considered to be near threatened. Of these, two species—the
red-vented cockatoo and the yellow-crested cockatoo—are considered
to be critically endangered.
The principal threats to cockatoos are habitat loss and the wildlife
trade. All cockatoos are dependent on trees for nesting and are
vulnerable to their loss; in addition many species have specialised
habitat requirements or live on small islands and have naturally small
ranges, making them vulnerable to the loss of these habitats.
Cockatoos are popular as pets and the capture and trade has threatened
some species; between 1983 and 1990, 66,654 recorded salmon-crested
cockatoos were exported from Indonesia, a figure that does not include
the number of birds caught for the domestic trade or that were
exported illegally. The capture of many species has subsequently
been banned but the trade continues illegally. Birds are put in crates
or bamboo tubing and conveyed on boats out of
Indonesia and the
Philippines. Not only are the rare species smuggled out of
Indonesia but also common and rare cockatoos alike are smuggled out of
Australia; birds are sedated, covered in nylon stockings and packed
into PVC tubing which is then placed in unaccompanied luggage on
international flights. Mortality is significant (30%) and eggs,
more easily hidden on the bodies of smugglers on flights, are
increasingly smuggled instead. Trafficking is thought to be run by
organised gangs, who also trade Australian species for overseas
species such as macaws coming the other way.
All species of cockatoo except the cockatiel are protected by the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES), which restricts import and export of wild-caught
parrots to special licensed purposes. Five cockatoo species (including
Tanimbar corella (
red-vented cockatoo (
Cacatua haematuropygia), Moluccan cockatoo
Cacatua moluccensis), yellow-crested cockatoo (
Cacatua sulphurea) and
palm cockatoo (
Probosciger aterrimus)—are protected on the CITES
Appendix I list. With the exception of the cockatiel, all remaining
cockatoo species are protected on the
Appendix II list.
A wing-clipped pet. salmon-crested cockatoos, also known as Moluccan
cockatoos, are the largest white-coloured cockatoo species at
about 52 cm (20 in) long and weighing 775–935 g.
Cockatoos can be noisy and demanding pets.
Kept for their appearance, their intelligence and engaging
personalities, cockatoos can nonetheless be problematic pets or
companion parrots. Generally, they are not good at mimicking
human speech, although the little corella is a renowned
talker. As social animals, wild cockatoos have been known to
learn human speech from ex-captive birds that have integrated into a
flock. Their care is best provided by those experienced in
keeping parrots. Cockatoos are social animals and their social
needs are difficult to cater for, and they can suffer if kept in
a cage on their own for long periods of time.
The cockatiel is by far the cockatoo species most frequently kept in
captivity. Among U.S. bird keepers that participated in a survey by
APPMA in 2003/04, 39% had cockatiels, as opposed to only 3% that had
(other) cockatoo species. The white cockatoos are more often
encountered in aviculture than the black cockatoos. Black
cockatoos are rarely seen in European zoos due to export restrictions
on Australian wildlife but birds seized by governments have been
Cockatoos are often very affectionate with their owner and at times
other people but can demand a great deal of attention. Furthermore,
their intense curiosity means they must be given a steady supply of
objects to tinker with, chew, dismantle and destroy. Parrots in
captivity may suffer from boredom, which can lead to stereotypic
behaviour patterns, such as feather-plucking. Feather plucking is
likely to stem from psychological rather than physical causes.
Other major drawbacks include their painful bites, and their
piercing screeches. The salmon-crested and white cockatoo
species are particular offenders. All cockatoos have a fine
powder on their feathers, which may induce allergies in certain
people. In general, the smaller cockatoo species such as Goffin's
and quieter Galah's cockatoos are much easier to keep as pets.
The cockatiel is one of the most popular and easiest parrots to keep
as a pet, and many colour mutations are available in
A pet cockatiel. The cockatiel is about 32 cm (13 in) long
and is by far the smallest and lightest cockatoo.
Larger cockatoos can live 30 to 70 years depending on the species, or
occasionally longer, and cockatiels can live for about 20 years. As
pets they require a long-term commitment from their owners. Their
longevity is considered a positive trait as it reduces instances of
the loss of a pet. The oldest cockatoo in captivity was a Major
Mitchell's cockatoo named "Cookie", residing at
Brookfield Zoo in
Chicago, which lived to be 83 years old (1933–2016).
A salmon-crested cockatoo named 'King Tut' who resided at San Diego
Zoo was nearly 69 when he died in 1990 and a palm cockatoo reached 56
London Zoo in 2000. However, anecdotal reports describe birds
of much greater ages. 'Cocky Bennett' of Tom Ugly's Point in
Sydney was a celebrated sulphur-crested cockatoo who was reported to
have reached an age of 100 years or more. He had lost his feathers and
was naked for much of his life. A palm cockatoo was reported to
have reached 80 or 90 years of age in an Australian zoo, and a
little corella that was removed from a nest in central
1904 was reported still alive in the late 1970s. In February 2010,
a white cockatoo named 'Arthur' was claimed to be 90 years old; he had
lived with a family for generations in Dalaguete, Cebu, before being
Cebu City Zoo.
Trained cockatoos are sometimes seen in bird shows in zoos. They are
generally less motivated by food than other birds; some may more
respond to petting or praise than food. Cockatoos can often be taught
to wear a parrot harness, enabling their owners to take them outdoors.
Cockatoos have been used in animal-assisted therapy, generally in
Cockatoos often have pronounced responses to musical sounds and
numerous videos exist showing the birds dancing to popular music.
Research conducted in 2008 with an
Eleonora cockatoo named Snowball
had indicated that this particular individual is indeed capable of
beat induction—perceiving human-created music and synchronizing his
body movements to the beat.
Dutch still life with cockatoo, circa 1640.
An early European depiction of a cockatoo is present in the 1496
Andrea Mantegna titled Madonna della Vittoria. Later
examples were painted by Hungarian artist
Jakob Bogdani (1660–1724),
who resided in Amsterdam from 1683 and then England, and appeared
with numerous other birds in the bird pieces of the Dutch painter
Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636–1695). A cockatoo is the unlucky
subject in An Experiment on a
Bird in the Air Pump by English artist
Joseph Wright of Derby, its fate unclear in the painting.
Cockatoos were among the many Australian plants and animals which
featured in decorative motifs in
Federation architecture of the early
20th century. A visit to a Camden Town pet shop in 1958 inspired
English painter William Roberts to paint The Cockatoos, in the
collection of the Tate Gallery. American artist and sculptor
Joseph Cornell was known for placing cutout paper cockatoos in his
The ACT Government adopted the gang-gang cockatoo as its official
faunal emblem on 27 February 1997. The short-lived budget airline
Impulse Airlines featured a sulphur-crested cockatoo on its corporate
livery (and aeroplanes). The palm cockatoo, which has a unique
beak and face colouration, is used as a symbol by the World Parrot
Two 1970s police dramas featured protagonists with pet cockatoos. In
the 1973 film Serpico, Al Pacino's character had a pet white cockatoo
and the television show
Baretta saw Robert Blake's character with Fred
the Triton cockatoo. The popularity of the latter show saw a
corresponding rise in popularity of cockatoos as pets in the late
1970s. Cockatoos have been used frequently in advertising; a
cockatoo appeared in a 'cheeky' (and later toned down) 2008
advertising campaign for
Cockatoo Ridge Wineries.
A team of scientists from Oxford University, the University of Vienna
Max Planck Institute conducted tests on ten untrained Tanimbar
Cacatua goffini), and found that they were able to solve
complex mechanical puzzles.
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B.C.: Hancock House. ISBN 978-0-88839-439-2.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cacatuidae.
Look up cockatoo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Australian Faunal Directory
MyToos.com – explaining many of the responsibilities of cockatoo
Cockatoo videos on the Internet
Cockatoos (family: Cacatuidae)
Cockatiels in aviculture
Cockatiel colour genetics
Red-tailed black cockatoo
Glossy black cockatoo
Yellow-tailed black cockatoo
Carnaby's black cockatoo
Baudin's black cockatoo
Pink or grey
Galah (or rose-breasted cockatoo)
Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo (or Leadbeater's cockatoo)
Yellow-crested cockatoo (or lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo)
Greater sulphur-crested cockatoo
White cockatoo (or umbrella cockatoo)
Salmon-crested cockatoo (or Moluccan cockatoo)
Tanimbar corella (or Goffin's cockatoo)