Cacatuidae – Cockatoos

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo Lophochroa leadbeateri ©Ian Montgomery Website

The Cacatuidae or cockatoos are a group of parrots in the superfamily Cacatuoidea. Along with the Psittacoidea (true parrots) and the Strigopoidea (large New Zealand parrots), they make up the order Psittaciformes (parrots). Cockatoos have a mainly Australasian distribution, ranging from the Philippines and the eastern Indonesian islands of Wallacea to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.

They 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.

They 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. They 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.

According to the IOC there are 21 species of extant cockatoos, which are:

Cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii
Glossy Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus
Baudin’s Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus baudinii
Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus latirostris

Palm Cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus

Gang-gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum

Galah Eolophus roseicapilla

Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo Lophochroa leadbeateri

Long-billed Corella Cacatua tenuirostris
Western Corella Cacatua pastinator
Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea
Tanimbar Corella Cacatua goffiniana
Solomons Cockatoo Cacatua ducorpsii
Red-vented Cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita
Blue-eyed Cockatoo Cacatua ophthalmica
Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea
Salmon-crested Cockatoo Cacatua moluccensis
White Cockatoo Cacatua alba

Useful Reading
Useful Information
  • Eponyms

    Mitchell, T LMajor Mitchell’s Cockatoo Cacatua leadbeateri Vigors, 1831[Alt. Leadbeater’s/Pink Cockatoo]Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792-1855) was a Scottish army surveyor and explorer. He was the Surveyor-General of New South Wales from 1828 until 1855, and led various expeditions into eastern Australia, between 1831 and 1836 and to tropical Australia, from 1845 to 1846. A very life-like coloured plate of his cockatoo appears in Mitchell’s Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, published in 1838. A town in Queensland is also named after him. He was a hotheaded man and was the last person in Australia to challenge an opponent, in this case a politician, to a duel. Fortunately he only shot a hole in the man's hat, but honour was satisfied. He was heavily criticized for killing aboriginals, not only hostile tribesmen, but also harmless bystanders, such as old women and children. His actions cost the lives of members of his exploration party, such as his botanist Richard Cunningham. Mitchell said of the eponymous bird: few birds more enliven the monotonous hues of the Australian forest than this beautiful species whose pink-coloured wings and flowing crest might have embellished the air of a more voluptuous region.Extract from Whose Bird - Common Bird Names and the People They Commemorate by Bo Beolens & Mike Watkins 2004 A&C Black ISBN: 030010359X
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