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Greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Cacatua galerita

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

Experience Woburn Safari Park’s free flying bird demonstration, see these magnificent parrots soaring and swooping in the Birds in Action Amphitheatre. Learn about these intelligent birds, how they adapt and survive in the wild.

Distribution
East coast of Australia, extending along the northern coast and across the seas into Papua New Guinea.
Habitat
Open woodland and forest areas.
Height
Length 50 cm
Weight
700-950 grams
Lifespan
Up to 60 years
Threats
Birds are routinely persecuted as crop pests.

Social structure

These birds are seen in pairs, family groups and large flocks reaching hundreds or even thousands of individuals. At sunrise the birds leave roosting grounds in favour of feeding grounds where they remain during the day. Whilst these birds are feeding, a few birds remain perched at the top of the trees watching for approaching predators. If they spot any potential danger they take to the sky, screeching loudly warning the rest of the flock, some cockatoos will even arm themselves with sticks throwing them at the predators such as Bat Hawks. During the hottest parts of the day they shelter in trees and return the roosting ground at dusk.  

Diet

Cockatoos typically feed on various seeds, nuts and fruits, such as papaya, durian, langsat and rambutan. Since these birds eat seeds, they are often found in cropland. They are often viewed as pests in some states of Australia because of their habit of damaging and digging up newly sown seed and raiding ripening crops. 

Physical features

The plumage is overall white, while the under wing and tail are sulphur yellow. The expressive crest is yellow. The bill (beak) is black, the legs are grey, the eye-ring is white and the base of feathers around cheeks and throat are also yellowish. Males typically have almost black eyes, whereas the females have redder or brown eyes. Young Sulphur Crested Cockatoos will have browner iris’ (eyes). To determine the gender of adult birds, a blood test or DNA test could be taken if you wanted to be certain.

Breeding behaviour

The breeding season for these birds last from August to January in south-eastern Australia and from the months of May to September up in the northern areas.

As part of the courtship display the male struts along a branch, bobbing his head and spreading his tail, extending his wings and erecting his crest. The female may initially ignore him but provided she is impressed with his display she will allow him to approach. Mutual preening and touching of bills follows, this serves to strengthen their bond. They nest in hollow limbs or a hole in a tree, generally high up. Nests have also been found in holes in cliffs and on top of haystacks.

They breed once yearly, producing a clutch containing 2 to 3 white oval eggs. Eggs hatch after an incubation period of 27 to 30 days. The chick weighs around 18g (0.6 oz.) when hatched and the young fledge when they are about 3 months old and are fully independent half a month to one month after leaving the nest. Both male and female reach reproductive maturity around the age of 5 to 6 years.

Communication

Cockatoos communicate in many ways and serve a number of functions. Cockatoo’s crests can be raised or lowered at will and are used to communicate with fellow members of their species, allowing individuals to recognise one another and indicating moods. The crest is also used as a form of defence to frighten away other species that approach too closely, making the bird appear larger when the crest is suddenly raised. There loud squawking and screaming are great adaptations for living in thick, dark forests, helping them communicate with one another over long distances even though they are out of sight.

Threats and conservation

The number of greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoo globally is unknown. CITES lists them in their Appendix II, meaning these cockatoos are not currently threatened with extinction. These birds high level of intelligence, potential for tameness, bright plumage and the ability to mimic human voices, have led to the parrot’s popularity as cage birds.

Zoos and other institutions seek to maintain captive populations in order to safeguard against possible extinction in the wild. This breeding is sometimes well coordinated and is orchestrated through the use of studbook keepers. Other breeding is undertaken commercially to meet demands of the pet trade, sometimes to the extent that species have self-sustaining captive populations that no longer need to be increased with wild caught birds (for example budgerigar, cockatiel and several species of lovebird). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates international trade in this species through the use of permits. While this regulation remains in place, there is little cause for concern regarding this species’ survival.

The Greater Cockatoo however face another pressure. Dietary preference of parrots for seeds and fruits bring some species into conflict with people. Maize, citrus fruits, mangos, grapes, millet and groundnuts are among the many economically important crops that are raided by parrots. Birds are routinely persecuted as crop pests; even though their actual impact may be light, the damage caused is often enhanced through wasteful foraging. Not all fruit is eaten, thereby ruining far more of the crop than is actually consumed.

Even though these birds do face their problems in the wild overall, the greater cockatoo remains widespread and common in the wild and captivity.

Fun facts

Cockatoos differ from other parrots not only because of their crests but also because they are mostly black or white (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Galah). This is caused by the lack of a special texture in their feathers. In other parrots the presence of this texture produces colour by the way it reflects light.

Unlike most parrots, cockatoos have a gall bladder.

Pepe Star Greater Cockatoo

Meet Pepe the Cockatoo

Pepe is a Greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoo which are native to Australia; he is by far our cheekiest bird. Pepe is still very young for a parrot - they can live up 60 years old, or even longer!