Australia's Native Birds
The Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
The striking sulphur-crested cockatoo is endemic to Australia and New Guinea. They are relatively large and popular as cage birds. The scientific name is Cacatua galerita and there are four subspecies.
The sulphur-crested cockatoo is found in the northern and eastern sectors of Australia and as far south as Tasmania. They are locally very numerous to the point of being considered pests and have adapted well to suburban living. Introduced populations occur in Perth, Western Australia, Singapore and New Zealand although numbers are small there. In New Guinea they are found throughout lower areas of the island. They also occur on nearby islands.
The sulphur-crested cockatoo is found in open woodland and forest habitats in tropical and subtropical rainforests. It avoids the arid inland areas where there are few trees.
The nominate race has a total length is 45 to 55cm and weighs around 800 grams. Most of the plumage is white with a yellow wash under the wings and tail. There is an impressive sulphur-yellow crest. The eye of the male is almost black while the female has a more red or brown eye. The strong, curved beak is black and the legs grey. There is a whitish eye-ring. There are subtle differences between the subspecies. The colouring of the sexes is similar. Rather than producing oil as a waterproofing agent, the sulphur-crested cockatoo produces a very fine powder.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos have a distinctive raucous squawk. They are noisy and conspicuous. They are inquisitive birds and very intelligent. Their call is very loud, meant to travel through the rainforest to others of its species.
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In the wild the sulphur-crested cockatoo eats seeds, grains, buds, insects and grubs, nuts, berries and roots. The birds feed in large or small groups. Sentinels are posted as lookouts while the birds feed. Feeding takes place during the cooler part of the day ie morning and evening. Through the heat of the day, they bite off smaller branches and leaves without eating them. It is believed this helps keep the beak trimmed and prevents it growing too large.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos sometimes eat clay to detoxify their food. This is known as geophagy.
Breeding is seasonal. The male courts the female by raising his crest and advancing along the branch with a bobbing motion. There is mutual preening before mating takes place.
The birds nest in a tree hollow which is lined with wood chips. It may compete with other birds for nesting sites. A clutch consists of two to three eggs which are incubated for 25 to 27 days. Both parents share incubation duties and both help in raising the chicks. After fledging at around 10 to 12 weeks, the young birds spend a number of months with their parents before becoming independent. However family groups may stay together indefinitely. The life span can be over 70 years in captivity with 20 to 40 years regarded as average for wild birds.
These birds may suffer from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. This is a viral illness which causes the birds to lose their feathers. The beak takes on a grotesque shape.
In suburban areas, the sulphur-crested cockatoo has become a nuisance, destroying timber decking, outdoor furniture, trees and panelling with its strong beak. They may also damage cereal and fruit crops.
Despite their noisy squawks, the sulphur-crested cockatoo is very popular as a pet. All cockatoos are intelligent and the sulphur-crested is no exception.