Blue-eyed cockatoo (Cacatua ophthalmica)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusCacatua (1)
SizeLength: 44 - 50 cm (2)
Weight500 - 570 g (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

Aptly named for the conspicuous ring of bright blue skin around the eye, the blue-eyed cockatoo is a medium-sized cockatoo with mostly white plumage, and a large, backward-curving crest, which can be raised to reveal otherwise hidden yellow feathers. The feathers of the cheeks, throat, underwing and undertail are often suffused with yellow, and the beak and legs are dark greyish-black. The male and female blue-eyed cockatoo are similar in appearance, the female only distinguished by a reddish rather than dark brown iris, while juveniles resemble the adults, but have a grey eye (2) (3) (5) (6) (7). The flight of this species is fluttering, interspersed with glides, and the calls include a series of loud and rather nasal screams (2) (5). Although very similar to the sulphur-crested cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, and once considered the same species, the blue-eyed cockatoo can be distinguished by its different head shape, brighter blue eye ring, and less obvious yellow colour in the crest (2) (3) (6) (7).

The blue-eyed cockatoo is endemic to the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, off the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea (2) (3) (5) (6) (7).

This species inhabits lowland rainforest at elevations of up to around 1,000 metres. Although it may be found in disturbed and partly cleared areas, it is generally more common in primary forest or selectively logged forest, and is likely to be dependent on primary forest for nesting trees (2) (3) (6) (8) (9).

Relatively little is known about the biology of the blue-eyed cockatoo in the wild. It is usually encountered in pairs, but may congregate in flocks of up to 20 to 40 birds, and is usually quite conspicuous, often screeching noisily as it flies over the canopy (2) (3) (5) (6) (8). The diet includes the fruits, flowers and seeds of a variety of tree species, including figs and coconut palms (2) (5) (8) (9). The nest is built in a hollow in a large tree (2) (8), but information on the breeding biology in the wild is lacking. In captivity, the blue-eyed cockatoo lays one to two white eggs, which are incubated, mainly by the female, for around 27 to 30 days (2) (3) (5) (7) (10). The young leave the nest after 10 to 13 weeks (3) (5)  (10), and remain dependent on the adults for at least another month (10). The blue-eyed cockatoo may be able to breed from around 3 to 5 years (10), and can live for up to 40 to 50 years in captivity (5).

Although regarded as fairly common throughout most of its range, the blue eyed cockatoo is under threat from the rapid clearing of lowland forest due to logging and clearance for agriculture, particularly for coconut and oil palm plantations (5) (6) (7) (11). Although often occurring in logged forest, and sometimes even benefiting from increased food availability in altered habitats, the loss of suitable nesting trees is likely to be reducing the species’ reproductive output. As the blue-eyed cockatoo is long-lived, this problem may be masked by its apparently still large numbers (3) (6) (8) (9).

Unlike many cockatoos, the blue-eyed cockatoo is relatively rare in captivity and has not suffered as much as some other species from trapping for the pet trade (5) (6) (8) (10). However, it is commonly kept on plantations around the city of Rabaul in New Britain (3) (10) and has been seen for sale in local markets, and there is evidence that the species is being traded in increasing numbers (8). Even limited trapping may pose a threat to the blue-eyed cockatoo (6), particularly in combination with habitat loss (8).

The blue-eyed cockatoo is protected by law, and international trade in the species should be carefully monitored and controlled under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4). However, the blue-eyed cockatoo is one of the least well known cockatoo species (8) (10), and, without more information on its status, conservation measures are difficult to implement (3). The species has been bred in captivity at Chester Zoo in England for many years, and the zoo has also supported research into the wild population (10). Further recommended conservation action includes population surveys and monitoring, monitoring of breeding success, research into the species’ ecology and biology, and awareness campaigns to discourage trapping. The protection of large areas of habitat, together with the preservation of suitable nesting trees, will also be vital if this little-known cockatoo is to survive into the future (3)  (6).

To find out more about the conservation of this and other parrot species see:

 For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Juniper, T. and Parr, M. (1998) Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. CITES (November, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. World Parrot Trust - Blue-eyed Cockatoo (November, 2009)
    http://www.parrots.org/index.php/encyclopedia/profile/blue_eyed_cockatoo/
  6. BirdLife International (November, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=30025&m=0
  7. Cameron, M. (2007) Cockatoos. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia.
  8. Marsden, S.J., Pilgrim, J.D. and Wilkinson, R. (2001) Status, abundance and habitat use of blue-eyed cockatoo Cacatua ophthalmica on New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Bird Conservation International, 11: 151-160.
  9. Marsden, S.J. and Pilgrim, J.D. (2003) Factors influencing the abundance of parrots and hornbills in pristine and disturbed forests on New Britain, PNG. Ibis, 145: 45-53.
  10. Wilkinson, R., Pilgrim, M., Woolham, A., Morris, P.I., Morris, A. and West, B. (2000) Husbandry and breeding of blue-eyed cockatoos Cacatua ophthalmica at Chester Zoo 1966-1998. International Zoo Yearbook, 37: 116-125.
  11. WWF: New Britain-New Ireland lowland rain forests (November, 2009)
    http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/aa/aa0111_full.html