Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusCacatua (1)
SizeLength: 44 – 55 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

With its pristine white plumage and striking, bright yellow crest, the sulphur-crested cockatoo is one of Australasia’s most recognisable parrot species (2) (4). The crest is erectile and can reach up to 14 centimetres in length (2). The undersurfaces of the wings and tail are washed with pale yellow, while the bill and feet are black and dark-grey respectively. The sexes are almost identical, except for the eye, which is brown in the male and red-brown in the female. There are four recognised subspecies of sulphur-crested cockatoo which are distinguished by location, as well as by differences in body size, bill size, and the colouration around the eye, which is white in all of the subspecies except for Cacatua galerita fitzroyi,in which it is blue (2).

The nominate subspecies Cacatua galerita galerita has the largest range, occupying eastern and south-eastern Australia, from Cape York, south to Tasmania. It has also been introduced to south-western Australia and New Zealand. Cacatua galerita fitzroyi is found in northern Australia from the Fitzroy River in the north-west to the Gulf of Carpenteria in the north-east. Cacatua galerita eleonora is found only on the Aru Islands, Indonesia, while Cacatua galerita triton is found in New Guinea and surrounding islands, with introduced populations also inhabiting the islands of Seram Laut and Kai in the Moluccas and Palau Island in the central-western Pacific (2).

In Australia, the sulphur-crested cockatoo inhabits forest, woodland and cultivated cropland, while in New Guinea it occurs in lowland forest up to elevations of 1,400 metres (2).

Noisy and conspicuous (4), the sulphur-crested cockatoo forms large flocks of up to several hundred birds (2). As the famous naturalist Charles Darwin observed during his visit to Australia, these flocks are commonly found feeding in wheat fields, and are considered to be pests by many Australian wheat farmers (5). During feeding some members of the flock stand guard on a nearby perch, alerting the rest of the group to any danger by making a raucous alarm call (2) (4). When not feeding, the sulphur-crested cockatoo will frequently bite off smaller branches and leaves, which helps prevent the bill from growing too large. A similar behaviour is also employed by this species in urban environment, causing widespread damage to wooden panelling and timber decking (4). Flocks spend the night at a permanent roosting site, usually in trees, but may travel over several kilometres during the day in search of food (2) (6).

The sulphur-crested cockatoo’s breeding season varies according to location, with populations in southern Australia breeding between August and January, and populations in northern Australia breeding from May to September. Once formed, each breeding pair constructs a nest well apart from the other pairs, which usually comprises a bed of woodchips in a tree hollow. A clutch of two to three eggs is laid, which are incubated by both parent birds, with hatching taking place after 25 to 27 days. Nestlings remain in the hollow for 9 to 12 weeks and are fed by both adults, before fledging and joining a feeding flock (2).

There are currently no major threats to the sulphur-crested cockatoo. Whilst this species is popular as an aviary bird, international trade is regulated and its global population is very large (2) (7).

The sulphur-crested cockatoo is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates international trade in this species through the use of permits and annual quotas (3). While this regulation remains in place, there is little cause for concern regarding this species’ survival (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (December, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Australian Museum Online (April, 2009)
    http://www.austmus.gov.au/factsheets/sulphur_crested_cockatoo.htm
  5. Nicholas, F.W. (2002) Charles Darwin in Australia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  6. Lindenmayer, D.B., Pope, M.P., Cunningham, R.B., Donnelly, C.F. and Nix, H.A. (1996) Roosting of the sulphur-crested cockatoo Cacatua galerita. Emu, 96: 209 - 212.
  7. BirdLife International (April, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org