RED –TAILED COCKATOO
By Danielle Davis
A female Red-tailed Cockatoo was the first Australian Parrot to be
illustrated by Joseph Banks’ draughtsman on Captain Cook’s
first visit on the ship Endeavour in 1770. This spectacular bird is
the most widely spread of the Black Cockatoos and the only one of it’s
genus to be found in our drier pastoral districts.(Glossy Black Cockatoo,
Palm Cockatoo, White-tailed Cockatoo, Long-billed Black Cockatoo &
Yellow-tail Cockatoo) Spread across most of northern Australia from
the Kimberleys to north west NSW they are also found in the Jarrah forests
& the wheat belt of southwestern WA, the gum-lined river systems
of inland Australia east to the Darling and there is a small isolated
pocket in the stringybark forests of southwestern SA - western Victoria.
Found in mainly dry open forests, Eucalptus forests and rainforest
areas, they live in pairs & small groups or families, and in the
open woodlands & wheat belts their numbers can grow up to 200 in
a single flock. Like many inland birds they are highly nomadic and may
be only seasonally present in some areas following the feed that they
need from the seasonal trees and plants.
An impressive black feathered large parrot growing up to 650mm in length
the male has a broad band of bright vermillion orange/red feathers near
the end of his tail except for 2 central black tail feathers. He has
dark brown eyes with grey skin surrounds, a dark grey beak and dusky
grey toes. The female has a bone coloured beak, and along with immature
birds, has a dark brown/black plumage with yellow speckles on head,
neck, shoulders & tail, yellowish bars across chest & a paler
red band across tail. The baby chicks are covered in dense yellow down.
Their voice is a loud harsh grating single-note “kree”
Images by Sharon McGrigor
A flock of Yellow-tailed Cockatoos flying slowly over the trees, its
members calling to each other with long-carrying wailing cries, is one
of the characteristic sights & sounds of the Eucalyptus forests
& Pine plantations of southeastern Australia. Found mainly in timber
land country along eastern Australia, extending south to Tasmania, west
to the Eyre Peninsular in SA and as far north as Rockhampton in QLD.
They frequent all types of timbered country including coastal scrubs,
heathlands, eucalyptus forests and introduced radiate pine plantations.
One of our largest native parrots growing up to 800mm long their body
plumage is dusky black, feathers narrowly edged with yellow especially
on under parts, they have a small yellow patch on each of their cheeks
which is brighter and larger on the female, a broad band of yellow near
end of tail with centre tail feathers black. Feet and toes are grey/brown.
The male has a dark grey beak while the females’ is bone coloured.
Baby chicks are covered in long yellow down.
Their voice in flight is a high-pitched drawn-out whistle “whee-laa”
also single syllable harsh call if alarmed.
Image by Alicia Carter
FACTS ABOUT BOTH
*All Cockatoos are gregarious and choose not to live on their own but
in small to quite large groups of up to 200. These birds have longevity
(as do all cockatoos and parrots!) living up to 80 years old and so
it is sad to see them keep in small cages on their own as they would
naturally never be alone and love to socialize. Very intelligent they
can quickly learn and repeat words, sentences and tricks but with such
an active mind they become bored if not constantly stimulated and will
get lonely and often depressed or sick on their own or in captivity.
*They are seed eaters and like to feed high up in trees such as banksias,
eucalyptus, acacias, casuarinas, hakeas and radiata pine and they also
love to eat larvae of timber boring insects, nectar, pollen and some
blossoms when in season. It was found that the larger variety of these
birds that live further north in Australia eat more insects than there
smaller southern cousins. They will only naturally come to the ground
to drink water.
*All Cockatoos prefer to make have their nests in hollow old growth
logs up in trees, which is why it is important to keep our old growth
forests but with deforestation they will use any suitable hollow log
branch and it’s good not chop off the hollow logs on any trees
to give them nesting sites as they usually come back to the same spot
to nest year after year. They will also nest in dead trees with hollow
logs. These log sites can be 2 – 30 metres up and the parents
chew the inside of the log making a layer of wood chips on which to
lay their egg (Red-tail 1 egg, Yellow-tail 2). After 3-4 weeks continuous
incubation by the female, being fed by the male, the gangly completely
dependant chick is hatched and fed a diet high in protein from insects
and larvae so they grow with healthy bones and feathers. All Cockatoo
parents enter the hollow nest backwards – tail first!
* They will also nest in manmade wooden hollow nesting boxes and so
to provide these where their natural sites have disappeared would also
help promote building up their dwindling numbers.
*They are slow, powerful and buoyant flyers with languid wing-beats
calling to one another in their unusual cries. Some people say that
they fly away from rain and that a flock flying off into the distance
can signal the onset of rain or a storm. With the drought over these
past few years and the constant deforestation of their natural environment
we have seen more and more Black Cockatoos (and White Cockatoos too)
flying over the great Dividing range to live and find feed & breed
nearer the coast.
*The Red-tailed Black Cockatoo & Glossy Black Cockatoo are both
listed as vulnerable under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
Since colonization these birds numbers have declined significantly mainly
due to loss of habitat thru deforestation, trapped for illegal bird
trade, bushfires and too frequent burn offs and feral and domestic cats
and also rats who raid their hollow nests eating the eggs and chicks.
Their numbers build up very slowly as they have only 1-2 chicks per
year and with a high mortality rate often the chicks do not make it
thru to maturity. (50% in a good year only 20% make it in a bad one)
WHAT WE CAN DO
*Support the planting Australian Native trees in our forests, parks,
gardens and your own backyard! They feed and/or nest in Banksias, Eucalyptus,
Acacias, Casuarinas, Hakeas and also like the introduced Radiata Pine.
*Retain existing stands of these trees and where possible extend this
habitat by planting
*Encourage regeneration and re-establishing stands of these trees
on farm lands, particularly where these has been land clearing often
for crops. They can be planted on the edges of the properties and urban
* Leave old hollow branches and logs on trees for them to nest in.
Also leave dead trees on farms, in forests and wherever possible. They
cannot nest with out these sites.
*Provide nesting boxes for breeding (March-October) where birds are
visiting but nest sites are not available. They will use wooden manmade
*Protect nest sites from disturbances by feral cats, rats or birds
such as the Indian Mynah. Keep your cat in at night and place a collar
and 3 bells around their neck. If your cat is a hunter then keep an
eye on it thru the day and if need be overfeed to slow it down and make
it less likely to go hunting.
*Report any nesting records to WIRES in order to help with our records
on how these beautiful birds are managing..
Norma Henderson: Bird Rehabilitation Manual
NPWS "Threatened Species of the Upper North Coast of NSW"
Readers Digest "Complete Book of Australian Birds"