Calyptorhynchus banksii

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” or “krurr”

Images by Sharon McGrigor



Calyptorhynchus funereus

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


*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)


*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 fringes.

* 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 nesting boxes.

*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"
NPWS Website.


Updated August 3, 2015

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