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The Natural and Unnatural History of the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

The magnificent sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) is one of the most sought after of all bird pets.  It is also one of the most intelligent, and as such has become well known to TV and movie viewers the world over as an “actor”.  However, its natural history is less in the spotlight, and holds some interesting surprises.

Range and Habitat

Sulphur-crested cockatoos range along Australia’s north-central coast and throughout the eastern third of the continent and on New Guinea, its offshore islands and Aru Island.  Long-collected as a pet, it has been introduced and breeds in the wild on New Zealand, Palau and Indonesia’s Ceramlaut and Goramlaut Islands.

These cockatoos always live within flying distance of water, but otherwise occupy a range of habitats, including forest, open woodlands, brushy savannas and farms.  Favored roosting sites remain in use for decades, even if changes in food availability necessitate long-distance flights.

A Variable Feeding Strategy

Interestingly, cockatoos living in different habitats show widely varying defensive adaptations.  In eastern Australia, where flocks feed in open country on the ground, sentries are always posted in nearby trees.  These individuals keep watch for danger, rising high into the air and screaming as a warning to the flock.

In northern Australia, sulphur-crested cockatoos usually feed in trees at forest edges, where they are less vulnerable to predators than are ground-feeding birds.  Consequently, the sentinel system has not been developed by this segment of the population.

The World’s Most Magnificent Crop Pest?

It is difficult for non-Australians to imagine these fabulous birds in the role of “crop pest”, but a flock of several hundred descending upon a field can be devastating.  They also have been known to ravage harvested grain by ripping into bags held at storage sites.  The clever “raiding parties”, always forewarned of danger by “scouts”, are rarely caught in the act.

On the other hand, the important role of this species in consuming the seeds of harmful weeds and the larvae of crop-feeding insects is well documented.

Cockatoos as Pets

The sulphur-crested cockatoo’s sizable brain and body renders it a wonderful but demanding pet.  Its basic needs are similar to those of related large parrots – a healthful diet, full spectrum light and a large cage or outdoor aviary.  However, the social aspects of keeping such a bird are quite complicated…this is a species best reserved for experienced hobbyists.

Further Reading

Please see my article on Goffin’s Cockatoos  for more information on cockatoo husbandry basics.

Information on the conservation status of this cockatoo may be found at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=1399&m=0.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Noodle Snacks.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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