Australia is sometimes called the Land of the Parrot, and wherever I went, from the tropics to the deserts to chilly mountaintops, I could always find (and was always delighted by) at least a few species. I’ve already written of the stunning crimson rosellas and nearly ubiquitous galahs in earlier posts, but there are vastly more species than these.

Among parrots, few are more iconically Australian than cockatoos. (However, though primarily found in Australia, there are a few species that live on nearby islands.) There are 21 species of these handsome parrots, which are best known for the crests that they fan so expressively.

Cockatoos are fairly large birds, ranging in size from about 14 inches (including tail) up to the nearly three-foot length of the great black cockatoos of the north. Cockatoos have powerful beaks for cracking nuts, digging up roots, or prying grubs from wood. They are sometimes seen singly, but are usually seen in groups—and sometimes in large, noisy flocks, which can actually include two or three types of cockatoo. Like most parrots, cockatoos live long lives, with life spans generally running around 40 to 60 years, depending on the species—though some in zoos have been known to live close to 100 years.

Cockatoos are tree nesters, so even though I saw some in the desert, they only live in areas where trees exist—even if the trees are dead. In fact, I have often seen dead trees in arid regions covered with cockatoos, looking from a distance like a springtime floral display.

On my third trip to Australia, in Windjana Gorge, I was overjoyed to see thousands of cockatoos gathered for the breeding season. The courtship rituals we witnessed were charming—heads bobbing, small gifts being offered and accepted. Just adorable.

Of course, being adorable is one of the reasons cockatoos are popular pets. Being clever and affectionate is also appealing. Not all species adapt well to human company, however, and some are difficult to train.

One of the ones that are difficult to train is the glorious Major Mitchell cockatoo, also called a Leadbeater’s cockatoo. Pity, as they are so lovely, with their pale, rose-colored bodies and splendid yellow-and-red striped crests. But they are aggressive birds, and they don’t make particularly good pets. The aggressive nature of the Major Mitchell cockatoo pictured below manifested itself in its unwillingness to let me spend too much time photographing other birds, as I wandered through the aviary in Perth’s Cohuna Wildlife Sanctuary. It chased off its rivals for my attention, and then posed while I took several photos.

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Major Mitchell Cockatoo



Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, Nature, Science, Travel

4 responses to “Cockatoos

  1. I think cockatoos are one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Especially the palm cockatoo!

  2. I think cockatoos are certainly among the most beautiful birds in the world, but I’d say crimson rosellas are pretty astonishingly gorgeous, too. And as large as the beak is on the palm cockatoo, I’d say it’s more impressive than beautiful.

  3. Russell Collins

    Our house revolves around a lovely major Mitchel his name is chili !

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