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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Cacatua galerita

Quick facts


Other names: White Cockatoo. 

Identification: Unmistakable big white bird with a large yellow crest that is raised when it is excited.


Range and lifestyle: Eastern and northern Australia.


Food: Seeds. 

Breeding: Mostly in winter. Nest is a layer of woodchips at the bottom of a large hollow dead branch or hole in trunk. Both mum and dad incubate the 2 white eggs for a month, then feed the chicks in the nest for another 2 months.

Famous for its ability to imitate the voices of humans with phrases such as “Hello Cocky”, as well as to perform acrobatic acts, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is a popular and much-loved pet in many households both in Australia and overseas. Being a seed-eater in the main, it is easily kept in cages and aviaries stocked with a mixture of seeds. However their fondness for seed of many kinds has also brought them into sharp conflict with farmers growing crops, who regard the species as a pest due to its habit of eating ripening grain on wheat, corn, sunflower, sorghum and other cereal plants, as well as sprouting seed on the ground. When a flock is feeding on the ground, at least one individual will be perched high in a tree acting as a lookout guard or “sentinel” ready to warn its flock mates of approaching danger, such as a dingo or farmer.


Before the arrival of European people, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was probably largely confined to open woodlands and forest edges in eastern and northern Australia. Since then, however, it has expanded its range and increased in numbers, mainly due to the clearing of forest, establishment of water tanks, and the cultivation of cereal crops. Like the Galah and several other seed-eating parrots, it has also adapted well to the urban environment. During the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, the number of sightings of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in Brisbane gardens quadrupled, and their numbers had increased markedly. In Sydney, they were found to be the fifth most common bird species, being sighted in 60 per cent of gardens. In the past four years, more than 100 cockies have been tagged and tracked across Sydney under a project called “Wingtags”. “Columbus”, the first bird to be tagged (with tag number 001) has been sighted over 400 times since he was tagged in 2011!


Cockatoos are highly intelligent birds, capable of solving problems faster than young humans. They have learnt to exploit food discarded by people. In Sydney, many have learnt how to open the lids of closed wheelie bins to gain access to food wastes. In 2015 one cockatoo was even caught on camera opening the kitchen window of a Sydney home. In the Gold Coast hinterland, one flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos was known to obtain much of their daily food from eating undigested barley seeds contained in the dung of dairy cattle.


This species is highly social, and like the Rainbow Lorikeet, forms large communal roosts, where the raucous screeching calls of birds settling for the night may be unbearable for people living nearby. At such roost sites, usually in smooth-barked gum trees, the cockatoos have a habit of “pruning” leafy branches with their powerful bills, resulting in much debris below the tree. After several years, these trees may be stripped of much of their foliage, and eventually die, whereupon the birds will move to a new location.


Text © Richard Noske 2019 CC BY-NC-SA


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