Mar 7

There are 21 species of cockatoo, distributed mainly throughout Australasia. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the cockatoo is the crest it possesses, which can be raised at will, and is used in social interaction or when the bird is alarmed. Typically white, grey or black in colour, some species are tinged with pink or yellow, and may have colourful crests.

Yellow-crested cockatoo photo

Yellow-crested cockatoo with raised crest

Cockatoos feed mainly on seeds, fruits and nuts, although insects may also be eaten. Often feeding in flocks out in the open, birds will take turns to act as sentinel, keeping watch for predators while other members of the flock feed.

Salmon-crested cockatoo photo

Pair of salmon-crested cockatoos

The largest of the cockatoos are the yellow-tailed black cockatoo and the palm cockatoo. As well as being one of the largest species, the palm cockatoo also performs a unique display for which it has become quite famous; the male uses a sturdy stick or a nut to drum against the nest hollow. Sometimes sticks are specially fashioned for the purpose, making this behaviour a clear example of tool use in birds.

Palm cockatoo photo

Palm cockatoo territorial display

The smallest cockatoo species include the cockatiel, the Philippine cockatoo, the Solomon corella and Goffin’s cockatoo, pictured below.

Goffin’s cockatoo photo

Goffin's cockatoo resting in a tree

Popular in the pet trade, several species of cockatoo are threatened by a combination of over collection and habitat loss. The two species most at risk are the yellow-crested cockatoo and the Philippine cockatoo, both of which are considered to be Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Once widespread in the Philippines, the Philippine cockatoo is now confined to just a few islands. Conservation efforts are in place to encourage poachers and hunters to end their unsustainable activities and become wardens, island rangers and guides instead.

Philippine cockatoo photo

Pair of Philippine cockatoos perched on branch

Do you have a favourite cockatoo species? Or a favourite cockatoo photo or video on ARKive? Get in touch and let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher