Cockatoo Parrot Bio

A cockatoo is any of the 21 bird species in the Cacatuidae family. They compose the order Psittaciformes, together with the Psittacidae family (real parrots). Cockatoo is derived from the Malay name for these birds, kaka(k)tua (either from kaka “parrot” Plus tuwah, or from kakak “sister” + tua, “ancient”).

Cockatoos have numerous characteristics in common with other parrots, including a bent beak and a zygodactyl foot with two front and two backward toes. They vary in a number of ways, including the existence of a gall bladder and other anatomical aspects, as well as the absence of the Dyck texture feather composition that results in the vibrant blues and greens observed in real parrots. Cockatoos are also bigger than genuine parrots on average (however, the cockatiel is a small cockatoo and the very large parrots include the Hyacinth Macaw by length and the Kakapo by weight). The cockatoos are classified as a distinct family, however it is unclear if other live parrot lineages (such as the lories) are as unique as they are.

Cockatoos have a significantly narrower range than real parrots, found only in Australia and neighbouring islands. Eleven of the 21 species are found solely in Australia, while the other seven are found in Indonesia, New Guinea, and other South Pacific islands. Both New Guinea and Australia have three species.


Cockatoos are listed as an endangered or vulnerable species.
2 Evolution and systematics
3 Facts

Cockatoos as endangered or vulnerable species

The Convention on International Trading in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (commonly known as CITES) protects all cockatoo species, making the import, export, and trade in all wild-caught parrots and cockatoos unlawful.

The following cockatoo species are listed as endangered on the CITES Appendix 1 list.

  • Goffin’s Cockatoo, Cacatua goffini * Red-vented Cockatoo, Cacatua haematuropygia * Moluccan Cockatoo, Cacatua moluccensis * Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua sulphurea * Citron-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata * Palm C

All of the other cockatoo species are listed as vulnerable on the CITES appendix 2 list.

Systematics and evolution

Brown and Toft phylogeny of the Cacatuidae family (1999)

Brown and Toft (1999) examined existing evidence as well as new mitochondrial 12S rRNA sequence data to arrive at a well-supported cockatoo phylogeny. They were able to differentiate three subfamilies:

  1. The all-black Palm Cockatoo is a separate lineage that split early; it was previously mistakenly placed with the other black species.
  2. Dark cockatoos; sexually dichromatic species with abundant melanin and some red, yellow, or orange on the wing, tail, and face, barred feathers on the wing, tail, and/or body, and contrasting ear area spotting in females, while males have the corresponding feathers unbarred and may lack the ear spotting. This group comprises the last surviving black cockatoos, the Gang-gang Cockatoo, and the cockatiel, which was originally classified as a subfamily of its own (Nymphicinae) or possibly as a broad-tailed parrot.
  3. The remaining species, all of which are hypomelanistic and lack sexual dimorphism.

Calyptorhynchus and Cacatua both have two subgenera, with the latter including an unique third lineage of the white-and-pink Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, which is intermediate in colour between the grey-and-pink Galah and the white Cacatua. It is best known as the monotypic genus Lophocroa. Indeed, pending additional study, all subgenera may theoretically be elevated to species level.

Intron 7 of nuclear -fibrinogen sequencing data shows that the Microglossinae diverged later, and that the cockatiel is unique enough to merit Nymphicinae designation (Astuti, 2004), but otherwise conforms with rRNA and newly-interpreted morphological evidence.

Cockatoo fossils are even more few than those of parrots in general, with just one really old cockatoo fossil known: a species of Cacatua, most likely subgenus Licmetis, discovered in Riversleigh, Australia, in Early Miocene (16-23 mya) strata (Boles, 1993). Subfossil bones of Cacatua species that did not survive early human settlement were discovered in New Caledonia and New Ireland in Melanesia[citation required]. Except for the Riversleigh fossil, which offers some preliminary date of subfamily separation, these fossils have little impact on cockatoo evolution and phylogeny.

A cockatoo with sulphur-crested plumage


* Subfamily Microglossinae
  o Genus Probosciger
    + Palm Cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus
* Subfamily Calyptorhynchinae – dark cockatoos
    o Genus Callocephalon
       + Gang-gang Cockatoo, Callocephalon fimbriatum
    o Genus Nymphicus (tentatively placed here)
       + Cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus
    o Genus Calyptorhynchus
       + Subgenus Calyptorhynchus – black-and-red cockatoos
            # Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus (Calyptorhynchus) banksii
            # Glossy Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus (Calyptorhynchus) lathami
      + Subgenus Zanda – black-and-yellow/white cockatoos
            # Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus (Zanda) funereus
            # Short-billed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus (Zanda) latirostris
            # Long-billed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus (Zanda) baudinii
* Subfamily Cacatuinae – white cockatoos
    o Genus Eolophus
       + Galah, Eolophus roseicapilla
    o Genus Lophocroa
       + Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Lophocroa leadbeateri
    o Genus Cacatua
       + Subgenus Licmetis – corellas
           # Long-billed Corella, Cacatua (Licmetis) tenuirostris
           # Western Corella, Cacatua (Licmetis) pastinator
           # Little Corella, Cacatua (Licmetis) sanguinea
           # Red-vented Cockatoo, Cacatua (Licmetis) haematuropygia
           # Goffin’s Cockatoo, Cacatua (Licmetis) goffini
           # Ducorps’ Cockatoo, Cacatua (Licmetis) ducorpsii
        + Subgenus Cacatua – true white cockatoos
           # Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) galerita
           # Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) sulphurea
* Citron-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) sulphurea citrinocristata
           # Blue-eyed Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) ophthalmica
           # Moluccan Cockatoo or Salmon-crested Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) moluccensis
           # Umbrella Cockatoo, Cacatua (Cacatua) alba

[edit] Trivia

* A cockatoo is mentioned in John Williamson’s song “True Blue”.
* The song, “Like Cockatoos” (in which a sample of the cockatoos calls can be heard) can be found on The Cure’s 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

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