The Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo is very large and very loud. It makes no bones about its whereabouts, gadding about in flocks of boisterous screeching friends.
In flight these birds look like they’re flapping in slow motion.
Telling males from females is straightforward: females have larger yellow cheek patches than males, and females have pale grey eye rings where males have pink eye rings.
There have been occasional records of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos with almost entirely yellow plumage. When they breed, these yellow birds produce normal-looking, black-feathered offspring.
They live on seeds and grubs, happily tearing apart pinecones and banksias. They can find borers in tree branches, especially eucalypts, by close listening, and gouge them out of the hardwood with those formidable beaks.
These clever birds have been observed arriving at bushfire sites around ten days after the fire has passed, just in time for the banksia cones to naturally open.
The nest is in a tree hollow lined with wood chips. The female will lay two eggs, usually a few days apart. But here’s one of those inexplicable anomalies that nature likes to toss up: the second egg is generally a bit smaller than the first, and this second chick is most often neglected and thus dies in the nest. What is the evolutionary advantage in that, one wonders?
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos are classified as vulnerable in SA, but secure elsewhere. However, the 2015 State of the Birds Report by Birdlife Australia found that these birds are declining. Although humans have provided more food for the species in the form of pine plantations, perhaps a scarcity of nesting hollows is the main reason for the diminishing numbers. A Victorian study found that the average age of trees which provide appropriate nests for Black Cockatoos was 228 years.
These magnificent birds refuse to be tamed. They are rarely kept in captivity because they suffer from acute despair, usually refusing to eat. That may be a sign of their high intelligence. Only a few zoos have successfully kept them happy.
Anyone who has heard their call will know that it carries for many kilometres. The poet Judith Wright was a champion of Noosa in the 1960s, lending her weight to our local environmental activists whilst keeping a holiday home at Boreen Point. No doubt she regularly experienced the local black cockatoos during her time here. In her poem about these birds, she described their call as “crying the world’s unrest”.
With elections in Noosa, Qld and the USA this year, and unforgivable wars continuing without pause, not to mention accelerating climate change, I fear the Black Cockatoos have plenty to cry about.