Red-Tailed Wonder

It’s 1:30am. A sound like a strained water pipe gurgles in the distance, drawing out into the unmistakeable rasping of a koala mating cry.

Some days, another distinctive call chills us mid-activity. We rush outside to see striking black birds winging though the trees. They’re a rare, precious surprise.

Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos and Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos might be more reclusive than their raucous white counterparts, but they have a presence you just want to gaze at… The sight of them sweeping through the air like jet planes is magic!

Sheer black, two startling red panels flash on the underside of spread tail feathers – that’s the male Red-Tailed. The female is bedazzling with yellow and black bars, as though wearing stars. Here’s how to tell if they’re around.

The Subspecies

The five sub-species of Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo are found in eight discrete populations across the continent:

The 5 subspecies of Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo, and where they live.
Courtesy of this fact sheet by the South Australian government.

C.b. graptogyne (the red dot) is particularly rare, and is the smallest and most brightly-coloured of the subspecies. Apart from this, in appearance the subspecies differ mainly in beak size.

Have a look at Keith Lightbody’s site for photos of black cockatoos all over Australia.

The Signs

Eucalypt forests nearby? How about Mari (red-gum), Jarrah, Blackbutt, She-Oak, and Snottygobble? If so, listen out for that Black Cockatoo call!

Male Red-Tailed browsing in Jarrah forest.
Photo courtesy of a great Wikiwand article.

You might find opened seed or nut shells on the ground, like these Marri nuts.

Blogger Lesley Dewar’s backyard is often littered with such leftovers from Red-Tail meals! The highly social birds mate for life, so you’ll likely see them in groups. From a mother and chick in a tree to twenty Red-Tails visiting for a week, Lesley tells of her rich experiences with Red-Tails, as well as Carnabys Black Cockatoos, on her WA property.

I hope you too will have plenty of encounters with these magnificent birds.

To start now, follow this scientist for videos and the cutting-edge on black cockatoo conservation.

Other Black Cockatoo Species:

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo

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