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June 2023’s Animal Of The Month – Palm Cockatoos

By June 29, 2023 No Comments

We thought a drum solo would be a fitting way to play the palm cockatoo out of the spotlight as our Animal of the Month for June, but we couldn’t find any drums! No matter. If you were following us on Twitter @ExoticPetVets, you would know that palm cockatoos can drum all on their own – along with so many other fascinating facts about these big, bold, brainy and beautiful birds. But if you missed any of our tweets during the month, you can find a summary of them right here. Did you know?:

  • The palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) is the largest species of cockatoo in the world. They are also known as the goliath cockatoo, the great black cockatoo and the black palm cockatoo.
  • In the wild, palm cockatoos are endemic to the northeastern tip of Australia; specifically, the Cape York peninsula in northern Queensland.
  • Wild palm cockatoos are widely distributed on the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea on the eastern side of the island and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua on the western side).
  • Wild palm cockatoos are found in habitats including – but not limited to – savannas, rainforests, gallery forests along wetlands or rivers and monsoon forests which experience alternating prolonged dry and rainy seasons.
  • Palm cockatoos mostly stick to lowland habitats, but can be found at elevations of up to 1,350 metres above sea level.
  • They’re big – really big! – and when fully grown palm cockatoos can reach an average length of about two feet (61 cms) from the tops of their heads to the tips of their tails.
  • Palm cockatoos are black, but the powder from their feathers (pulviplumes) often makes them appear dark grey.
  • Another distinctive feature of palm cockatoos is the striking red patch of bare skin they have on their cheeks that stretches from their beaks to underneath their eyes.
  • This red cheek patch will change colour to a pinky-beige colour when the palm cockatoo is stressed. They are also able to move their facial feathers to cover the patch.
  • Palm cockatoos have a large crest of feathers on their heads, which resembles a palm frond when they raise their crest in excitement, surprise or in a defensive posture.
  • Palm cockatoos have large black beaks and tongues that are red with black tips. They have a thin grey ring around their dark brown eyes. Their legs and feet are bare and dark grey.
  • In the wild, palm cockatoos will eat a variety of different fruits, nuts, berries, seeds and leaf buds. They may also occasionally eat insects and their larvae.
  • Did you know that palm cockatoos can’t completely close their powerful beaks? Their partly open mouths allow them to hold nuts in place with their tongues and crack them open at the same time.
  • What do Ringo Starr, Sheila E. and palm cockatoos have in common? They are all drummers!
  • Palm cockatoos are among the few bird species who use tools. But researchers have found that while other birds use tools to forage for food, the palm cockatoo will use tools to make music.
  • Male palm cockatoos use a tree branch that they will strip of bark or a seed pod and use them to drum against the side of a tree hollow or on a branch in a rhythmic pattern.
  • Why do palm cockatoos drum? Some researchers suggest palm cockatoos do this as a way of marking territory, while others believe that it is part of a method for choosing a nesting site.
  • Meantime, other researchers have theorized that male palm cockatoos will drum in order to attract mates.
  • All cockatoo species build their nests in tree hollows, but palm cockatoos put their own twist on nest building that is unique among cockatoos.
  • Instead of using a hollow in the side of a tree as other cockatoos do, palm cockatoos will build their nest in tree hollows that are open from the top.
  • When they are building their nest, palm cockatoos will drop twigs and small sticks inside the tree hollow creating a platform which will elevate the egg above any water that accumulates inside from rainfall.
  • Palm cockatoos have a very low reproductive rate, with females laying only one egg about every two years. The egg will hatch after about a month. The nestling will stay in the tree hollow for about 3½ months before fledging.
  • But that’s assuming all goes well. Nest predation from amethyst pythons, monitor lizards, black butcherbirds and giant white-tailed rats ensure the odds are stacked firmly against palm cockatoo egg and nestling survival.
  • Estimates of palm cockatoo nest success rates range from about 20% in northeastern Australia to approximately 40% in Crater Mountain, which is a chain of eroded volcanic peaks in Papua New Guinea.
  • Australian National University biologist Robert Heinsohn says research of wild palm cockatoos suggests it takes one female an average of 10 years to produce one successful offspring, which is not a fast replacement rate.
  • In addition to their low reproductive rate, wild palm cockatoos face other existential threats; including poaching for the pet trade, habitat loss due to mining and logging, and wild fires destroying potential nesting sites.
  • These factors together mean the wild palm cockatoo population is in deep trouble. While it is unknown exactly how many exist in the wild, the population is expected to drop by half in the next 50 years based on current trends.
  • This also means trouble for the ecosystems in which palm cockatoos live. Their powerful beaks are the only ones that can break into certain species of large seed pods, making palm cockatoos integral for seed dispersal.
  • However, the IUCN Red List classifies palm cockatoos as a species of “least concern,” citing their large natural range and their seemingly large overall population.
  • Australian National University biologist Robert Heinsohn says scientists studying palm cockatoos want their status changed to endangered with the hope that with more awareness, more efforts will be made to help save them.
  • Like most large birds, palm cockatoos have a long life-span. In the wild, it’s believed they live between 40-60 years.
  • With proper care in captivity, palm cockatoos can live up to an average of 80-90 years.

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