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Bird in the Spotlight: Palm Cockatoo

25 March, 2024

By Alexander Trifunovic

Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) in Queensland, Australia. Photo by JJ Harrison, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


The Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus), also known as the Goliath Cockatoo, is one of the most dramatic in a family of extravagant birds: the cockatoos (Cacatuidae) of Australia and Papua New Guinea. This is the largest cockatoo in the world and the largest parrot in Australia measuring up to 64 cm long and weighing up to a kilogram. With steely blueish-black plumage, an enormous, hooked bill, a long, eccentric crest, and a bright red patch on the face, this cockatoo is a showstopper. Palm Cockatoos occur across New Guinea’s humid, lowland rainforests and on the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland, Australia where they frequent paperbark and Eucalyptus woodlands as well as monsoon forests.

Distribution of the Palm Cockatoo from Handbook of the Birds of the World 4: 271.

Photo by MPF, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


These hulking parrots are arboreal foragers of nuts, seeds, and fruits, and their favorites are Pandanus palm nuts and Castanospermum australe seeds which they cut in half with their massive bills. Like other parrots, their dexterous feet are adapted for both climbing and manipulating food items. Territorial pairs guard their patch of woodland where they make their nests high in the hollow trunk of a tree. During courtship, both partners select a stick or nut as a drumstick to knock against a hollow tree trunk. Reproductive success is relatively low, and this species breeds slowly, only laying one egg every two years. In Australia, their nesting trees are damaged by more frequent fires, and this species is targeted for the illegal wildlife trade. In New Guinea, the lowland forests that Palm Cockatoos depend on are being logged and this species is often hunted for food. Many people in Australia are unfamiliar with the birds of northern Queensland, so education and outreach are important tools for facilitating conservation efforts. 

Palm Cockatoo flying to a nearby nest site in Cape York, Australia. Photo by Jim Bendon, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.



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