A Tale of Two Cockatoos: Part I

White-tailed Black Cockatoos have one of the most evocative and haunting bird calls in Australia. Around Denmark, they can often be seen and heard in the evening flying in small groups to their roosting sites. Occasionally massive flocks of hundreds of birds converge on a favoured watering hole or swamp to drink, (such as Yanchep National Park, north of Perth), wave after wave of birds alight on fringing gums, banksias and casuarinas before dropping down to drink, this is one of Western Australia’s great natural spectacles!

There are two species of White-tailed Black Cockatoos, both of which can be seen in Denmark; the Short-billed or Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo and the Long-billed or Baudin’s Black Cockatoo. They can be quite difficult to tell apart, even if you can see the whole bill, which is often obscured when the birds curl their cheek feathers over their bills. Baudin’s has long hook to its upper mandible and the base of the upper bill is much narrower than Carnaby’s. Their calls are also similar, although Baudin’s in general sound harsher.

Carnaby was an ornithologist and farmer, who first suggested that there were two species of white-tailed cockatoos in the 1930’s, which was proven to be the case in 1948. Baudin’s Cockatoo was first described by Edward Lear (of Owl and Pussycat fame – also a gifted artist who produced works for John Gould). He named the bird after Nicholas Baudin, a French explorer who collected a specimen in 1804. The Noongar don’t differentiate between the two species by name, calling them ngolak or ngolyenok, much easier!

Differentiating between the sexes is relatively easy; males have a red eye-ring and dark beak, whereas females have a dark grey eye-ring, pale beak, a more prominent white cheek patch and bolder white fringing on their feathers.

Carnaby’s Cockatoos drinking, Yanchep NP
Carnaby’s Cockatoos drinking, Yanchep NP
Female White-tailed Black Cockatoos
Male Carnaby’s Cockatoo