Comparing Cockatoos


Most people recognise a cockatoo, and 'black cockatoos' are a familiar sight in many parts of Australia. However, there are many different species, varying widely in their diet, nesting requirements, and conservation status.

The Atlas of Life region is home to three species of darkly-coloured cockatoo: 

  • Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami),
  • Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus), and
  • Gang-Gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum).

Here are some tips on how to distinguish the species, and where to look for them.

1: Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami)

Some features to look for in recognising Glossy Black-Cockatoos

  • Small size ... considerably smaller than Yellow-tailed blacks.
  • Red or orange-red tail feathers. Males have bright red panels in their tails, while females and juveniles have orange-red panels with varying amounts of black barring.
  • Females have variable amounts of yellow on the head and neck.
  • Heavy, rounded beak.
  • Short tail, clearly shorter than Yellow-tailed blacks when seen in flight.
  • Usually seen in pairs or small groups.
  • Soft, wavering call in flight - again, very different to the Yellow-tailed black call.


Where to look for Glossy Black-Cockatoos

Glossy Blacks feed almost exclusively on Allocasuarina fruit (often called 'she-oak cones'). They feed in trees, never on the ground. 

Small groups will sit quietly, chewing on the fruit, sometimes remaining in the same tree for hours. In fact the squeaking and cracking of their feeding is often the first indication of their presence. Such feasting also leaves tell-tale evidence long after they've gone ... the scattering of torn Allocasuarina fruit on the forest floor is quite diagnostic. 

Glossies need special tree hollows for nesting

Glossy Black-Cockatoos nest in tree hollows ... but not just any hollows. Studies in central NSW have shown that Glossy Blacks in the Goonoo State Forest select nesting sites with the following features:

  • Hollow in a 'spout' that is either vertical or no more than 45 degrees off vertical
  • Entrance diameter of at least 15cm, in a branch or trunk of at least 30cm diameter.
  • Entrance at least 8m above the ground, in the upper part of the trunk or in large, broken branches close to the main trunk
  • Nest trees are usually large and very old eucalypts. As an indication, trunk 'diameter at breast height' (DBH in images below) of at least 60cm.
  • Nest trees are usually either dead or damaged. Storm, insect and (some) fire damage are important factors in creating hollows.
  • The birds favour nesting sites where there are numerous suitable hollows. Pairs prefer to nest in proximity to other pairs, rather than in isolation.

2: Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus)

These are the large, long-tailed black cockatoos often sighted flying as a flock, calling loudly. 

Some features to look for in recognising Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos

  • Large, slender bird with long tail and long wings.
  • Pale yellow tail panels, variously mottled with black in both males and females.
  • Yellow cheek patch, larger and brighter in adult female than in the male.
  • Adult male has red skin surrounding eye.
  • Juveniles have colouration like female, but are best recognised by their continual, rasping begging calls.


Where to look for Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos may be seen flying in small or large flocks. In flight their long-tails, dark colour, and loud calls are distinctive. 

They feed in a wide variety of trees and may be found in woodland, parks, coastal heath or forest. For example, they take the woody fruit of Eucalyptus, Hakea, Banksia and a variety of introduced trees, including plantation pine trees. They are also famous for tearing into the bark and branches of various trees, often dropping branches or snapping small saplings. This apparently destructive behaviour is due to their determined searching for wood-boring grubs of moths or beetles.  

A feeding flock often involves some birds sitting high in the trees, calling an alarm if approached. Feeding birds may be at any level in the vegetation, even at ground level. And juveniles sit begging - constantly and loudly – making no apparent attempt to feed for themselves.

3: Gang-Gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum)

The forests of our South-east Corner are the core habitat for the Gang-gang Cockatoo. 

Some features to look for in recognising Gang-gang Cockatoos

  • Small, grey cockatoo. 
  • Males have a bright orange-red face, head and crest.
  • Both sexes have a wispy, brush-like crest of fine head feathers.
  • Distinctive, rasping call in flight, sometimes described as a 'creaky door' or a 'rusty hinge'.
  • Family groups or small flocks.


Where to look for Gang-gang Cockatoos

Gang-gangs often feed quietly, high in the canopy of eucalypts. A shower of falling fruit and seeds may be the first indication of their presence. They will also feed in low, fruiting shrubs, including Acacia and introduced species such as Hawthorn, and may be seen in urban parks and gardens. At such times, feeding birds are often tolerant of a careful, quiet approach by people.

In flight, they typically fly through rather than over the forest canopy, dodging and weaving between branches on their short, wide wings. 


As with many hollow-dependant species, Glossy blacks are threatened by loss of habitat caused by activities such as land-clearing for development, firewood collection and inappropriate fire regimes.

Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) are one of the more threatened species of cockatoo in Australia and are listed as vulnerable in NSW. These special birds are the subject of an ongoing Atlas of Life Special Project: Mapping Glossy Blacks

Other resources

* OEH information on Glossy Black-Cockatoos

Birdlife Australia descriptions: Glossy Black-Cockatoos ; Gang-gang Cockatoos;

Glossy Black-Cockatoos calling -  recording made in the Atlas of Life region (Wonboyn, NSW) - on Youtube

Recent accounts and photos of Glossy Black-Cockatoos pair-bonding, mating, and feeding (Wonboyn, NSW)

Gang-gang Cockatoo feeding on Acacia - recording made in the Atlas of Life region (Wonboyn, NSW)

This resource was developed from material prepared for the Atlas of Life Target of the Month Program. In June, 2018, the target group was 'Glossy Blacks and other Cockatoos'. 

Kerri-Lee Harris