Species profile

Palm Cockatoo

Palm Cockatoo

Range and abundance

Closed tropical forest and adjacent savanna and paperbark woodland on Cape York Peninsula. Like many animals of Cape York Peninsula, Palm Cockatoos also occur in New Guinea. Australia and New Guinea have been connected by a landbridge for most of the past 2 million years; the islands of Torres Strait still provide ‘stepping stones’ for some species which migrate between Cape York and New Guinea.


The Palm Cockatoo is Australia’s largest cockatoo, weighing up to 1200 g. It is a distinctive bird with a large crest and black matte body feathers. It has a red cheek patch which is an area of bare skin that can change colour depending on how much blood is flushed through it.  Birds can hide or reveal the cheek patch by altering the position of facial feathers. They call with a distinctive piercing, far-carrying whistle.


The Palm Cockatoo has one of the largest bills of any parrots (only the Hyacinth Macaw has a larger bill). This powerful bill enables Palm Cockatoos to eat very hard nuts and seeds. The bill is unusual as the lower and upper mandibles do not meet for much of its length, allowing the tongue to hold a nut against the top mandible while the lower mandible works to open it.

Breeding takes place inside large tree hollows. Males use their massive bills to break off thick sticks to use for a drumming display during the breeding season. After drumming, the male occasionally strips the stick into small pieces to line the nest. The reason for drumming remains a mystery, although it is thought that perhaps the females can assess the durability of the nesting hollow by the resonance of the drumming.


Palm Cockatoos have an extremely low breeding rate and require very specific types of tree hollows for nesting. Therefore, a reduction in the availability of suitable hollow trees, for example as a result of changed fire regimes, constitutes a threat to Palm Cockatoos.


What is AWC doing?

AWC undertakes early dry season burning program at Piccaninny Plains to reduce the incidence of hot wildfires later in the year which have the potential to destroy nest trees of Palm Cockatoos. AWC currently supports research into ecology, population dynamics and genetics of this species.

Did you know:

As well as their whistle call, Palm Cockatoos have a much quieter ‘hello’ call that can sound surprisingly human. It can come as quite a shock to hear this call in a remote rainforest.