Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos




HISTORY


Red-tailed Black Cockatoos were once a must-have species for anyone serious about parrot aviculture. They are aesthetically very attractive—in my opinion, the most striking of all black cockatoos available to Australian aviculture. For many years, breeders and newcomers alike aspired to success with the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo as they were in demand and had a very low reproduction rate—often laying only one egg at a time. This held their price point high for many years.

It was once common that any cockatoo breeder and/or collector aimed to have a pair of each subspecies, as they varied in rarity and aesthetic features that allowed guests and visitors to notice even subtle diff erences. So popular were the Red-tailed and other black cockatoos that many collections became solely devoted to them. This attracted the interest of wildlife authorities. Some of the biggest collections in Australia were dismantled or lost due to seizures by these authorities—in some cases justifi ably but in most cases not. Over time, these experiences contributed to a feeling that black cockatoos in general were not worth the hassle, stress, and expense. As a result, by 2010 black cockatoos were out of favour.

Black cockatoos did regain popularity in Australia around 2017, but this did not extend to the Red-tailed. The demand for, and subsequent rise in price of the Yellow and White-tailed species refl ected a fall in their captive population numbers, as many were exported overseas.

However, previous decades of smuggling meant there was no lack of Red-tails.

DESCRIPTION


There are fi ve nominate subspecies spread throughout diff erent ranges across Australia. Physically, subspecies vary in increments that are noticeable enough to aid in identifi cation. Aesthetically, it is mostly the females that provide clearer visual cues against reference pictures, while the males need closer scrutiny and size comparison against expectations of subspecies to be sure of their origin.

In Australian aviculture birds were often mismatched and captive hybridising occurred. This has made identifi cation particularly diffi cult in some individuals as they don’t quite ‘fi t’. In such cases, it’s best to assume that the bird is a hybrid and treat any breeding ambitions in that light.

Calyptorhynchus banksii banksii


Length: 60–70cm Weight: 660–780g The nominate subspecies is found predominantly in Queensland, with some birds crossing into the Northern Territory. However, sightings and reports suggest birds tend to congregate around the east coast of the range over the wet season of December to January and move further inland for the rest of the year.

Calyptorhynchus banksii macrorhynchus


Length: 55–60cm Weight: 700–850g This subspecies’ ranges the Northern Territory and northern regions of Western Australia. It can also be found on several islands off the coastline of this geographical area. An interesting visual comparison to the nominate subspecies—C. b. banksii—C. b. macrorhynchus have a noticeably deeper broad lower mandible, and a larger and thicker upper mandible.

Calyptorhynchus banksii samueli


Length: 53–58cm Weight: 550–680g This is one of the smaller members of the Red-tailed Cockatoo family, with some variation depending on the location of the original founding population.

Interestingly, C. b. samueli are found in fi ve separate pockets of varying size in more central latitudes located from the east to the west of the continent. They are generally dry, aridloving birds, with only a single population pocket found reaching the coast of Western Australia.

Calyptorhynchus banksii naso


Length: 53–58cm Weight: 590–630g Another small subspecies, C. b. naso has a particularly large mandible set in both size and breadth which aids in identifi cation. The smaller body size and unusually large mandible sets this subspecies apart from others within the genus. Found in the south-western corner of Western Australia, the subspecies was once wrongly grouped as part of C. b. samueli, which is confusing given the visually obvious diff erences in mandible form. This species typically experiences very dry summers and quite wet winters.

Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne


Length: 50–55cm Weight: 550–600g The smallest, and in my opinion, the most attractive of all Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, C. b. graptogyne females are a very colourful standout in any collection. More valuable than the other subspecies, C. b. graptogyne is generally harder to fi nd in pure form. They are found in a very small population pocket on the southern border of South Australia and Victoria, short of the coast.



 

HOUSING: Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos


Red-tailed Black Cockatoos require very sturdy and well-built aviaries to ensure they are safely contained.

Their powerful mandibles have the ability to chew through wood structures in short order. Hence, only steel structures are suitable. Our aviaries are constructed of 25mm x 25mm x 1.2mm galvanised RHS with heavy-duty 2.5cm x 2.5cm (1in x 1in) weldmesh that prevents the birds ‘eating’ their way out of their enclosure.

Our substrate is an earthen fl oor covered with grass. This allows the birds to contact ground, so an appropriate worming program is required. I do not see any great disadvantage with a concrete fl oor or a large suspended design. Adequate ‘chewables’ such as logs and large branches are supplied as a source of activity.

Given the size and habits of the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, a large amount of fl ight space is highly desirable. Our experience demonstrates that this species may be kept in a variety of aviary sizes, but they did not come into breeding condition/behaviour unless the aviary was 6m long x 1.5m wide x 2m high. I am sure other keepers have had success with aviaries that are smaller in one dimension or another, but I believe this to be a good guideline for success.





Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos Diet/Food


Red-tailed Black Cockatoos can be somewhat picky and restricted in the types of food they accept. Typically, the birds have a signifi cant love for sunfl ower and little else in the seed department. We have tried sprouted mix, small seed and mixed seeds with little success. Fortunately, the species’ needs in fat content allow this sunfl ower penchant to be a somewhat healthy dietary component if balanced with vegetable and pelleted fare.

We provide sunfl ower as a base diet fi ve days in the week, exchanging it for premium puppy dog biscuits twice a week. These dog biscuits provide protein, vitamins and calcium that is absent from the sunfl ower, and we have found that the results in egg formation and viability have been sound. In the early years, I did have some concerns that the salt in the dog biscuit could create chronic health issues. However, after nine years of use we are yet to observe any negative eff ects. I put this down to the limited amounts fed on a weekly basis. Hence, I would not advise anyone to provide dog biscuits daily without consulting your veterinarian fi rst.

Vegetables are off ered once a week in the non-breeding season and this is increased to three times a week during breeding. Typically, we fi nd that frozen beans, peas and corn are freely consumed and are easily prepared.

Alternatives and additions include carrot, apple and limited amounts of sliced orange. Beyond this, we supply occasional peanuts and almonds, but little else.

As a general rule, I believe Red-tails to be very hardy birds with nutritional needs that are easily met, but one must be conscious of avoiding their apparent willingness to exist solely on sunfl ower. This will be most apparent in any breeding results, with eggs being soft-shelled or very small and abnormal, all key signs of defi ciencies.





BREEDING NOTES


Red-tailed Black Cockatoos are relatively easily bred once mature and settled in their surrounds. The most important thing we have found is that they are well bonded and compatible as a pair.

Breeding behaviour is very easily identifi ed as the male will constantly display with his tail, together with making a constant ‘honking’ and other intrinsic noises. As with most cockatoo species, the female is more reserved, and the fi rst indication she is interested in reproduction is nest box activity and the start of a ‘sitting cycle’ that brings on egg production. Once these signs become a constant theme and occurrence, egg-laying is near and will be defi ned by the female’s overnight stay within the nest box.

One egg will be laid and incubated for 28–31 days, after which a yellow fl uff y chick will emerge if all has gone well.

To successfully raise Red-tailed Black Cockatoo chicks (with their parents), we supply a diet rich in cooked frozen vegetables, sunfl ower, and the dog biscuits previously mentioned. To get the calcium supplement into the birds, we use Liquid Gold from Passwell™ on madeira cake as a convenient and accepted food. This approach has been proven in our experience to meet the needs of rapidly growing chicks and signifi cantly reduces the risk of deformities. It is also a technique equally valid to other large species with similar calcium requirements.

PET POTENTIAL


I have not seen a handraised Red-tailed Black Cockatoo for more than 10 years. In the past, they used to be considered an in-fashion ‘ultimate’ pet bird with their super-large size and their dominant, contrasting red and black colouration.

They can be a delight to handraise. They are very sooky and in tune with their keepers and do take time to wean.

This period can extend to six months, and the amount of eff ort versus fi nancial return in today’s Australian market constitutes a signifi cant loss. Hence, the species has disappeared from the once-strong pet market.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos do represent a highly suitable pet, and pet keepers rarely have any issue at all as they bond strongly with their owners. I have never heard of a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo being bitey or misbehaving in an aggressive manner. That said, these birds—particularly males—have the very real capacity to become highly imprinted to the point they do not recognise they are a bird. This makes them unworkable as breeders in the future.

This imprinting can lead mature male birds to ‘mate’ human arms or hands. If paired with a female bird, the male will chase and attack her when people are in the vicinity. This is refl ected aggression and behaviour to human stimulus and makes any attempt to return the bird to breeding duties futile.

While Red-tailed Black Cockatoos make wonderful pets, they are limited in vocabulary and are highly unlikely to learn any human words. Further, before purchase, one must consider that they live for a very long time—about 50 years on average.

CONCLUSION


Red-tailed Cockatoos represent a time past in which low thousands were kept and bred and they formed the pinnacle of aviculture in Australia. They provided a splendour and aesthetic quality to collections and in pet circles that has long since gone and now they serve as a curiosity in the collections that have them.

Today, due to lack of focus on them, except from one prominent breeder in Queensland, birth rates are seriously low and some subspecies may disappear from sustainability and availability permanently in the future.

I recommend Red-tailed Black Cockatoos to all aviculturists as popularity and demand is likely to one day improve and they will once again be highly desired. They are a fantastic Australian native that will reward keepers in their appeal and, given the low reproductive rates, provide some challenge to get numbers on the perch. We need to ensure we do not lose these beautiful birds, so keep an eye out for a pair of pure subspecies and add them to your collection when the opportunity arises as they will only get rarer in the foreseeable future.
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