Great Birding Moments #13 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Last week my wife was admitted to Burnside Hospital in suburban Adelaide for an operation. After seeing her into the capable hands of the staff I drove off to spend the day photographing birds in the Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills. Rounding the corner into the next side street I was astounded to see a small flock of about eight Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in a street tree. I just had to stop and get the camera out.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

The tree was a White Cedar and a branch had broken off, exposing a hollow. Several birds were investigating the hollow as they screeched and carried on just a few metres from my busy camera. I was very pleased with the result because, in my experience, this is not an easy species to get close to in the wild. They seemed more interested in the hollow and each other than the strange creature hovering below them. Actually, one of them did notice me as the photo I took had him looking straight at me with a quizzical look on his face. Pity it is a little blurred.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are found in coastal and sub-coastal regions from northern Australia, down the eastern seaboard and through to Adelaide. It is also found in Tasmania and has been introduced to Western Australia. They are a delightful and spectacular species but are inclined to be rather noisy.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are a popular pet in Australia, and probably elsewhere too.

Update: this photo above – and many other photos featured on this site – can now be purchased on a range of merchandise such as T-shirts, aprons, wall plaques, clocks and mugs. Go to my Trevor’s Photos site here.


45 Responses to “Great Birding Moments #13 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos”

  1. Mike says:

    I love the Great Moments in Birding concept, Trevor. It’s very fitting when you spot cockatoos in the wild.

  2. Trevor says:

    Thanks Mike. They certainnly are spectacular birds, and to see them up so close and to get really great shots of them was a bonus. It lifted my spirits on an otherwise heavy day – I’d just left my wife in a nearby hospital for her second operation in as many months. (She’s OK).

  3. Sulphur Crested White Cockatoo says:

    I’m surprised that you say that Sulphur Crested’s are hard to approach, Trevor. There’s a wild flock in the centre of Sydney that live in the botanic garden & domain and its quite easy to wander around watching them dismantling various trees there. You can get quite close if you are careful.

    They also use this as a base to invade (!) much of the urban inner city area – some people feed them off their high rise balconies. I lived in Sydney’s inner east until very recently and they have for the last 15 years or more, been a fixture of life in Woolloomooloo. Screeching their heads off and engaging aerobatic flying and tourist harrassment and everything all year long. In the last place I lived, in Potts Point, they used to regularly settle upon the trees in my street and proceed to demolish them for their fruit (which I note the currawongs also ate).

    They will also attack human artifacts, such as the one we tried chasing off our neighbor’s window sill after it took a liking to shredding the flyscreen. I guess living in centre of the big city, they are used to humans completely. This one just looked me up and down, calculated that I couldn’t actually physically reach it, and then calmly return to shredding activities.

    They also once attacked a big foam spider effigy the museum had stuck on the front to advertise a spider exhibition they had on.

    I think they do this sort of stuff for pure entertainment value. They are hooligans and vandals and I love ’em!

  4. Trevor says:

    Yes – I am aware that this species is very common in the eastern states and especially in relation to human habitation where they can be very destructive and seemingly unafraid of human activities quite close.

    These “urbanised” birds are far less flighty – in my experience – than their rural cousins. In the Adelaide Hills where they are relatively common they can be easily unsettled and will fly off readily. Those I photographed in suburban Burnside were obviously used to co-existing with close human activity.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comments.

  5. […] Yesterday I had a comment on an earlier post that made some interesting, informative and entertaining things to say about the behaviour of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos. In part, Scot was questioning my statement that this species was a bit flighty and hard to photograph. With his permission I quote his comments in full. I’m surprised that you say that Sulphur Cresteds are hard to approach, Trevor. There’s a wild flock in the centre of Sydney that live in the botanic garden and it’s quite easy to wander around watching them dismantling various trees there. You can get quite close if you are careful. […]

  6. […] Great Birding Moments #13 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos (click to view) […]

    • Kerrie says:

      It is people like you who cause problems, our house is being destroyed by cockatoos – they have caused thousands of dollars of damage to our furniture, deck, railing and blinds because our neighbours feed them and encourage them. They are wild birds and should not be fed and encouraged. If you want a pet – buy one and put it in a cage or inside your house!

  7. Trevor says:

    This comment from Mikael was accidentally removed during an administration problem with spam comments. Sorry it has taken so long to correct this.


    Im also surprised to know that you think that Sulphur Crested’s are hard to approach. I have been feeding them for over one year now in Lane Cove and nowadays it is on my terms. When Im coming with food they are litteraly flying around me waiting for me to stop walking and start to feed them instead. When I stop they are landing next to me and start eating the food I put on the ground. Having them eating from my hand belongs to the ordinary. Some of them, escpecially one, use to fly (not walking but fly!) onto my arm and start eating from my hand. It is an amazing feeling. Sometimes they get scared of something, dogs etc. and I just wait a few minutes before they start coming back, and I just standing up having food in my right hand put both arms up, and then they land on my left arm. Time by time I had advanced and get more and more one of them. Now, they are almost like my pets. I simply love them!

  8. Sheila Sandoz says:

    It’s true, cockatoos are everywhere here. I used to feed wild ones on my balcony and on Sundays there would be 3 flocks coming together, over 80 birds at my last count. But they are very trainable and organised. I’d set two chairs on the balcony with sunflower seeds and they’d form a line and one would wait on one chair while another hopped on my lap for seeds (often by hand, but usually out of a bowl). Hop on, hop off, next up. Very organized flocks. The wild ones here understand “No”, “Off the Clothes Line” and many other things they hear regularly enough. Of the 80 birds, only one did any chewing, & he destroyed 6 screens in 3 hrs. It’s not all the cockatoos, but there are a few mischievous ones. One out of 80 isn’t bad. They’re a treat – entertaining, funny and sweet with a bit of independent mischief to them.
    I have a huge aviary on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and exclusively care for birds that have been permanently injured or forsaken by their owners. Trapping wild birds is cruel and any bird that can’t live on its own in the wild should be in a well maintained, huge aviary in a warm climate with other birds for company and things to interest them. Cockatoos are about as intelligent as a 4 year old human, and that’s very smart. They are more conservative and predictable than the Little Corellas, but their bite isn’t as bad, despite the bigger beak. But most owners give them up because they get loud when they want attention. Cockatoos have wonderful memories and often live longer than we do. I’ve heard many stories of cockatoos remembering a child who teased them 20 years later, and the ones I’ve cared for over the years have never forgotten me no matter how much time passes. They are beautiful birds and happiest when they are free.

  9. Princess J says:

    Well I hate ’em! I live in the bush ay hornsby and they ruin my garden – digging out anything in pots, agressive towards the other birds i feed – rosellas, king parrots and lorrikeets, and are in the process of shredding my timber balcony bit by bit. I was in my garden the other day and one of those asshole birds was in the tree above breaking off branches and hurling them down on me .. im sure it was deliberate. I would do ANYTHING to get rid of them. Such a shame that something so beautiful to look at is such a goddamn destructive pest!

  10. Trevor says:

    I can only sympathize with those of you who suffer from the destructive nature of this species of parrot. They are certainly very beautiful – but that only masks a darker side. Their destructive nature is well documented and I’m sorry that I do have any solutions to suggest.

    We feel the same way about two other species of parrot. We don’t have the SC Cockatoo here but we do have hundreds of Galahs. Again – a stunningly beautiful bird but so destructive. We planted two almond trees about 20 years ago and I can only recall picking a few handfuls of nuts in all that time. They strip the trees when the fruit is still green – I hope they had a stomach ache after!

    The other destructive species is the Mallee Ringneck parrot. These sneak into the pear trees when we are not looking and chew around the stem of the fruit – again, before it is ripe. They are so bold that they often sit there eating no more than a metre away from us.

  11. sulphur crested cocky says:

    If you stop leaving food out for birds then we wont bother you. By leaving out food for us, the rest of our day is disrupted because usually we would spent all day looking for food, but if we are well fed by you then we have to do something else to amuse ourselves for the rest of the day, hence destroying trees, gardens etc. Also, you mention that you are feeding lorrikeets, I hope that you are not feeding them sunflower seeds, because they are nectar eaters and long term feeding of seeds in lorikeets will destroy their digestive system which is designed for nectar from flowers or nectar mix which u can buy in most supermarkets. Did I mention that sunflower seeds for a cockatoo is like chocolate to a child!

  12. Richie rich says:

    I am interested on all the comments made aboout sulphur crsted cockatoos. I leave in North East Melbourne amoungst 400 year old red gum trees. This creates a wonderful nesting habitat for a very large range of parrots and other bird species. You may all be interested that i have recently seen a recessive form of the sulphur crested cockatoo, I would hazard to guess that it would be classified and a cinnamon or off white form, its very noticeable when it perches next to a stabdard white form. Most our cockatoos are not afraid of humans at all, infact they seem to display alot of interest in what us humans are up to. Yes they are destructive also, but their hilariuos antics and acrobatics make up for the odd bit of damage here and there.

  13. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the comments Richie. Colour variations in many bird species are relatively common. There are other reasons for apparent variations, especially in parrots. The individual you have seen could have rubbed against something which stained the feathers. Parrots also are known to play in the dirt, rolling around for the sheer fun of it. This can give a strange colouration until the next rainfall. If it is indeed a recessive gene at work in the bird you saw, it is interesting but not unique. Good observation all the same.

  14. Sheila Sandoz says:

    I have some suggestions to get rid of the cockatoos. If you can’t put wire over your wood or gardens or don’t want to, put a hot pepper seasoning over it or a commercial cat or dog away spray. They are not allergic to it, it doesn’t harm them, but they don’t like it. Entire flocks will leave if there is a karrawong in the vicinity or other meat-eating birds such as a kookaburra around. Start feeding mince to the kookaburras, which are not destructive at all and usually in flocks no larger than 5 and the cockatoos and galahs should leave. Watch you don’t feed the crows or miners, though – they are destructive and a nuisance. You can also lead the galahs and cockatoos away with a trail of seed to an area that is not a problem, then gradually replace the seed with white bread, which they hate and won’t eat.

  15. Sheila Sandoz says:

    Trevor, Richie Rich could very well be right. We have recently had a rare yellow cockatoo on the northern beaches and his colour was verified as true. Cockatoos will sometimes pair with galahs or corellas. Though I’ve never seen any progeny from that sort of mating, I’ve seen galah/corella mixes, so perhaps his cockatoo is actually the result of some sort of species mixing. Not entirely impossible, and as Richie said, it could be a recessive throw-back, too.

  16. Sheila Sandoz says:

    sulphur crested cocky: You made an error in your statement about lorikeets. Lorikeets can’t crack sunflower seeds on their own, their beaks are too small and soft. They pick up the leftovers from the cockatoos. And they do eat small seeds in nature, though they prefer nectar. The biggest problem with people feeding lorikeets is they give them honey or other sugar, which is very bad for them and leads to deformed babies. I have seen quite a few of these and it is sad to see.

    All our local birds are at risk from calcium deficiencies and unbalanced diets, though, as proven by recent ground-breaking research into Beak and Feather disease by renown Australian aviary vet Dr. Ross Perry (whom I am fortunate to have living locally!) Pet birds must be given supplements and the supplements must include calcium or a source of calcium.

  17. Sheila Sandoz says:

    Many fruit and vegetables can be naturally protected by enclosing it in a plastic bag with a rubber band prior to it ripening. Works great on corn and bananas!

  18. Trevor says:

    Thanks for your valuable comments Sheila.

  19. Hi Trevor,
    A mature older woman gave me a great tip the other day for keeping cockatoos out of the garden and it WORKS. She just puts fake rubber black snakes – the kind that cost about $2 each – amongst the vegetables. The birds stay away.

  20. Dorothy says:


    I live in the bush at Sutherland and there are this really annoying pair of cockatoo that screech every morning at dawn that wake me up almost every morning.

    It always sit on the tree at our backyard where it created a hole in the tree assume to be used for nesting.
    I don’t really mind the cockatoo but it is the noise they make that is so annoying that they ruin my sleep and leave me feeling really tired at work.

    Is there any remedy where I can get rid of them for good?

  21. Mary says:

    i have this neighbour guy who i happen to be on fairly good terms with and he buys kilos of cheap white sugar to feed dozens of lorikeets who flock to his balcony all day long. several times have i told him that it is really bad for the poor birds but he prefers not to understand my concern, only saying that it is haram not to feed birds. only later did i realise that he is doing it just to annoy his downstairs neighbour lady whom he dislikes.the lories shower her balcony with droppings. he doesnt care what he is doing to the birds. any ideas on how i can stop him?

  22. Richard says:

    Hi Trevor,
    I also live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, & wish to add my 2 cents worth here. My partner & I love the Sulfers. Every day, morning & late afternoon we are visited by them. We know “our” flock pretty well. We have names for about 10-15 of them. Some birds come every day; others might only pop in for a nibble once or twice a fortnight. We try to feed them a variety of foods: blanched peanuts are their favourite (we are aware of the dangers associated with peanuts affected by mold); they also eat oats, seeds, sunflower seeds(which often over excite them)biscuits, bread, & almonds. We feel terrible if we can’t feed them as well as they deserve.
    They bring us great joy: they eat on our window ledge, on the window itself & on the large footpath over hang. They eat on our arms, from our hands, even off our heads. 2 or 3 birds on my arm is not unusual. They do get heavy, & nippy with each other but its a lot of fun.They sometimes even enjoy a game of “peek-a-boo”.
    Our greatest sadness is the birds suffering “beak & feather” disease. Some months there seem so many !. Right or wrong, we try to make sure that these birds are at least well fed. They are such brave,staunch little souls. One sick bird, we knew well as “Egypt”, came to us for care during his last couple of days of life. We fed & watered him & kept him warm. However, he died in my partner’s arms after a couple of days. She was still liable to tears a week later.

  23. Trevor says:

    Thanks for stopping by Richard – and for sharing your love of birds with my readers.

  24. Marian says:

    Please help,
    The SC Cockatoos have eaten our ceder windows and we can’t stop them attacking the rest of the house. Can anyone help?

  25. Trevor says:

    Welcome to my blog Marian. If you read through the comments above you might find a few solutions to your problem. I think it’s worth a try.

  26. Ken says:

    I live in a highrise appartment that is level with the tree tops. When I’m trying to sleep it sounds like there’s 300 cockatoo’s in my bedroom with me. I’m on the net searching for answers to somehow hurry these extremely noisey pests along. I’m kind of desperate cause they’re driving me completely nuts and I am lacking sleep. I just want them to go away. Can anyone offer some advise as to how I could make these pests go away?

  27. Trevor says:

    Hi there Ken,

    Sorry about the delay in replying to your question. I’ve been away with no access to the internet.

    Cockatoos, Galahs and Lorikeets in large numbers can be very annoying and I feel for you. Unfortunately there is no easy solution. The only suggestion I can make is to take your problem to the local council or National Parks office.

  28. […] walked warily around the corner of the house to find two Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in the large mallee tree next to our garage. This cockatoo is a common bird in many parts of […]

  29. […] one I’d be most careful of was the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. He immediately came to the wire in front of me to check me out and to inspect my camera – or was […]

  30. cindy says:

    Hi I have a cockatoo, and i have been trying to find out what type of tree’s would they be allergic to, or if they are allergic to ceder , i have asked people ,they kinda give the unsure look so i do not trust them ,i love this lil guy and would not want anything to happen to him , he is my baby ,any advice would be great , thank you

  31. Trevor says:

    Hi there Cindy – sorry about the delay in replying.

    Allergies to birds is relatively common in humans. Birds that have allergies is also a common problem, especially with some parrot species. These allergies can be from food, contact with other parrots and environmental (eg wild birds visiting the aviary).

    I have no expertise in this field and would suggest that you contact your local vet or wildlife carers for further advice. Sorry I couldn’t be of any help.

  32. Lyn Fowler says:

    Just agreed to take over an äbandoned 30-year old S C Cocky, I’ve got the time, but wouldn’t it be better off with a bird buddy (another S C C I mean)? Haven’t had bird pets since the budgies at age 7 I’m now 58! Came across this forum by accident and like it! I would like to lash out with a big (flyable) aviary if I keep the SC Cocky. It’s going to take over my life and I haven’t even got it yet! Like a new baby, daunting but exciting. I notice this chat’s been operating for a few years too, keep it up! Yours faithfully, Potential Parrot Parent,Lyn

  33. Trevor says:

    Hi there Lyn,

    Thanks for stopping by. Sorry about the delay in responding to your comments. Thanks also for your kind words. I love sharing my experiences with wild Australian birds and my photos of them. I also enjoy hearing positive comments from my many readers around the world.

    How is your “baby” going? I guess it would be better with a buddy – but getting one that is compatible might be a problem. Have you sought out advice from your local pet shop or bird club (see the phone directory)?

  34. Sheila Sandoz says:

    For Cindy:
    Sap trees (pine, maple, etc.) are bad for cockatoos and other Australian parrots to chew on. Hard wood trees are fine as long as they are natural, without varnish or other coating. If you provide fresh hard wood branches for them to perch and chew on, they will be healthier and happier.
    Avocadoes are poisonous to them, they don’t like melon, lemons, oranges or other citric fruits and may be allergic to these as well. Apples are a favorite, so are the tops of seeded fresh grass and cooked potato and sometimes cooked beans. White flour is bad for them (wheat is fine) They have no e. coli in their systems naturally so never contaminate their food by tasting it, as you can give them e. coli bacteria, which can cause a bad bacterial infection.

  35. lennie says:

    Hi there,
    I live in the central west and five days ago a Sulphur Crested cockatoo came to visit. He has not left. He looks very healthy and flies off to wherever big birds go at night. Problem is I fed him. He now wakes me up each morning trying to demolish the cat cage and the wooden windows. If I leave the door open he just walks in and takes over. I have to get the broom and push him out. He likes to have a go at toes and fingers. He prunes everything in the garden and is trying to remodel the wooden balcony. He stands at the windows and peers in. The cats are afraid to go out. I think he must have been a pet. Should I ignore him and hope he will eventually go away?

  36. Trevor says:

    Hi there Lennie – sorry about the delay in replying to your question. It certainly sounds like he has been someone’s pet. And I guess someone is pleased he has left them due to his aggressive and destructive nature. Many SC Cockatoos are like this, especially when they have plenty of food and get bored.

    Is he still around? An expensive solution would be to build a large aviary for him – made of steel so he couldn’t chew through it. Another solution would be to relocate him – catch him and then release him near a flock of SC Cockatoos.

  37. sharon says:

    What do I do for 3 cockatoos with beak and feather desease who visit my mothers retiremnt village. there beaks are extremely long and curling and only seem to eat scotch finger biscuits. One hangs around all day sometimes and I wonder if he is dying soon.
    she gets into a lot of complaints from neighbours for feeding the birds so I eccourage her only sick ones.
    a couple od pidgeons are leckless also. Any suggestions would be welcome. too fast to throw blanket over to take to vet.

  38. Trevor says:

    UPDATE: You can buy a large range of items featuring photos of this species – and many others – on TrevorsPhotos, including mugs, tee-shirts, aprons, coasters and many more items. Click on this link:

  39. Carol sandle says:

    I like a cockatoo or two but every summer they make my place their home, screech
    Loudly 24/7 , eat all my fruit ( even though i net)
    The constant screeching drives a person insane after a few days.
    Anyone got any good ideas to keep large flocks if them away.
    I cant seem to trick any of the parrots for very long. They are smart.
    If its not murders of adolescent crows its damn cockies.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi Carol,

      I sympathise completely – we don’t have many cockatoos where I live but plenty of Galahs which can be very annoying in numbers, and when they are feeding the young.

      Many districts and towns near where I live in SA have had similar problems. Dealing with them has caused some councils major headaches.

      Some ideas which MAY work include:
      1. Hanging a silhouette of a bird of prey (hawk etc)above the fruit trees.
      2. Check that nobody in the neighbourhood is feeding them – this only encourages them to stick around.
      3. Squirting them with a high pressure hose.
      4. Play recordings of the calls of birds of prey.
      5. Check with your local council to see if they can suggest something, or are willing to act. Some success has been had using a hired falconer with a Peregrine falcon to chase them off.
      6. If they are attacking woodwork around the house paint the timber white (one source says that they hate white paint – not sure if that works).

      You said that they are a pest 24/7. There must be a light somewhere which is disturbing them at night. If so, it might be worth asking if this can be switched off after midnight, for example.

      The sad news is that there is no easy solution.

  40. […] Great Birding Moments #13 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos […]

  41. […] Great birding moments – Sulphur-crested Cockatoos […]

  42. "yohornsby" says:

    despite reducing and limiting treats to twice a day or perhaps because I did my little sulphur crested brats chew through my wire flyscreens when I’m NOT home to scold them!
    When I replace the screen what can I instal thats CHEW PROOF ???
    These are “wild birds” that have learnt to exploit local unit dwellers NOT just me and any attempts to deter them ie swinging a broom hissing scolding just lead to them leaving for a while and returning later

    I don’t mean feeding a few of the calmer sensible adults but the younger ones are really bratty and demanding!

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