Terra d li Papaga, Psittacorum Regio or Terra Psittacorum, loosely translated as ‘Land of Parrots’ in English, were names placed on some navigational charts since the early 16th century for some of the then uncharted parts of Australasia and South America.

While forty-three parrot species, including the extinct Norfolk Island Kaka, have been recorded in Australia, these are only 12.5% of the global total. Conversely, 14 of the world’s 21 species of cockatoo are found here and, although cockatoos also occur on islands of Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Australia is the only country where the black-cockatoos occur (Calyptorhynchus spp). The five species in this genus are the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Carnaby’s (Short-billed) Black-Cockatoo, Baudin’s (Long-billed) Black-Cockatoo, Red-tailed Black-cockatoo and Glossy Black-Cockatoo.

Of these species, only the Carnaby’s and Baudin’s Black-Cockatoos are listed as endangered. Both are confined to Western Australia’s south-west and are threatened by ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation, and illegal shooting by some landowners protecting their crops.

Carnaby’s (right) and Baudin’s (left) Black-Cockatoos are very similar in appearance, and were for a long time grouped together as a single species, the White-tailed Black-Cockatoo. Both are large (50-60cm in length), with smokey-black, white-tipped feathers, white cheek patches and large white panels in the tail feathers. Males of both species have reddish skin around the eyes and have darker bills than the females.

Although they can be very difficult to tell apart, the key differences to look for are:

  • Bill – Baudin’s has a longer, narrower bill, 
  • Call – Carnaby’s is more wailing and drawn out,
  • Distribution – Carnaby’s extends further north and east in range, and
  • Nesting preference – Carnaby’s nests in Wandoo and Salmon Gum; Baudin’s in Karri and Marri.

Organisations and community groups, including Birdlife Australia, WWF Australia and Conservation Volunteers Australia, perform monitoring surveys for these species, as well as habitat restoration and predator controls. The Great Cocky Count (birdlife.org.au) is now in its 10th year. Every April, a growing number of volunteers are trained in identification and survey techniques, and count birds at known roost sites following sunset. The public are also encouraged to report any roost sites they find.

Some subspecies of the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo are listed as endangered or critically endangered under state and federal legislations, and annual cocky counts are also conducted for these.

The Redtail count (redtail.com.au), which takes place annually in early May, surveys  some 3600kms of Stringybark forests in south-western Victoria and south-eastern South Australia for the South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne. Numbers counted in surveys conducted since 1996 rarely exceed 1000 birds.

These cocky counts are an invaluable tool for gathering vital information on population numbers and distributions of cockatoos, and form the basis of strategic conservation efforts.