Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Cacatua galerita, are noisy and conspicuous parrots and in the wild are wary and difficult to approach. They have adapted very well to European settlement in Australia and live in many urban areas.

They are one of the larger and more widespread of Australia’s cockatoos. In fact, in Australia they can be so numerous that they considered pests as they can be destructive to cereal and fruit crops, as well as timber structures such as house planking and trees. Some even resort to shooting or poisoning them.

However, a government permit is required, as they are a protected species under the Australian Commonwealth Law.

These parrots are naturally curious, as well as very intelligent. A 2009 study involving the sub-species Eleonora Cockatoo found that Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are capable of synchronizing movements to a musical beat.

  • Please refer to this YouTube video for Snowball’s amazing dancing abilities. Scientists have documented 17 dance moves so far.  

Please also see: Greater, Eleonora, Lesser Sulphurea


Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

Distribution / Range

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is a common inhabitant of open woodland and forest areas along the east coast of Australia, extending along the northern coast and across the seas into Papua New Guinea.

These birds range throughout the various climates in Australia, from Far North Queensland beyond the Iron Range Mountains, as well as parts of the Snowy Mountains. They are also numerous in Adelaide and Southern South Australia. The nominate Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have been introduced to Perth, which is far outside their natural range.

Outside Australia, these parrots have been introduced to Singapore, where their numbers have been estimated to be between 500 and 2000. They have also been introduced to Palau and New Zealand. In New Zealand the introduced populations may number less than 1000.

They have also been recorded from various islands in Wallacea (such as Kai Islands and Ambon).

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos voicing
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
Cacatua galerita
Size: Up to 60cm in length
Pet Status: Excellent
Talking Ability: Excellent
Noise Level: High
Lifespan: Up to 80 years
Breeding Ability: Good
Courtship Display: Male struts with bobbing motion and crest raised along branch to female. Mutual touching, preening and mating then follow.
Number of Eggs: 2-3 eggs
Incubation: 21-23 days
Compatibility with other species: Not recommended
Feeding: Seed and Fruit eaters
Sexing: Iris dark brown in males, reddish brown in females. Surgical or DNA sexing generally required. (Source / Permission granted from Dr. Rob Marshall –

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in flight


Sulphur-crested Cockatoos weigh about 28 oz or 800 grams.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is similar in appearance to the three species of corella found in Australia. Corellas are smaller, however, and lack the prominent yellow crest, there are a few regional subspecies within Australia.

When the crest is lowered, the feathers fold back over the head and the crest is hardly visible.

As attractive as the cockatoo crests are, their major purpose is communication.

  • A raised crest can indicate that a cockatoo is displaying for its mate; defending its territory or its flock, calling its flock members; or a cockatoo may be expressing curiosity, excitement, surprise, fear or frustration. For those approaching a cockatoo -a raised crest may be a warning not to touch them – or else risk being bitten.
  • A lowered crest can indicate calmness, friendliness and general approachability.

There are some pale yellow / lemon colored feathers on the underside of the wings, which flash when they fly.

Gender identification:

The males have dark brown / black eyes. Mature females have reddish brown to burgundy red eyes. They reach maturity when they are about 3 years old. A small flashlight may be helpful when assessing the eye color.

Vocalizations: It also has a loud voice, and in captivity is a capable mimic. Their loud calls are meant to travel through the forest environments in which they live, including tropical and subtropical rainforests.

These birds are naturally curious creatures, as well as very intelligent.

These parrots produce a very fine powder to waterproof themselves instead of oil as many other creatures do.

These birds are very long-lived, and can live upwards of 70 years in captivity, although they only live to about 20–40 years in the wild.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, along with many other parrots, are susceptible to a widespread viral disease known as Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, which causes the birds to lose their feathers and grow grotesquely shaped beaks.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Couple


Breeding Season

Cockatoos only breed once a year – usually between December and March, when vegetation growth is at its peak and food is readily available.

Courtship and Mating

As part of the courtship behavior, the male ruffles his feathers, spreads his tail feathers, extends his wings, and erects his crest. He then bounces about. Initially, the female ignores or avoids him, but – provided he meets her approval – will eventually allow him to approach her.

Once a male is accepted by the femael, they will be observed preening each other’s heads and scratching each other around the tail. This serves to strengthen their pair bond.

Eventually, the male will mount the female and perform the actual act of mating by joining of the cloacae. Generally, this ritual is much shorter for bonded pairs, and the female may even approach the male.

When the time comes to nest, pairs leave their group and search for a suitable nesting site – which is usually a tree cavity.

Cockatoos form a close bond that lasts for a lifetime. If they are separated, they may slip into a deep depression. In absence of a “true” mate, they may accept a caretaker as its mate.

Diet / Feeding

In their natural habitat, cockatoos typically feed on various seeds, nuts and fruits, such as papaya, durian, langsat and rambutan. As they are also feed on corn growing in fields, they do considerable damage and are, therefore, considered crop pests by farmers. (BirdLife International, 2001)

They also eat large insects, such as crickets (order Orthoptera) and skinks.

Captive birds are usually provided a parrot mix containing various seeds, nuts and dried fruits and vegetables. Additionally, they need to be offered lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and branches (with leaves) for chewing and entertainment.

  • Please refer to this webpage for information on what to feed cockatoos.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo eating


Their distinctive raucous call can be very loud.

These parrots have been known to engage in geophagy, the process of eating clay to detoxify their food.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is a seasonal breeder in Australia, little is known about its breeding behaviour in New Guinea. In southern Australia the breeding season is from August to January, whereas in northern Australia the season is from May to September.

The nest is a bed of woodchips in a hollow in a tree. Like many other parrots it competes with others of its species and with other species on nesting sites.

Two to three eggs are laid and incubation lasts between 25-27 days.

Both parents incubate the eggs and raise the nestlings.

The nestling period is between 9 to 12 weeks, and the young fledgelings remain with their parents for a number of months after fledging.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Cacatua galerita - landing

Sulphur-crested as Pets:

These beautiful parrots are frequently sought as companion birds, but as they are demanding pets, they require a devoted owner and continuing obedience training from a young age.

Training and Behavioral Guidance:

Talking: Katie from Texarkana, Texas wrote: “I have a 34 yr old male Fitzroy Greater Sulphur Crested cockatoo that is a fair talker. He doesn’t talk as well as the blue front amazon, but he does have a vocabulary. He mimics more than anything: the dog, the car, my laugh, the phone.”

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo waiting at the window
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos


Genus: Scientific: Cacatua … English: White Black-billed Cockatoos … Dutch: Wit and Zwartsnavelkakatoes … German: Eigentliche Kakadus … French: Cacatoès

Species: Scientific: Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea aka Psittacus sulphureus … English: Sulpher-crested Cockatoos … Dutch: Geelkuif Kakatoe … German: Gelbwangenkakadu …French: Petit Cacatoès à huppe jaune

Sub-Species / Races Including Nominate: eleonora, triton, fitzroyi, galerita

CITES II – Endangered Species

Distribution: Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) – part of the Maluku island group in Indonesia Group, Buton Island, Indonesia


Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoos:

Please refer to the photos and information above.

Genus: English: White Black-billed Cockatoos … Dutch: Wit and Zwartsnavelkakatoes … German: Eigentliche Kakadus … French: Cacatoès

Species: Scientific: Cacatua galerita galerita aka Psittacus galeritus … English: Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos … Dutch: Grote Geelkuifkakatoe … German: Großer Gelbhaubenkakadu … French: Grand Cacatoès à huppe jaune

CITES II – Endangered Species … Distribution: South-eastern Australia, Tasmania

Middle Sulphur-crested Cockatoos:

Genus: English: White Black-billed Cockatoos … Dutch: Wit and Zwartsnavelkakatoes … German: Eigentliche Kakadus … French: Cacatoès

Species: Scientific: Cacatua sulphurea djampeana … English: Middle Sulphur-crested Cockatoos …Dutch: Middelste Geelkuifkakatoe … German: Mittlerer Gelbhaubenkakadu … French: Petit Cacatoès à huppe jaune de Djampea

CITES II – Endangered Species … Distribution: Islands of Alor, Pantar, Djampea, Kalao tua, Madu and Kaju adi, Tukangbesi

Timor Cockatoo or Timor Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

The Timor Cockatoos / Timor Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are adorable little Cockatoos from the Sunda islands. They are quiet compared to other Cockatoos and make great companions.

Like all Cockatoos, Timors love to chew and wooden toys are a must.

Baths are also relished and helps keep feather dust to a minimum.

A large parrot cage with lots of wooden toys is recommended.

A devoted owner with time to devote to these beautiful little parrots is also in order. (Source: Rand B Aviary – Breeder and Parrot Connoisseur)


Like other cockatoos, the Timor Cockatoo usually makes its home in tree hollows.


Their natural diet consists of diverse food items, such as seeds, fruit and insects. In captivity, they should be provided with an good quality seed and nut mix, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Other Relevant Web Resources:

Photo of author

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