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Sulphur-crested cockatoos are large, white birds that have prominent yellow crests on the tops of their heads. The crest usually lies flat, but fans out and forwards when aroused. There is also pale yellow on the underside of the tail and wing. Their beaks are black and their eyes are a dark red-brown. Females are slightly larger than males and juveniles have a paler eye, and may have some grey in their plumage. Their most common call is a harsh screech but they also make softer cries, and guttural croaks or barks. Sulphur-crested cockatoos usually occur as pairs or small groups in spring and summer and may form large flocks in autumn and winter.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos are native to woodland habitats in northern and eastern Australia. In New Zealand they are mainly found in farmland close to native forest or exotic tree plantations. The largest populations are associated with arable land, especially where maize is grown near to woodland habitat. There are populations in the Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Manawatu and Waikato and small populations in the Waitakere ranges, Wellington, Banks Peninsula and the Catlins. The largest populations, Port Waikato, and Turakina and Pohangina Valleys, contain several hundred birds. Remaining New Zealand populations each contain fewer than 100 birds.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos forage on the ground and in trees. Their diet consists predominantly of seeds, but they may take invertebrates. Important foods are seeds of grass, thistles, maize, macrocarpa and pines. In autumn they spend a lot of time feeding on the fruit of native trees, particularly podocarps, such as kahikatea.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos form long-lasting pair bonds. They lay1-2 eggs in nest cavities in trees. The nest is lined with wood chips chiselled from the walls of the nest cavity. Most chicks fledge in late December. Only part of the population breeds in any one year and the rest of the population forms small nomadic flocks that range over a large area. They are very long-lived, and can live for more than 70 years in captivity (or probably 20-40 years in the wild).