Biology and breeding of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. PART I

January 4th, 2016 | by LubosTomiska
Biology and breeding of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. PART I
Breeding
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Read also the second part of this article:

Biology and breeding of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. PART II

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There is no doubt that the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Cacatua leadbeateri) represents one of the most beautiful parrots. However, their breeding can be tricky sometimes and that’s why this species is rare in captivity in Europe. A very often obstacle in successful breeding of this species is male aggression or imprinting. So the right aviary, right nestbox and right diet are not the only essential conditions. We can’t forget about mental health of our birds. In breeding of cockatoos, especially white species, this is maybe the most important factor. The following article describes the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. How is that in Australia this cockatoo is kept and bred usually while in Europe the price is much higher and we have such problems to breed it? What’s the cause?

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Taxonomy

The Czech or German name „Inka Kakadu“ was firstly mentioned in the well-known book Brehms Tierleben (in English Brehm’s Animals Life). Dr. Alfred Edmund Brehm called this cockatoo in this way because the colorful crest reminded him Indian headbands. In English speaking countries this cockatoo is called Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo or Pink Cockatoo.

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There are two possible latin names used for this species. Mostly, it’s classified in genus Cacatua. However, according to Forshaw (2010) the differences between Major Mitchell’s and other representatives of this genus are so significant that they can’t share the same genus name. That’s why he introduced Lophocroa. Although this name is used especially by Australian authors and in most of the books (including the new HBW and BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World, del Hoyo 2014) we find Cacatua leadbeateri.

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In comparison with other Cacatua species, Major Mitchell’s chicks have more sparse primary down which doesn’t grow on the whole body but only in two rows along the ridge. What is more, when young birds beg for food, they don’t move with their heads from one side to the other side but rather from the front backwards.

If we looked on phylogenetic tree we would find this species as closely related to the Galah Cockatoo (Eolophus roseicapillus) and the group of Solomons Cockatoo (Cacatua ducorpsii), Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) and Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea)(White, 2011; Brown & Toft, 1999).

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Major Mitchell’s in Birdworld Kuranda, Australian bird park (c) Lubomir Tomiska

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We recognize two subspecies of the Major Mitchell’s CockatooCacatua leadbeateri leadbeateri and Cacatua leadbeateri molis. However, there are some authors who question such classification as differences are really slight. The main characteristic is the shade of red color in the crest which should be darker without or with a narrow yellow band in latter subspecies. When I visited Australia in this summer I had a chance to see an amazing collection of Julie and Barry Blanch who owed pure individuals of this race. Subspecies leadbeateri has paler crest with distinct yellow band (Forshaw, 2010). Forshaw (2002) didn’t find any difference in body size between these two forms.

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Distribution

We may divide the Australian continent on two worlds – coastal wet forests and inland savannahs, semi-deserts sand deserts. Major Mitchell‘s Cockatoo (Cacatua leadbeateri) inhabits inland arid areas exclusively. The nominate race is found in South East Australia, subspecies molis in central and western part. This species generally inhabits areas with low cover of Allocasuarina, Eucalyptus and Callitris trees. The most important limiting factor is lack of water. That’s why Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos have to migrate for longer distance to find food. However, if they find a rich food source then they can stay at the place for a few months, sometimes for a whole year.

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Although this species is common in Australian aviaries, it’s not so easy to find it in the wild. According to Garnett’s findings (2011) there are about 15 000 adult individuals left in the wild and they are well dispersed over the habitat. The regular size of a territory of one pair is about 30km2. So even for some local ornithologists seeing of the wild Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo might be a rare experience.

This species competes with more common Galah Cockatoo (Eolophus roseicapillus), especially in the Eastern part of the habitat. Authors of one experiment tried to capture more Galahs and observed how the population of local Major Mitchell’s will react. Surprisingly, its number grew really fast.

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Nominate race of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (c) Lubomir Tomiska

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Ecology

As mentioned above, this species lives in remote areas and almost all information we have about its biology comes from one paper written by Rowley and Chapman (1991). The study has observed the western race molis and brought following findings:

The Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is not a social bird but prefers to nest in pairs. In comparison with other species of Cacatuidae (like Long-billed Corellas (Cacatua tenuirostris) or Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea)) these birds don’t tolerate any other pairs of the same species around their nest. The regular distance between two cavities is about 2,5km. It’s interesting that nesting pairs of other species don’t bother them. In one study there is described how a pair of Twenty-eight Parrot (Barnardius zonarius), Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and Galah Cockatoo nested on the same tree. When searching for food these cockatoos congregate. Out of the breeding season such flocks can have size of 10-50 individuals, extraordinarily 300 birds.

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Pairs start with nesting in the second half of the year which is in August and September. Young birds become self-dependent in March and that’s when the whole population congregates to two flocks. There are adult pairs in the first and young birds up to 3 years old in the second one. Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is strictly monogamous and both partners stay together until one of them dies.

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Contrary to experience of European breeders this species start nesting at early age in the wild. Females can lay eggs at the age of two and males can fertilize eggs at three years. Rowley and Chapman were observing nesting in 63 pairs in the wild. Regularly, clutch counted 3-4 eggs, 84% of eggs have been hatched and 64% of all hatched chicks have been weaned to independece. Authors didn’t analyse proportional fertility of eggs but obviously this rate was higher than 84%.

It’s usual that breeders discuss about the right proportion of fertile eggs in parrots. This is a clear evidence that if all necessary conditions are reached then proportional fertility of clutch is about 84-90%, at least in case of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. The laying gap is about 2-3 days. Both parents incubate the clutch. After hatching the female feeds and incubates the chicks during the night and the male during the day. Later both together. Young birds leave the cavity after 57 days and are independent after six months…

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author:  Lubomir Tomiska

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5 Comments

  1. Tahir Bashir says:

    Pls send me breeding 8nstructions about Mollacuin cokatoo. Gray and Eclectus birds. Regards

  2. Roman Popov says:

    Today is Tuesday. Where is part II? Thank you! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Breeding Major Mitchell's Cockatoo | Parrots Daily News

  4. Pingback: Biology and breeding of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. PART III | Parrots Daily News

  5. I am interested in receiving information

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