How can we recognize Red-tailed Cockatoo subspecies? PART I

February 24th, 2016 | by Julie and Barry Blanch
How can we recognize Red-tailed Cockatoo subspecies? PART I

Read also the second part of this article:

How can we recognize Red-tailed Cockatoo subspecies? PART II


Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) are the most common black cockatoo species inhabiting large areas of mainland Australia and kept in captivity. There are five subspecies of the C. banksii throughout Australia and these are differentiated and identified by varying colouration, size and call.

The subspecies recognised are C. b. banksii, C. b. macrorhynchus, C. b. samueli, C. b. graptogyne and C. b. naso. It is important to the integrity of the species that the individual subspecies be maintained and kept pure and true to type in order to prevent disproportionate sized birds and the problems associated with hybridisation.

I have been keeping and breeding Red-tailed Cockatoos for 20 years and have a strong interest in keeping the identity of the subspecies pure to sustain their individual characteristics. We keep over 30 pairs of black cockatoos of which more than half are C. b. banksii. Having kept and bred these birds for so many years I find it easy to distinguish between adult subspecies and see the visual differences in young chicks. Of the five recognised subspecies—making up eight populations throughout mainland Australia—the larger subspecies are found in northern Australia and the smaller subspecies are located in the central and southern regions, across varying habitats.


Black Cockatoos softWhite Cockatoos Cockatiels soft


C. b. macrorhynchus

This is the largest of all the subspecies. weighing up to 900 grams and growing to 60–65cm in length. They are not common in aviculture. Found in the northern parts of Arnhem Land and Kakadu in the Northern Territory through to the Kimberley region and the north-west coast of Western Australia.

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C. b. macrorhynchus have much larger bodies and larger, stronger solid beaks.

The crest is upright and backswept and is not rounded compared to all other subspecies.



– long slender body & tail

– long undertail covert

– wider black tip tail feathers

– broad hooked beak

– weighing up to 900 grams and growing to 60–65cm in length.

Males develop their bright red tail feathers at four years of age.

Their distinct call is much deeper than the other subspecies



Calyptorhynchus b. macrorhynchus male (c) Julie and Barry Blanch



– easily identifiable with no red or orange in their long tail—the barring is a creamy to off-white colour. Brightly coloured butter-cream spots feature on the wings, head and chest barring.

– creamy gold barring on chest

– cream barring on undertail covert

– creamy colour in long tail

– Finer black barring on tail feathers


Immature males also have a creamy coloured tail with a tinge of orange around the cream bars making sexing easy—even before a DNA test is done.



Calyptorhynchus b. macrorhynchus female (c) Julie and Barry Blanch


C. b. banksii

Previously known as ‘Magnificus’, this subspecies is predominantly found in Queensland from the Gulf region and Cape York Peninsula in the north to the Fraser Coast region in the south, particularly during the winter dry months.

These birds are quite large weighing between 700–750 grams and measuring an average of 55–60cm in length when fully grown. Further south, especially below the north Queensland town of Bowen, the subspecies tend to be slightly smaller.

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Often found in large flocks, especially around cultivated areas in the north, it is not uncommon to see flocks of between 150–200 birds creating a magnificent spectacle while in flight.

Males of this subspecies tend to have a full elongated crest that is noticeable when displaying to females during the breeding season.



-Long crest feathers

-Broad chest & long body

-Wide fan shaped undertail covert

-Wide long tail feathers with long red barring

-Weighing between 700–750 grams

-Measuring an average of 55–60cm



Calyptorhynchus banksii banksii male (c) Lubomir Tomiska



I have noticed that females do not show any barring in the vent feathers and the barring of the tail is orange.

– Defined gold scalloping

– Creamy orange tail feathers

– Little undertail covert barring

– Wider black barring on tail



Calyptorhynchus banksii banksii female (c) Julie and Barry Blanch




author: Julie and Barry Blanch

Title photo: (c) Lubomir Tomiska


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