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

March 2nd, 2016 | by Julie and Barry Blanch
How can we recognize Red-tailed Cockatoo subspecies? PART II

Read also the first part of this article:

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


C. b. samueli

The most commonly kept Red-tailed Black Cockatoo in aviculture and one of the more widespread subspecies in the wild—with a number of different populations located throughout Australia—populations of C. b. samueli inhabit the McDonnell Ranges of the Northern Territory, the coast of Western Australia and far west Queensland along the Diamantina River down to Lake Eyre in South Australia. Other populations inhabit the Murray Darling River system from mid south-western Queensland into north-western New South Wales, and south into South Australia.

The subspecies Calyptorhynchus banksii samueli that inhabit Western Australia are generally called ‘Wheatbelt Samueli’—derived from the main crops of wheat and canola grown within their habitat.

The variance in size, colour and call between the ‘Wheatbelt Samueli’ and the northern range birds—also known as ‘Northern Samueli’—is very noticeable.


Black Cockatoos softWhite CockatoosCockatiels soft


a)Northern Samueli

The barring on the vent feathers of the ‘Northern’ are more orange in colour in contrast to the bright red vent and tail barring of the ‘Wheatbelt Samueli’. The birds from the northern areas have a colourful and wider chest barring.



-Short stocky body, broad chest, shorter neck

-Shorter crest feathers

-Long wide V shaped undertail covert

-Square tail feathers long narrow red barring

-Smaller black tail tip feathers

-Weigh 550–600 grams and grow to approx. 49cm in length



Northern Samueli Male (c) Julie and Barry Blanch



– Larger gold crest, cheek & facial marking

– Wide gold scalloping on chest & undertail

– Broader chest

-Larger shoulder spots

-Orange yellow barring on tail feathers



Northern Samueli female (c) Julie and Barry Blanch


b)Wheatbelt Samueli

The ‘Wheatbelt’ females are also smaller and more slender with a very colourful and distinct cream coloured tight barring on the chest. On average this subspecies is 47cm. The call of the ‘Wheatbelt’ is high pitched and repetitive.



-The vent feathers of the ‘Wheatbelt Samueli’ are bright red vent and tail barring

-Shorter crest feathers

-Broad chest & short stocky body

-Narrow V shaped undertail covert

-Narrow tail feathers

-Rounded black tail tip feathers

– Weigh 500g-550g on average



Wheatbelt Samueli Male (c) Julie and Barry Blanch



– Heavily gold flecked with flecked orange red chest barring

– Red orange undertail & vent barring

– Shorter orange yellow tail feathers

– Varying & at times indistinct black tail barring



Wheatbelt Samueli female (c) Julie and Barry Blanch


C. b. graptogyne

Found exclusively in south-western Victoria and South-East South Australia, C. b. graptogyne are a small group of birds previously thought to be ‘Samueli’. These birds are listed as being endangered with an approximate population of only 1000 birds remaining in the wild.

Most of the Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne weigh between 480-520 grams and only measure 45–50cm in length.

Although they are the smallest of the subspecies they are amongst the most strikingly and brightly marked.

Males also have elongated wing feathers and striking bright red tail panels that contrast against their very glossy black feathering. They have a distinctively different call to the other subspecies.



-Small stocky body

-Full rounded crest

-Smaller tail

-Long undertail covert

-Elongated wing feathers



Graptogyne Male (c) Julie and Barry Blanch



-Wedge shaped tail

-Shorter tail from vent to tail tip

-Thinner gold chest barring

-Sharp shriek call

Females often feature a rich reddish orange barring on the chest and their wings tend to be very long and cross over at the back.



Graptogyne Female (c) Julie and Barry Blanch


C. b. naso

Commonly known as the ‘Forest Red-tail’ this small group endemic to the very south-western corner of Western Australia is listed as Vulnerable.

A distinctive characteristic of C. b. naso is the large light grey mandible with a black tip—they also appear to be slower in temperament.

Calyptorhynchus banksii naso frequently turn their heads sideways rather than look straight at you—it almost appears as though their large mandible restricts their vision. The males’ mating call is very different and has a close resemblance to the call of the Glossy Black Cockatoo.

The average bird ranges from 600–650 grams in weight and 49–50cm in length.

Tail feathers carry heavy black barring with narrow reddish orange margins, even on the undertail covert feathers.



-Long slender tail

-Long wedge undertail covert

-Huge bulbous beak

-Flatter forehead

-Thick short neck & full rounded crest



-Often have an orange tinge across the chest that fades to cream around the neck.

-Bulbous beak

– Thick pale gold chest barring

– Long tail feathers

– Wide undertail covert black barring

– Light orange coloured barring

Young are similar in colour to the female until they attain their adult plumage at three years of age.



Naso Pair (c) Julie and Barry Blanch


General description


Mature males are deep black in colour and do not display spots or speckles. Most immature males feature spots and speckles similar to females until their third to fourth moult. The mandible and orbital eye ring is dark grey to black and the tail features a large bright red panel. When displaying, during courtship or when in fear of strangers or predators the males flash and fan their tail. In some subspecies juvenile males exhibit cream spots on their heads until two to three years of age.



Varying numbers of cream spots and speckles can be found on the head and crest feathers of all the females—some spots appear in a sunburst effect from under the eye area, spreading profusely over the head, crest and shoulders. Cream to orange scalloping and barring on feathers appears from under the vent to the upper chest. All mature females have a bone coloured mandible and a light grey coloured bare orbital eye ring in different shapes and variations. Their tail feathers vary from reddish orange to a creamy white colour with black barring.



Red-tailed Black Cockatoos make excellent watch dogs alerting all with their distinct alarm call, especially when strangers enter their territory. The call varies from a deep distinct ‘wherrik’ to a ‘karrackk’ sound, depending on the subspecies. I have found that all subspecies are inquisitive and exhibit different personalities—particularly evident in the handraised birds.


author: Barry and Julie Blanch

Title photo: (c) Peter Shanks. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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