Old World Aviaries

The Palm Cockatoo

by Scott Lewis

Moonlight -- Goliath Palm Cockatoo

Many of you have seen pictures of the bird on this page. Some of you may even have had the pleasure of meeting one in person. It is a huge black cockatoo that, in my opinion, is one of the most majestic of all hookbills, rivaled only by the Hyacinth Macaw. Linda, my wife, and I were fortunate enough to meet Moonlight (shown in the photo), a Goliath Palm Cockatoo, at Parrot Jungle in Florida. When we were there, she was one of three in residence. And she is truly magnificent.

Palms are distinguished by their size, huge beak (second only to the Hyacinth Macaw among psittacines and largest proportionate to size), solid black feather coloration, large open crest, bare red cheeks, and red and black tongue. You have to see their tongues to believe the coloration. It's amazing.

Three subspecies of Palms are known, Probosciger aterrimus aterrimus, P. a. goliath, and P. a. stenolophus. Palms range from 22–28 inches in length and 500–1200 grams in weight depending on sex and subspecies. According to Forshaw (Parrots of the World), Palms are native to New Guinea, the Aru Islands, Indonesia, and the Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia. They feed on seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and leaf buds.

Palms display a unique, tool-using behaviour that is unknown in other psittacines. During breeding season males drum on hollow logs and trees with sticks to attract femals.

Palm Cockatoos are severely threatened. They are CITES Appendix I birds and are protected in Australia. However, Forshaw states that “...they are persecuted by local hunters, who kill them for food or capture them for the live bird trade” in other areas of their range.

According to Rosemary Low (Cockatoos in Aviculture), the birds are rare in aviculture with 40–50 birds in the UK, and according to the TRAFFIC survey, 109 birds resided in the USA as of 1990. Low further states that, “It would be unethical to keep this rare species as a pet. The only justification for maintaining it in captivity is to breed from it.”

As a testament to their rarity, typical prices in the U.S. for Aterrimus Palms are around $8000 and Goliaths around $14,000. Perhaps contributing to their rarity is the fact that, according to both Low and Forshaw, they lay only one egg per clutch.


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