Written by Kristen Merrill, Animal Care Professional
In celebration of the Year of the Bird, the Aviary team at ZooTampa is shining a spotlight on their favorite feathered friends! This month – the palm cockatoos!
Found in Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia, palm cockatoos are a large cockatoo species that are black in color, but their “powder down” gives it a grey hue. “Powder down” are feathers that break down into a powder that the parrot then distributes throughout their other feathers during preening to keep them clean. Palm cockatoos also have red cheeks and a large crest. These beautiful characteristics actually help display the cockatoo’s mood! They have small feathers on the sides of the red patches, that can be moved up and down. Depending on their mood, they can choose to cover the patches with feathers, or proudly display those cheeks. The patches can turn a pale pink color if upset, or bright red if very excited. They have a large beak in between their cheeks, that actually cannot completely close. This allows for the cockatoo to break nuts open much easier using their finger-like tongue. Nuts are a palm cockatoos favorite snack, which is where they get their name from-palm nuts!
While Palm cockatoos are not currently considered endangered, the population is on the decline due to habitat destruction. They nest in hollow trees that the male cockatoo will line with sticks. The males will also drum along the side of the nesting area using a stick to create regular rhythms. They were actually just shown to be the only nonhuman species to produce a type of music using tools to amplify the sound. Male palm cockatoos set a beat just like a human drummer would do in a band!
Our palm cockatoo here at ZooTampa gives his own concerts throughout the day, whistling at guests while they pass by into the Wallaroo area. His name is Ernie, and he is such a big personality! Ernie just turned 19 on March 19th, which makes him fairly young for a cockatoo. Their lifespan can be from 60-80 years! Parrots, like Ernie, are generally portrayed as charismatic and affectionate pets. But due to their long lifespan, intelligence, and specialized care, getting a parrot for a pet should be thoroughly researched. They need constant attention and items to keep them busy, otherwise, they may develop neurological issues. At the Zoo, Ernie receives enrichment items and training daily to keep him mentally and physically stimulated. On your next visit to ZooTampa at Lowry Park, be sure to stop by and visit Ernie at the entrance of Wallaroo!