Red Tailed Black Cockatoo Feather Credit Tim Campbell

How to Spot The Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo

Time spent spotting the endangered red-tailed black cockatoo takes commitment, awareness and a little bit of luck!

Time spent spotting the endangered and endemic forest red-tailed black cockatoo qualifies as a legitimate late note in the Margaret River Region.

Rare to sight, tricky to photograph but beautiful to chance upon, it takes commitment, awareness and a little bit of luck to engineer your own close encounter. These local tips should help you along.

Red Tailed Black Cockatoo in Flight Credit Sean Blocksidge
The red-tailed black cockatoo's stunning colours are a sight to behold. Photo credit Sean Blocksidge.

Where To Spot Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos

Red-tailed black cockatoos favourite grub is the marri nut, which makes this a species inclined to forest dwelling. Jarrah, marri and karri forests are their most obvious stomping grounds. And while the keen-eyed driver will be sure to spot at least a few small flocks on a road trip from the Margaret River township to Nannup – flanked as the road is by national park – even small tree groves closer to regional towns can be prime spotting zones. 

The square of bush in the Margaret River town between Clarke Road, Boodjidup Road and Railway Terrace can prove a hot spot. A walk along the trail in the A-class reserve of Nguraren Kalleep just north of town is an opportunity for a red-tailed interaction. As is a walk through the Carters Road trails. 

The bushland around Gracetown is a frequent red-tailed black cockatoo feeding and nesting ground too, and the forest trails around Rosabrook rarely disappoint bird enthusiasts.   

Trails into bushland around the Augusta township are also favourite spotting zones for local birders: ‘I absolutely love them and seeing them in flock is one of the most stunning things,’ says Augusta local, Carolyn Tenardi, who walks daily in the bush behind the Augusta football oval and BMX park, a bit of reserve where the rare species congregate to chatter and feed. ‘In spring that bushland is a mass of wild flowers. And every day I see Carnaby’s and forest red-tails. They are treasures.’ 

Black Cockatoo Credit Sean Blocksidge
Keep your eyes peeled for flocks. Photo credit Sean Blocksidge.

How To Find Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos

Tune your ears. The cry of the forest red-tailed black cockatoo is a distinctive, loud and harsh ‘karee’ or ‘kra-raak’. A little bit of familiarity with the call means you’ll hear a flock long before you see it. Early morning and early evening around watering holes in farm paddocks, or forest-bracketed waterways, are typical spots to hear a call. 

And don’t just look up: using marri nuts to identify red-tailed feeding zones is easier than it might sound. Alongside the white-tailed Carnaby and Baudin’s black cockatoos, the south-west red-tails have a distinctive bite when munching their favourite meal – marri nuts that have been chewed out from the bottom indicate red-tailed feeding territory. Carnaby and Baudin’s take a top-down approach.

Red Tailed Black Cockatoo Credit Sean Blocksidge
Females and juveniles have narrow bands of orange and yellow on the tail feathers. Photo credit Sean Blocksidge.

Tail Feather ID

Block red tail feathers indicate mature males. Females and juveniles have narrow bands of orange and yellow on the tail feathers; they also have pale yellow spots on the head and wings, and yellow-orange barring on the breast. Finding the showy tail feathers on forest tracks is a dream for red-tailed fanatics, but it’s a game of chance.

Some people say red-tails drop their sought-after feathers at roost sites. Others say they drop them at their watering holes. 

Red Tailed Black Cockatoo Feather Credit Tim Campbell
Finding a rare tail feather is very lucky indeed. Photo credit Tim Campbell.

Keeping Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos Safe

Recognised as a threatened species and listed as fauna ‘likely to become extinct’ in the wild under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950, protection of forest red-tailed black cockatoo habitat is key to reversing declining numbers.  

Protection of vegetation to ensure continued nesting hollows and feeding zones is vital, but so is reduction in preventable death and injury from things like vehicle strike. It’s worth noting that seeding of spring and summer grasses often draws flocks to roadsides in the hotter months. Keep an eye out while travelling and slow speeds at sightings.

Black Cockatoo Credit Sean Blocksidge
With some patience and know-how photographers can get a great action shot. Photo credit Sean Blocksidge.

White-Tailed VS Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos

You’ll find cockatoos everywhere in the south west. They make all kinds of beautiful sounds and their differences can be marked or subtle. One you realise these differences, you won’t stop noticing them.  

Forest red-tailed black cockatoos are a different species with different habitat preferences to the two white-tailed black cockatoo species, the Carnaby and Baudin’s cockatoos. Notice the differences when you are observing birds in the wild.

Black Cockatoo Credit Sean Blocksidge
You’ll find cockatoos everywhere in the south west. Photo credit Sean Blocksidge.

Say ‘Cheese’

Getting the best red-tailed photographs is a subtle business. “It’s a game of patience,” says Sean Blocksidge, known cocky spotter and tour operator in chief at the Margaret River Discovery Co. “I’ve definitely been sitting under a tree for 20 minutes, at least, waiting for one to fly.” 

The forest red-tailed black cockatoos are more reticent than Carnaby or Baudin’s cockatoos when it comes to posing, and spook more easily. Their preferred forest habitat can also make them hard to capture. But there are a few tricks. 

“The canoe’s a ripper because they don’t seem to care if you’re drifting along on the canoe,” says Sean. “Or straight out of the car window. Don’t get out of the car.”