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Seeking Refuge in Hong Kong – Yellow-crested Cockatoo

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 127 (Aug 2017)
Author: Green Power

Yellow-crested Cockatoo is lovely and people friendly. The bird is easily found locally, as Hong Kong has become home to the second largest wild population of the species. Take a stroll in Hong Kong Park before night falls, and you will surely encounter a flock of them gathering. They are in fact not indigenous to Hong Kong but are happy immigrants. Meanwhile, their original population is far away, and on the brink of extinction!

Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea) belongs to the Family Cacatuidae. It has a snowy white body and pale yellow ear coverts, underwings and tail feathers. The most impressive, however, is the retractile crest, which is yellow or orange, on its head. When tightened up, the crest looks like a string of braided hair; when spread out in a fan shape, it resembles a blossoming sunflower, or a crown, on the head. You simply cannot overlook this charming creature!

The Naughty Bird

Locally, Yellow-crested Cockatoos mostly inhabit woods or forest margins. They are commonly seen in large parks and Mid-levels of north Hong Kong Island, particularly Hong Kong Park. They build nests in tree holes, and have a special fondness for Kapok Tree. Whenever Kapok Tree is in blossom, the cockatoos bite the flowers as if having fun in breaking the flowers into pieces. In fact, their target is the nectar. Apart from nectar, they also feed on fruits and seeds.

Yellow-crested Cockatoos, often gather and forage in groups, and are easily observed. Their varied behaviours attract many birdwatchers. However, their loud, strident calls, particularly as dusk approaches, before they return to the nests, sometimes cause problems for nearby residents. Furthermore, as the cockatoos have the habit of biting off young twigs, experts have worried whether they will affect local tree health. So far, no such impact has been observed.

Second Home

Yellow-crested Cockatoo is native to Indonesia and East Timor. Since the end of the 19th century, the species has been the target of capture for the pet trade, due to its beautiful appearance. In 2005, Yellow-crested Cockatoo was listed in Appendix I of CITES and all international trade of the species has since been banned. Yet illegal poaching is still on the run.

Today, Yellow-crested Cockatoo is listed as Critically Endangered—in the IUCN Red List. Nonetheless, they are not so rare in Hong Kong. Experts believe that the first batch of cockatoos that landed in Hong Kong were the ones escaped from international trade as early as in 1850. Facing no natural enemies here and with the extra protection of the law, the species hence established a stable population in Hong Kong.

The local population of Yellow-crested Cockatoo is estimated to be about 200, accounting for 10% of the world total. Hong Kong is now home to the largest population of the species, apart from their native land. It can be said to be the happy refuge of these immigrants!

© Henry Lui
Yellow-crested Cockatoos often gather in groups.
© Henry Lui
The birds are commonly found in the city as they live in the neighbourhood.
© Henry Lui
When the crest is spread out, it looks beautiful, like a crown!
© Henry Lui
The powerful beak allows the bird to break the hard shell of the fruits.
© Henry Lui

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