Black Palm Cockatoos
There are three subspecies of black palm cockatoos. Yet, even black palm experts have difficulty distinguishing between them. The nominate form of the black palm cockatoo is Probosciger aterrimus aterrimus, usually referred to as aterrimus or aterrimus aterrimus. Aterrimus is the most commonly found subspecies in the U.S. The most sought-after subspecies is Probosciger aterrimus goliath. The Goliaths can be considerably larger than aterrimus aterrimus.
The third subspecies, Probosciger aterrimus stenolophus, is similar to the Goliaths but with thinner crest feathers. There is considerable speculation about the stenolophus and whether there are any in the United States. Many aviculturists did not know the difference between the subspecies and cross-bred them without knowing what they had done. Many captive-raised birds might be a mix of the three subspecies.
Black palm cockatoos are difficult to breed.
The most difficult of the psittacine birds to breed, black palms lay one egg per clutch. The babies hatch easily, but chick mortality is high. They often die around 1 year old, just as they finish weaning. These deaths are often labeled “black palm syndrome.” The chicks appear healthy but suddenly show signs of illness. Results from diagnostic tests and necropsies come back inconclusive — illness unknown. Black palm syndrome also occurs in weaned juveniles and adults.
In recent years, breeders saw greater success when they added broccoli, apples and sunflower seeds to their hand-feeding formulas.
Adding exposure to natural sunlight might help, too. Black palm cockatoos and hyacinth macaws have photosensitive skin that reacts only minimally to artificialfull-spectrum lighting. Palm cockatoos that receive natural sunlight typically have bright red faces, while birds that live indoors and have little access to natural light often have faded pink facial patches.
Like most large birds, black palms have the potential to live more than 50 years. Until we learn more about their proper care, however, most will not live a full life.
Captive black palms are often skinny birds with thin, bony legs, which can be an indication of a dietary deficiency. Their dietary fat requirement may be even higher than that of hyacinth macaws.
Although, they are not endangered in the wild, black palm cockatoos did not arrive in the U.S. in large numbers, so there are fewer of them in the pet trade.
In the wild, they are found in dense humid savannas and rain forests of the Cape York Peninsula in Australia, New Guinea and some of the surrounding small islands, which did not allow exportation and made smuggling into the U.S. difficult.
Black palm cockatoo aficionados might be mysterious and guarded, but their birds are flashy and each one is a celebrity at heart. During a visit to Aviculture Breeding and Research Center, John Dunbar enjoyed the company of seven black palm cockatoos. They all decided to claim him as their property. In true black palm fashion they perched on his head, shoulders and arms. Then these red-faced giants began screaming and stomping on him like Japanese Takio drummers. In the wild, they use small sticks held firmly in their feet to drum on hollow trees to claim territory, so these captive cockatoos improvise
Why Are Black Palm Cockatoos So Uncommon?
1) They are one of the most difficult psittacine birds to breed in captivity
2) They lay one egg per clutch.
3) Chick mortality is very high.
4) Many die from “black palm syndrome” when they are around 1 year old, and the cause is still unknown.
5) They have a specialized diet.
6) Fewer numbers of black palms were imported into the U.S. before the importation ban.
Black palm cockatoos develop overgrown beaks if they do not have pandanus nuts to hull. A natural part of their diet, pandanus nuts are thick and fibrous. This delicacy contains two tiny seeds, which resemble pine nuts. Breeders and pet owners of black palms consider this nut so important that some in northern areas have purchased small lots in Florida just to grow the nuts for their birds.