You can hear them coming from the other side of the valley. The plaintive squeals carry across the landscape and announce the approach of a flock of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos. Suddenly the sky is filled with these majestic birds. The sound is exhilarating.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are unmistakable in flight, with their slow, deep wingbeats and long tails. They fly with tail furled which makes them appear completely black. That is, until they turn or come in to land and the tail spreads wide revealing a splash of yellow. If you're close enough you'll also notice the yellow cheek patch.
For much of the year you'll see them in small family groups but as winter approaches they join together to form large flocks, in some years numbering 150 birds or more. They gather in places where there's a good supply of their favoured foods. Their fondness for pine cones is well known but native seeds such as banksia and hakea are more important.
Data from Blue Mountains Bird Observers shows that sightings of these iconic birds have been steadily declining over the past 30 years. On top of this, last summer's bushfires affected significant areas of feeding and breeding habitat. Black-cockatoos require a nest hollow more than 30cm in diameter which may take over a hundred years to develop in a eucalyptus. In long-lived birds like this, any failure to breed might not become apparent until it's too late.
- Carol Probets is a birding guide and Vice-President of Blue Mountains Bird Observers Inc. Visit https://bmbo.org.au for information about joining Blue Mountains Bird Observers.