A cockatoo is any of the 21 parrot species belonging to the family Cacatuidae, the only family in the superfamily Cacatuoidea. Along with the Psittacoidea (true parrots) and the Strigopoidea (large New Zealand parrots), they make up the order Psittaciformes. The family has a mainly Australasian distribution, ranging from the Philippines and the eastern Indonesian islands of Wallacea to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.
Cockatoos are recognisable by the prominent crests and curved bills. Their plumage is generally less colourful than that of other parrots, being mainly white, grey or black and often with coloured features in the crest, cheeks or tail. On average they are larger than other parrots; however, the cockatiel, the smallest cockatoo species, is a small bird. The phylogenetic position of the cockatiel remains unresolved, other than that it is one of the earliest offshoots of the cockatoo lineage. The remaining species are in two main clades. The five large black coloured cockatoos of the genus Calyptorhynchus form one branch. The second and larger branch is formed by the genus Cacatua, comprising 11 species of white-plumaged cockatoos and four monotypic genera that branched off earlier; namely the pink and white Major Mitchell's cockatoo, the pink and grey galah, the mainly grey gang-gang cockatoo and the large black-plumaged palm cockatoo.
Cockatoos prefer to eat seeds, tubers, corms, fruit, flowers and insects. They often feed in large flocks, particularly when ground-feeding. Cockatoos are monogamous and nest in tree hollows. Some cockatoo species have been adversely affected by habitat loss, particularly from a shortage of suitable nesting hollows after large mature trees are cleared; conversely, some species have adapted well to human changes and are considered agricultural pests.
Cockatoos are popular birds in aviculture, but their needs are difficult to meet. The cockatiel is the easiest cockatoo species to maintain and is by far the most frequently kept in captivity. White cockatoos are more commonly found in captivity than black cockatoos. Illegal trade in wild-caught birds contributes to the decline of some cockatoo species in the wild.
Cockatoos have a much more restricted range than the true parrots, occurring naturally only in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and some Pacific regions. Eleven of the 21 species exist in the wild only in Australia, while seven species occur only in the islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. No cockatoo species are found in Borneo, despite their presence on nearby Palawan and Sulawesi or many Pacific islands, although fossil remains have been recorded from New Caledonia.
Three species occur in both New Guinea and Australia. Some species have widespread distributions, with the galah, for example, occurring over most of Australia, whereas other species have tiny distributions, confined to a small part of the continent, such as the Baudin's black cockatoo of Western Australia or to a small island group, such as the Tanimbar corella, which is restricted to the Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia. Some cockatoos have been introduced accidentally to areas outside their natural range such as New Zealand, Singapore, and Palau, while two Australian corella species have been introduced to parts of the continent where they are not native.
Cockatoos occupy a wide range of habitats from forests in subalpine regions to mangroves. However, no species is found in all types of habitat. The most widespread species, such as the galah and cockatiel, are open-country specialists that feed on grass seeds. They are often highly mobile fast flyers and are nomadic. Flocks of birds move across large areas of the inland, locating and feeding on seed and other food sources. Drought may force flocks from more arid areas to move further into farming areas. Other cockatoo species, such as the glossy black cockatoo, inhabit woodlands, rainforests, shrublands and even alpine forests. The red-vented cockatoo inhabits mangroves and its absence from northern Luzon may be related to the lack of mangrove forests there. Forest-dwelling cockatoos are generally sedentary, as the food supply is more stable and predictable. Several species have adapted well to human modified habitats and are found in agricultural areas and even busy cities.