‘I don’t think many people know they exist’: how mistaken identity threatens the Baudin’s cockatoo

‘I don’t think many people know they exist’: how mistaken identity threatens the Baudin’s cockatoo

The black cockatoo is nearly identical to its neighbour, the Carnaby’s. And that’s a problem for protecting the endangered species

In the early 1830s, the painter Edward Lear was painstakingly illustrating a black cockatoo, based on a specimen collected by French explorer Nicholas Baudin in the south-west of Western Australia in 1804.

The image, which would become the holotype for the Baudin’s cockatoo, was published in Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots (1832). Back in Lear’s time it was believed that the Baudin’s was the only species of white-tailed black cockatoo. Another white-tailed black cockatoo, called the Carnaby’s, was classified as a subspecies. But more than a century later, scientists began to believe the differences between the two birds were far too significant for them to be considered one species; they breed differently, don’t eat the same food and occupy different habitats. The Carnaby’s was declared a separate species in 1979.

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