Philippine Cockatoo

Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia)

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s most exotic birds. Over the years, some 577 species of birds have wandered around the Philippine archipelago. It is believed that 185 of these species can be found only in the Philippines. Sadly, these species are among the most endangered in the world because of deforestation and human threat. The Bird Life International has listed 116 resident species in the Philippines as “threatened” or “near-threatened”.

One of these endangered species is the exotic Kalangay or the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), a species belonging to Psittacidae or the family of parrots. Cockatoos are treetop, hole-nesting birds which have a massive scimitar-like beak for cracking nuts, digging up roots, or prying grubs from wood. They have a long life span, some living more than 50 years.

Kalangay, also known as the red-vented cockatoo, is a common cage bird capable of mimicking human voice. It has a predominantly white plumage, which produces a distinct contrast against the color of the forest making them easy to locate in the dense foliage. Endemic only to the Philippines, it is the only species in the country that represents the cockatoo group.

An ordinary kalangay measures 33 centimeters in length and weighs 0.29 kilogram. Its unique feature is its conspicuous red under-tail coverts. It feeds on the seeds and fruits of wild trees or, in cultivated areas, on rice or corn. Kalangay wanders in small flocks outside of the breeding season, and visits forest edges and nearby plantations for food. The female kalangay normally lays two eggs, which hatch after about 24 days. Emergent trees 30-40 m tall are usually used as nesting sites, and coconut plantations on offshore islands as roosting sites.

The past decades saw the population of kalangays decline by as much as 90 percent. It is one of the three most traded wildlife species together with the talking mynah and blue naped parrot, all of which are found only in Palawan. Many hobbyists and collectors keep a kalangay at home because of its ability to mimic sounds as well as its easy adaptability to the presence of humans.

A great number of kalangays were flying in flocks across the Visayas and Mindanao islands 50 years ago. But because of the rapid deterioration of the forests where it lives and the threat posed by hunters and poachers of wild animals, the population of kalangays has diminished to only between 1,000 and 4,000 individuals. This population is now restricted to Palawan, particularly in St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, Pandanan Island and El Nido Marine Reserve.

Unregulated collection and illegal trade of these prized species remain unchecked. A piece of kalangay is reportedly worth as much as $500 at the Cartimar bird market in Manila. Efforts are being made to save its remaining population in the forests of Palawan, which, sad to say, are also under threat. Kalangay or the Philippine cockatoo is a national treasure because it is found only in the Philippines.

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