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Cockatoo Care

Bird Care and Information for All Types of Cockatoos

Family: Cacatuidae Cockatoo - Bird Care and Information for All Types of CockatoosUmbrella CockatooCacatua albaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

   Cockatoos are extremely affectionate, their feathers are very soft and they have beautiful colors!

Bird Care and Bird Information - Cockatoos

   On top of that, Cockatoos are very intelligent and inquisitive birds, and they love to show off!

   A Cockatoo will make comical displays with outspread wings, head bobbing, dancing, and loud calls. These birds are very active and curious about their environment. A happy cockatoo spends most of its waking time performing, or examining and manipulating its toys and other cage objects.

   Because of their loving quailties and intelligence, Cockatoos have a very high need for attention, affection, and interaction. A single cockatoo will thrive as your pet only if you devote time and attention to it. You will need to spend a good deal of time playing with it and sharing affections on a regular daily basis.

   However, two pet cockatoos can be ideal if you are not able to devote so much time and attention as the bird will demand. Bored cockatoos are notorious for developing bad habits such as screeching and feather plucking. Having two will help to prevent bad habits from developing by a bored bird.

See these types of cockatoos in the Cockatoo Family


Distribution:    The cockatoos natural habitats are found over large areas of Australia and Indonesia. Cockatoos in the wild are found in three very distinct ranges. They are found in the tropical rainforests which are wet with high temperatures, on the grassy plains, and on the dry savannahs.

Description:   The term "cockatoo" is a Malaysian word thought to have possibly two meanings, "pincher" or "old father". The term 'pincher' is definitely descriptive as the cockatoos have extremely powerful beaks. A cockatoo can take apart or demolish a wooden toy in no time!
   These birds both look and behave differently than any of the other parrots, and are some of the longest lived.

  • Cockatoo Facts:
      These birds both look and behave differently than any of the other parrots, and are some of the longest lived.
    •  Description:
         Cockatoos mostly have a single color plumage, either white or dark. They have "erectile crests", which is a mobile crest of feathers. Their beaks are enormously powerful and they can easily demolish objects.
    • Age and Life Span:
         It is difficult to determine the age of a cockatoo, however young cockatoos will have a beak that is smooth and pale and their plumage will be paler, while an older bird's beak will be darker and have striations and their plumage will have a fuller coloration. Cockatoos are thought to be the longest lived of all parrots with examples cited of the Greater Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo having lived over 100 years.
    • Sex Differences:
        On most species of Cockatoo, the eye iris of the female will become red to red-brown after about two years. This helps to determine the sex of the bird.
        However the eye coloration is not so pronounced on some species. On these birds, the sex must be determined by either a surgical probe, endoscopy, or by a DNA testing. Endoscopy can be done by many veterinarians. DNA testing is done usually with a blood sample or a few plucked feathers that are sent to be diagnosed in a lab.

  • Types of Cockatoos:
       There are 18 species of cockatoo (including the well-know cockatiel) and 37 sub-species, of these only a handful became well known due to importation restrictions.
       Frequently kept types of cockatoos include:
    • Umbrella Cockatoo Cacatua alba, also known as the Umbrella-crested, White-crested, or Greater White-crested Cockatoo
    • Mollucan Cockatoo Cacatua moluccensis
    • Goffin's Cockatoo Cacatua goffini
    • Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea, also know as the Yellow-crested Cockatoo
    • Citron-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata
    • Greater Sulpher-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita galerita, also know as the Sulpher-crested Cockatoo
    • Triton Cockatoo Cacatua galerita triton
    • Bare-eyed Cockatoo Cacatua sanguinea, also known as Little Corella Cockatoo
    • Rose-Breasted Cockatoo Cacatua roseicapilla, also known as the Roseate Cockatoo or the Galah Cockatoo
    • Philippine Cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia, also know as the Red-Vented Cockatoo
    • Goliath Palm Cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus goliath, also know as the Palm Cockatoo or the Goliath Cockatoo

Care and feeding:

  • Bird Food:
       A Cockatoo diet consisting of a basic large hookbill seed mix with supplements of sprouted seeds and all sorts of fruits and vegetables is generally regarded as suitable.
       Some examples of supplements are apples, pears, plums, raisons, oranges, bananas, peaches, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, chickweed, dandelions, and lots more! Do not feed avocado as it is toxic to birds!
       Occasional proteins can be offered such as cottage cheese, bits of cheese, hard boiled eggs, canned dog food, and cooked meat bones. Stay away from highly seasoned, fatty processed meats.
       Vitamins and minerals should not be necessary with a good varied diet except in times of change or stress. If your cockatoo has a tendency to destroy calcium blocks, as an alternative, calcium can be sprinkled on their food about once a week.
  • Water:
       Give you cockatoo fresh drinking water every day.
  • Bird Baths:
       Most cockatoos really do not need to be washed any more than a cat would. This is because they are extremely clean by nature and preen themselves regularly. They naturally produce a great deal of dust which aids in keeping their wings and skin healthy. However, a cockatoo's personal hygiene may include a weekly shower or bath to get rid of accumulated feather dust. For the bird, bathing is strictly an individual preference, as in the wild some cockatoos will enjoy standing in the rain while others will dive for cover.
       Bathing a cockatoo in anything other than plain water can change the pH of its feathers and may lead to troubles such as infections, or parasitic infestations like mites. A shower can be accomplished with either a hand held shower sprayer or a hose with a fine spray head and lukewarm water. A bath pan or ceramic dish 12"-14" (30-35 cm) can be placed on the bottom of the cage or mounted at about 39" (1m) above the floor in an aviary.
  • Bird Grooming:
       If cockatoos are not partnered with another bird, they will need assistance from their owners to preen. Scratch lightly in the direction of the feathers on the top of the heads, the neck area, and other areas they can't reach. This will help remove the clear feather sheaths from new feathers, as these can get itchy and uncomfortable.
       The wings should be kept trim if you want to discourage flight and to prevent the loss of your pet through an open window or door.
      The beak and claws need to be trimmed if they are not worn down from climbing and chewing. A variety of concrete type perches are available to help the keep nails trim, but they should still be trimmed if they become overgrown. Because cockatoos will demolish mineral blocks, lava blocks, and other beak grooming items in a matter of a few minutes, they won't work to keep beaks trim.
   You can find bird seed, bird cages, and everything you need for your pet here: Bird Supplies

Housing:

  • Bird Cages:
       For cockatoos, the larger the enclosure you can provide, the better. The ideal size of any bird cage should be equal to at least 3 flight wingspans of the bird. Anything smaller is detrimental to the bird unless it has freedom outside the cage. A minimum size cage to house a small cockatoo is 27" x 27 " x 39" (70x70x100 cm), which should then be accompanied with regularly outside time for the bird to exercise. For larger cockatoos a larger cage must be considered.
       Horizontal bars are important as your cockatoo needs to climb. Keep in mind that because of the strength of their beaks, cockatoos are able to bend bars and pop the joints on cages. For additional security on the cage door, a snap lock is recommended.
  • Bird Perch:
       Provide one or two perches about 3/4' in diameter and dishes hanging from the side for feed, water, and grit. Try to place the perches away from dishes so the food and water dish do not become soiled with bird droppings. Do not use plastic because your bird will chew and break the plastic and it can become hazardous.
  • Where to Place Bird Cages:
      Your cockatoo is very social and inquisitive, so the room you house your pet in must be a room that gets visited frequently by the family. Place the cage at eye level in a quiet sunny area away from drafts.
  • Aviary:
    • Indoor Aviaries: For a small cockatoo the minimum size of a suitable indoor aviary is about 39" x 39" x 78" (100x100x200 cm), and of course larger for the larger cockatoos.
    • Outdoor Aviaries: An outdoor or breeding aviary needs to have a protected shelter that can be heated and cooled where necessary and have a sand floor. An attached flight cage should be 78" x 117" x 78" (2x3x2 m) for small cockatoos, and of course bigger for larger cockatoos. One third of the flight cage should be covered. Equip the flight cage with a perch at each end. A climbing branch and a bird bath are nice additions too.

Maintenance:    The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes and wiping off the feather dust from the bars and perches. Twice weekly change the bottom trays and replace the soiled litter. Weekly you should wash all the perches and dirty toys and monthly you should clean the entire cage. A total hosing down and disinfecting of an aviary and flight should be done twice a year, replacing anything that needs to be freshened, such as old dishes, toys, perches, and the sand on the floor.

Social Behaviors:   In the wild, all cockatoo species live together in flocks. Some species may flock in groups of only 8-10 birds while others species will flock in the thousands. This high socialization need has a profound affect on cockatoo behavior. If they don't get the necessary attention and interaction they can quickly become bored. A bored cockatoo will often develop bad habits like screaming and feather plucking, and these habits are extremely difficult to break.
   Here are some guidelines to provide the best environment and promote good cockatoo behavior:

  • Keeping Single Cockatoo:
       Intelligent and highly inquisitive, coupled with a great need for companionship, shapes the cockatoo behavior. Cockatoos are constantly active and always up for playing and interacting with a friend. Keeping a single cockatoo will take serious commitment of time and attention from you for your pet to thrive. Each day you will need to spend a good deal of time playing with your cockatoo and sharing affections.
  • Keeping a Pair of Cockatoos:
       Because of their need to socialize, cockatoos are generally best kept in pairs. They also do fine with another bird of similar size for companionship. The main reason for pairing is so that they do not become so dependent on their keeper and their keepers time.
       The drawback to keeping a pair is that the noise will be much greater. Cockatoos love to play and will keep it up all day, but part of their play includes loud calls, which in some cases can turn into long earsplitting shrieks.
  • Cockatoos and Pets:
       Cockatoos and other pets, such as dogs and cats, may or may not develop a friendly relationship with each other. This is generally a "wait and see" situation. Other small animals such as rodents and small birds are best kept away from a cockatoo. If they fall prey to the cockatoo's beak, it can be fatal.
  • Cockatoos and Children:
       Never leave cockatoos unattended with babies or small children! Cockatoos can get very jealous of babies and small children. The child could get attacked by the cockatoo's beak or sharp claws so you should always be on your guard. Cockatoos and older children will often do fine, but even here it's a "wait and see" situation. You won't know for sure how they will get along until the relationship unfolds over time

Handling/Training:    The cockatoo is highly intelligent but they are not know as great talkers. Their ability to repeat some words or sounds can be accomplished with repeated training, but this is not the cockatoo's strength. Their outstanding ability comes from being great performers! This is demonstrated by such antics as dancing, playing tug-of-war, climbing, and shaking.
   Cockatoos will use "tools", various objects and toys to play and perform with, such as roller skating. They are very inventive and if toys are not provided they will use what is at hand. Objects 'at hand' often take the form of their food dishes and perches.

  • Taming Basics:
       To be able to handle and train your cockatoo depends first on trust, so go slowly and be consistent. Taming and training is best done in a room with few distractions. A hand fed baby will not need much taming and can often be handled right away, as it is use to human attention.
  •  Initial Training: 
       Taming proceeds in steps, start with cage taming where you can approach your cockatoo's cage without it jumping off it's perch and heading to an opposite corner. You overcome this by talking to your pet with soothing words and slow gentle movements until it gets accustomed to you.
       Next is hand taming, where your cockatoo will climb on your hand and allow you to carry it around. You can accomplish this by offering it treats from outside the cage until it is comfortable with your hand.
       As your cockatoo becomes comfortable with taking treats from your hand, you then open the cage door and repeat the same process but now you are reaching into it's cage with the treat. Once you've earned it's trust, your cockatoo will begin climbing on your hand and allowing you to pet him.
  • Advanced Training:
      Other training, such as tricks and imitating speech will take patience and repeated efforts.

   For an extensive parrot training system that potentially turns your bird into a fun, loving companion as well as learning lots of cool tricks, try Chet Womach's Parrot Training Course. Remember that taming and training a bird takes patience, never 'punish' your pet! This only serves to destroy the trust you've spent so much time building.

Activities:    Exercise and play are important bird activities for the physical well being and psychological health of all cockatoos. They are extraordinarily playful. Cockatoos will play all day long with only short breaks for rest.
   Getting out of the cage onto a playpen with lots of climbing branches is very important for the emotional well being of your pet. These activities help deter distress and prevent the problems of screeching and feather picking. Provide your parrot with lots of activities in the form of large link chains, bird ladders, parrot swings, ropes, fresh branches for gnawing and chewing, and rotate new bird toys on a regular basis.
   When a new toy is introduced, your cockatoo will approach it warily.The bird will examine with caution and observe it from all sides. Once it has done this, it will accept and play with it for hours.
  Cockatoos that have flight feathers will fly if they out of their cage. If you have a flight aviary, your cockatoo will love to fly between perches widely spaced apart. A cockatoo that is clipped cannot fly so it cannot use a flight aviary. It will take about a year for its feathers to grow back.

Breeding/Reproduction:    Because the cockatoos are threatened with extinction, successful breeding is helping to preserve the species and reduce the number of wild caught birds. There are no breeding regulations in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom, though other countries might have restrictions and you should consult with the authorities in your country before undertaking breeding.
   Breeding cockatoos can be difficult and it is in not recommended for a beginner. The best success in breeding cockatoos in captivity started with the greater sulphur-crested, lesser sulphur-crested, and the rose-breasted cockatoos, though several others are now also being breed successfully.
   Some basics for breeding cockatoos include:

  • Pairing Cockatoos:
       Pet cockatoos have a very difficult time getting used to a mate so are very hard to use for attempts at breeding. Establishing any harmonious cockatoo pair can be difficult. It is best to have several young birds together and let them pair naturally.
  • Sexing Cockatoos:
       Most cockatoo species are easily sexed. The lesser sulphur-crested, greater sulphur-crested, umbrella, Goffin's, rose-breasted and Philippine cockatoos have a red-brown, brown, or chestnut-brown iris in the female after about two years of age. The Mollucan is basically the same except the female iris is dark brown so it can be difficult to distinguish from the slightly darker iris of the male.
       Both sexes of the bare-eyed cockatoo have the dark iris, but the male is a larger bird and the female has more feathering around the eye than the male. Sometimes with the Bare-eyed and the Mollucan you can only be certain if you have them sexed by either a surgical probe, endoscopy, a DNA test, or a chromosonal analysis.
  • Breeding Environment:
      The best environment for breeding cockatoos is accomplished in an aviary.  Place the cockatoo's square nesting box, or a round hollowed out tree trunk of the same approximate size, high in the aviary. On the bottom of the nest box, put a 4" (10 cm) layer of soft bedding such as wood shavings.
      The nesting box for a small cockatoo should be 10"-12" (25-30 cm) wide x 23"-31" (60-80 cm) high, with a hole size of 4" (10-12 cm). For a medium cockatoo it should be 12"-14" (30-35 cm) wide x 31"-39" (80-100 cm) high, with a hole size of 4"-5" (10-12 cm). For the larger cockatoos it should be 14"-18" (35-45 cm) wide x 47"-59" (120-150 cm) high with a hole size of 5"-6" (12-15 cm).
  • Egg Laying and Hatchlings:
    The cockatoo female will lay between 2 to 3 eggs. Brooding, depending on which species, is between 25 to 30 days. The young are naked and blind when hatched and don't open their eyes for several weeks. Hatchlings take between 60 and 100 days to become fully plumed and at that time they will begin to explore outside of the nest. However they will still be dependent for another two to three weeks before ready leave the nest for good.

Potential Problems:    A cockatoo that is well cared for will seldom become ill. Though it is often difficult to determine illness, some visible signs of illness can be plumage that is lusterless, ruffled, or has bare spots. Other signs may be having no appetite, sneezing, discharge from the nostrils, slit eyes instead of round, the bird sleeps a lot resting on both feet instead of having one foot tucked up, develops movements of neurotic screaming, begins feather plucking, and any change in the feces.
   Some of the common illnesses your cockatoo could contract are parasites, intestinal inflammation, coccidiosis, respiratory ailments, feather picking, and parrot fever also known as psittacosis which is not common but is contagious to humans and can be dangerous.
   Isolate the bird in a hospital cage with an infrared lamp placed about 23" (60 cm) distance from the cage. If it does not perk within 24 hours, the ailing parrot should be taken to a avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

   Behavior problems usually stem from something missing in the bird's environment. Cockatoos are particularly vulnerable to feather plucking because of their intense need for socialization. Boredom, lack of trust, lack of interaction with other birds or people can lead to problems like biting, feather plucking, and screaming. Try to develop a bond of trust and spend time with your bird to help avoid these problems. We have also had good success with Chet Womach's Parrot Training Course. He offers free 3-day introductory course so you can try it out before you buy anything.

Availability:    Several cockatoo species are readily available in the pet industry. You should be able to find cockatoos for sale from a pet store. You can also find cockatoos for sale from bird breeders, bird farms, and often on-line. There are many hand fed babies becoming increasingly available.
   Cockatoos are among those birds that are endangered or threatened with extinction. There is an export ban on all birds from Australia, so young birds available for public sale in the United States today are captive bred birds.

Author: Clarice Brough, CAS

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