The Cockatoo (family Cacatuidae) is a large bodied parrot with a crest of feathers on top of the head that stands erect when the bird is alarmed or excited. These natives of mainland Australia and surrounding islands are most widely treasured as desirable companions because of their intelligence and incredibly affectionate nature. They are a suitable family pet as long as it is appreciated they can be like caring for a small child - forever! This is a high maintenance bird both physically and emotionally as they demand a lot of attention. They enjoy endless coddling, caressing and hugs, hence their nickname of “Love Sponges”. However this sort of attention may well ultimately result in inappropriate pair bonds and behavioural problems. No matter how cuddly they appear it is vital to maintain an appropriate owner-pet relationship. Only stroke and scratch your bird’s head and feet and never offer food from your mouth. You must be their best friend and not cross the line, where your stroking and interactions, that you regard as normal, are misinterpreted by your bird, causing them to think of you as their lover or life partner.
They are extremely destructive and should not be left unattended in the house. These beautiful birds are not as talented talkers as other parrots. They have a loud, harsh, penetrating voice that may indicate joy or outrage. When alarmed or frightened, Cockatoos give off a peculiar hissing noise as a warning. Cockatoos love to chew, therefore, providing a continuous supply of non-toxic fresh branches, leaves and flowers and pet-safe toys will afford many hours of entertainment for your bird. The safest natural branches to use are Australian native species such as Eucalypts (gum trees), Callistemon (Bottlebrush), Grevillea, Hakea, Banksia., Casuarina (She-oaks). Most exotic trees and shrubs are toxic and should not be offered to your bird – safe exceptions are apple, pear, elm, ash, maple, willow, pine trees and Jacaranda. Cockatoos naturally produce a lot of feather dust or powder down from their feathers.
Some commonly kept Australian Cockatoos include the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Galah, Gang Gang, Long-billed Corella, Short-billed Corella, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. As well some of the exotic cockatoos are kept – the Moluccan (Salmon-crested) Cockatoo and Umbrella (White) Cockatoo.
Cockatoos are extremely intelligent and self-absorbed birds, but there is a wide variation in temperament between individuals. They love being groomed by their owners and can be very affectionate in return. Cockatoos are extremely demanding as they need a large amount of variation in their environment and mental stimulation to avoid boredom. Owners need patience and perseverance to teach them to play independently at a very young age. If this is not leaned they become extremely dependent on their owner and will develop undesirable behaviours whenever their owners are absent - a classical form of separation anxiety. If their psychological needs are not met they usually develop abnormal behaviours such as screaming and/or severe feather-picking or self-mutilation. Because they have powder-down feathers, they produce large volumes of powder in their plumage. This may be a problem for allergy and asthma sufferers.
"Cockatoos are extremely demanding as they need a large amount of variation in their environment and mental stimulation to avoid boredom."
Traits of the common species available in Australia and New Zealand are covered below:
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo: Many of these birds are too intelligent to suit the captive environment people offer them.. As a result of the poor housing and treatment, large numbers present to veterinarians with behaviour problems. These unfortunate birds can be affectionate to the extent of being a problem. There is a large individual variation - they are not known for being clear speakers, and can be anything from good to poor talkers.
Galah: These birds can be highly strung, so are more suited a quiet environment. They easily develop strong bonding to their owner, similar to Sulphur-crested cockatoos and develop the same range of problems. Galahs are usually poor talkers. The sounds they make are more like mumbling than true speech.
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo & Corellas: The temperament of these birds is a mix between the Sulphur- crested cockatoo and the Galah. They can be extremely affectionate and develop a strong bond with their owners. They are not known as good talkers. Their major concern is that they love to chew furniture and other objects. They can be quite destructive.
Black Cockatoos: These birds are similar to the Sulphur-crested cockatoo but they are not as determined. They can be normally very noisy and easily become screamers if they are not handled properly. As with all the other cockatoos, they bond strongly to their owners. They are becoming more common as pets in Australia and New Zealand, particularly the Yellow-tailed cockatoo and the Red-tailed cockatoo.
Purchasing a Cockatoo
Cockatoos may be purchased from a pet shop or, better, a reputable breeder. When selecting a parent-reared cockatoo, try to choose a young bird as it may be easier to tame and train. Older, wild, colony or parent raised birds may prove difficult to tame. Hand raised babies often make better pets since they have been completely socialised with humans however this process may adversely affect behavioural development predisposing to overbonding and feather destructive disorders. It is possible now to obtain birds that have been parent-reared until they are due to exit the nest (thus entering an important socialization phase), then hand-reared to weaning. Importantly having a captive-bred bird means that the wild bird population is not threatened further by catching and importing wild birds. This practice is bad both for the bird captured and transported as well as for the dwindling population left in the wild. Your new bird should be exposed early to different events (young and old people, males and females, other pets, car trips, visits to the vet, etc.) to help promote a calm, well-adjusted pet. The lively, alert bird that is not easily frightened is more likely a healthy bird. After purchasing your new bird, have it examined by your vet.
Cockatoos require regular, routine veterinary health check-ups. Your veterinary surgeon can perform a physical examination, grooming (beak, nail or feather trim ) and laboratory tests as needed. During these semi-annual check-ups, health, nutritional and maintenance issues can be identified and addressed. Veterinary check-ups help prevent disease and will aid in the maintenance of a long lasting, healthy relationship between you and your bird.
In the larger (Cacatua spp) mature males have black/dark brown irises while immature birds and females have pink, red or light brown irises. There are some exceptions to this (!) so sexing should be performed by laparoscopy or DNA sexing (blood or feathers)
- minimum 90 cm x 90 cm x 120 cm (3 ft x 3 ft x 4 ft).
- Aim for as large a cage as you can so your bird can fly and flap its wings without causing itself any damage. It is always a shame and pity to see such large birds in small cages.
- cage or aviary wire should be constructed from 2.5cm square x 14 gauge, hot-dipped, galvanized, weldmesh sheets. Cockatoos should be unable to chew through this – but maintain close observation just in case!
- need a very strong sturdy cage to withstand the powerful beaks
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