The cockatoo (family Cacatuidae) are large-bodied parrots with a crest of feathers on top of the head that stands erect when they are 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 suitable pets for families with elementary school-aged and older children. Their jumpy nature and strong bite make them inappropriate for families with young children.
People adopting a cockatoo must realize that having a cockatoo can be like having a small child – forever! These birds are high maintenance both physically and emotionally, as they demand a lot of attention and a great deal of time outside their cages. Without adequate attention, cockatoos sometimes become excessively boisterous and are potentially destructive, chewing on furniture, walls, and other household items.
While these birds love endless coddling, caressing, and hugs, care must be taken to not pet their bodies, and only stroke their heads, as touching their bodies may send an unintended sexual message to the bird and cause sexual frustration. These birds bond strongly with their owners but may become profoundly possessive of them, aggressive, and start to feather pick because they are not mating with the owners to whom they have so fiercely bonded.
Like human toddlers, cockatoos should be placed on a schedule. This allows them to learn to entertain themselves in their cages (with several different toys and types of food to chew on), and they also learn to anticipate attention from their owners at predictable times of the day. Scheduling attention and teaching a cockatoo to occupy itself in its cage are crucial to socializing it properly, particularly after it has reached sexual maturity.
Color: The main color of mature cockatoos is white and depending on the species, various shades of yellow, pink, and orange. A few species are dark gray to black. The legs are dark gray. Immature cockatoos have similar coloring to the adult.
Sexing: Generally, mature male and female cockatoos have few external differences. Mature females of some species have a reddish-brown eye (iris). Males generally have a dark brown or an almost black eye. There are no reliable external sex differences in immature cockatiels.
Weight: Average 10 to 30 ounces (300 to 900 grams), depending on the species.
Size: Average 12 to 27 inches (31 to 70 cm) in length.
Life span: 25 to 45 years (upwards of 70-80 years is possible).
Diet: Commercially formulated, nutritionally balanced pellets should make up the base diet, supplemented with smaller amounts of vegetables and fruit and seed as an occasional treat. Consult your veterinarian for dietary recommendations specific to your bird’s age, activity level, and health status.
This beautiful bird is not generally as talented a talker as some other species of parrots but may be taught some words with repetition and practice. It has a loud, harsh, penetrating voice that may indicate joy or outrage. When alarmed or frightened, cockatoos often give off a peculiar hissing noise as a warning. These birds may scream often and are not recommended for noise-sensitive individuals.
Cockatoos need to chew; therefore, providing a continuous supply of non-toxic wood or cardboard bird-safe toys will afford it many hours of entertainment and likely save household items from being destroyed. Cockatoos also naturally produce a lot of feather dust or powder down from their feathers, so they are not recommended for people with airborne allergies. Misting them daily with water or taking them into the shower can help minimize powder down from shedding off feathers.
Some commonly kept cockatoos include the larger Moluccan (salmon-crested) cockatoo, the greater sulfur-crested cockatoo, and the umbrella (white) cockatoo. Smaller-sized cockatoos include the Goffin’s cockatoo, the lesser sulfur-crested cockatoo, and the citron-crested cockatoo.