(kindly provided by Dr. Rob Marshall - additional information added by Avianweb).
Distribution / Range
Native to Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, there are over 40 species. These can be divided into two main groups – the white cockatoos and the black cockatoos. The species available as pets range from the well-known Sulphur Crested , the Galah, the Major Mitchell, the Red tail Black Cockatoo, to the lesser known White (Umbrella) Cockatoo. Outside of Australia, the Moluccan and Umbrella also make a lovely pets but are rarely kept as pets in Australia due to their expense.
The most obvious external feature of a cockatoo is the erectile crest that raises immediately when alarmed or excited.
When the crest is lowered, the feathers fold back over the head and the crest is hardly visible.
As attractive as the crests are, their major purpose is communication.
- A raised crest can indicate that a cockatoo is displaying for its mate; defending its territory or its flock, calling its flock members; or he or she may be expressing curiosity, excitement, surprise, fear or frustration. For those approaching this parrot -a raised crest may be a warning not to touch them - or else risk being bitten.
- A lowered crest can indicate calmness, friendliness and general approachability.
The strong, heavy beak is used to crack large seeds but can also produce a powerful and destructive bite.
Behavior / Training
Consistent training from a young age will help ensure potential owners enjoy a bird free of this destructive habit. Hand reared male Red Tailed Black Cockatoos are generally less prone to bite and make better pets, especially for younger owners, for this reason. However, these birds require an extremely dedicated owner who is willing to provide significant and meaningful attention to this highly intelligent species.
With a lifespan of up to 120 years with some species, these birds make wonderful life long friends. They have great characters, a “cuddly” nature and enjoy physical interaction with their owner. Birds deprived of this affection may become loud and develop unwanted behaviours.
These friendly birds are good talkers but also possess the ability to make loud screaming noises. For this reason,they can be a challenging bird to keep and therefore require a committed owner who is willing to provide continuing obedience training.
Psittacine beak and feather disease (Circovirus infection or PBFD) is a problem that is frequently encountered in the white cockatoo species. The black cockatoos are less susceptible to this disease. PBFD is chronic and incurable and results in poor feather growth and ultimately, complete feather loss. The beak is also affected and becomes fragile and does not repair itself. Due to its highly contagious nature to other parrot species, it is advisable to avoid any bird suspected of having this condition.
They generally require an aviary no less than four to six metres long by one to two metres wide. The best breeding results are achieved when one pair per aviary is kept. The aviary wire should be a heavy-duty grade, as they can easily chew holes through lighter grade wire. Similarly, the frame should be constructed of steel to avoid the birds chewing the structure away. Hollow eucalypt logs are best suited for nest boxes and should be approximately 30-40 cm in internal diameter and about 1m in length.
- Small Cockatoos: 12-15 wks
- Larger Cockatoo Species: 15 - 18 wks.
- Weaning Foods: table foods mostly with tiny pellets, mixed dried fruit and vegetables; as well as mashed banana and oatmeal. For more information on weaning, please go to this website.
These birds only breed once a year - usually between December and March, when vegetation growth is at its peak and food is readily available.
Courtship & Mating
As part of the courtship behavior, the male ruffles his feathers, spreads his tail feathers, extends his wings, and erects his crest. He then bounces about. Initially, the female ignores or avoids him, but - provided he meets her approval - will eventually allow him to approach her.
Once he is accepted as a mate, they will both preen each other's head and scratch each other around the tail. This serves to strengthen their pair bond. Eventually, the male will mount the female and perform the actual act of mating by joining of the cloacae. For bonded pairs, this ritual is much shorter and the female may even approach the male. Pairs leave their group and find a nesting spot in a tree.
They form a close bond that lasts for a lifetime. If they are separated, they may slip into a deep depression. In absence of a "true" mate, they may accept a caretaker as its mate.
Nesting & Raising of the Young
These parrots generally nest in tree cavities of the largest trees, about 16 - 100 ft (~5 to 30 meters) above the ground.
The average clutch size consists of 2 (occasionally 3) eggs which are incubated for about 30 days. The male and the female share the responsibility of incubating the eggs until they hatch. Generally they raise only one of the chicks, which in most cases is the first one that hatches. However, if that chick is malformed or weak, they will raise the second one.
The young fledge when they are about 3 months old and are fully independent half a month to one month after leaving the nest.
The young reach reproductive maturity when they are 5 to 6 years old.
Diet / Feeding
In their natural habitat, they typically feed on various seeds, nuts and fruits, such as papaya, durian, langsat and rambutan. As they are also feed on corn growing in fields, they do considerable damage and are, therefore, considered crop pests by farmers. (BirdLife International, 2001)
They also eat large insects, such as crickets (order Orthoptera) and skinks.
Captive birds are usually provided a parrot mix containing various seeds, nuts and dried fruits & vegetables. Additionally, they need to be offered lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and branches (with leaves) for chewing and entertainment.
- Please refer to this webpage for information on what to feed these parrots.
Cockatoos as Pests - and Cruel Measures Taken to Eliminate (Cull) Them:
Stephanie Turner pointed out the following: "In Perth, Western Australia, they are planning to 'cull' Corellas; little Corellas & Long Billed. "Police in talks to shoot cockatoos in Maylands river parkland (published in Perth now"... Relevant excerpts: "DEC's senior zoologist Dr Peter Mawson said his department had sought approval from the City of Bayswater to carry out the cull and that police had expressed interest in 'assisting and participating' in the event ... Dr Mawson said the officers will take down the birds using either air rifles or low-powered .22 rifles but specific details are yet to be decided upon."
Please refer to this article about "culling" ... One humane method for reducing the numbers of birds was successfully employed in Germany (Neunkirchen, Saarland). In a park by a river, a habitat was created for the exploding pigeon population. A beautiful treehouse with nesting condos and a feeding station. The food they were fed contained some drug that basically rendered them infertile. The eggs they laid were duds thus resulting in a natural reduction of pigeon numbers. If culling is necessary, a humane solution should be chosen.
These magnificent parrots certainly demand a lot of attention, but are appreciated for their exceptionally loving, devoted personality that is second to none. They require an extremely dedicated owner who is willing to provide significant and meaningful attention to these intelligent parrots. They require consistent training from a young age to ensure potential owners enjoy a bird free of destructive and annoying habits. Behavioral challenges that these parrots present include:
- Excessive Chewing: Any parrot will chew. In nature, they use their beak to "customize" their favorite tree, to enlarge the size of their nest in a tree hollow. Doing this keeps their beaks in good condition. The problem is excessive and undesirable chewing. Undisciplined birds will chew on electric wiring potentially causing house fires. The owner needs to provide plenty of "healthy" chewing opportunities (bird toys, natural wood branches, etc.) and training is necessary to teach this parrot what is "off-limits."
- Biting: Parrots in general are likely to discover their beaks as a method of "disciplining us" once they are out of the "baby stage." It really is important to learn to understand them and to guide their behavior before an undesirable behavior has been established. If this behavior is unchecked, this parrot is likely to be dominating the entire family, chasing and attacking their least favorite humans (usually the ones they deem to be a competitor for their human mate's affection). Training is vital to stop this destructive behavior.
- Screaming: Not everybody can tolerate their natural loud calls, and even though it can't (or should not) be entirely eliminated, there are ways to discourage screaming / screeching in your pet.
Training and behavioral guidance will help your pet be the kind of companion you want it to be ...
- AvianWeb Resources: I put together web resources for you to help you understand your pet bird and properly direct him. Please visit this website for valuable tips on parrot behavior and training. If you found a way to resolve a "parrot behavioral issue" please share it with others.
- If you are, as I am, a visual learner and prefer step-by-step instructions to train your pet, I recommend:
If you are considering one of these magnificent parrots as pets, please visit the following websites for information:
- General Information
- Procuring your Parrot
- The 3 Key Elements to Keep Your Pet Bird Happy & Healthy
- Housing Your Bird
- Bird Nutrition
- Parrot Products
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