For many people these members of the parrot family are the quintessential Australian pet. Nothing says dinky-di like having a sulphur-crested, galah, corella or other native cockatoo riding about on your shoulder. It’s a pity the name ‘cockatoo’ isn’t quintessentially Aussie. Instead, the word originated in Malaysia and means either pincher or old father.
Cockatoos have rare presence. Their large, imposing size, solid colours and expressive crests; their curiousity, sense of adventure and weird antics; their distinct personalities and tremendous capacity for affection; their high intelligence and absolute delight in being touched and scratched on the back of the neck all combine to make cockatoos very, very special pets.
However, we should make it clear right at the beginning that these big birds are not for everyone. Along with their beguiling characteristics are a few that might be considered somewhat less appealing. We also hasten to add that each species differs from the others, as does each individual cockatoo.
Points of difference – Cockatoos live a long time; not a few pet sulphur-cresteds have celebrated their centennials. Also, they mate for life and if not introduced to another cockatoo may very well choose their human companion as their mate. Since cockatoos need about the same amount of attention as a two-year-old child, this relationship can involve a fairly substantial commitment. Where owners are unable to devote enough time and attention, the addition of a second bird will help considerably. Otherwise, a cockatoo left on its own too much will become bored, even emotionally distraught. This, in turn, leads inevitably to feather plucking and a good deal of rather raucous noise.
Cockatoos have formidable pipes and are capable of very penetrating screeches. Mostly, the birds will exercise their vocal chords to announce sunrise and sunset and to let the world know whenever they’re particularly enjoying themselves. But because they tend to be unpredictable, moody and easily slighted, cockatoos can voice their displeasure any old time. If people around you won’t be able to handle sudden, rather jolting screeching, your otherwise harmonious domestic situation could become somewhat uncomfortable.
Cockatoos are incredibly clever and find mechanical things like locks on cages a challenge they’re happy to accept…and surmount. Unable to resist the lure of the unknown, they will take every opportunity to tour your entire residence. Unfortunately, their enormously powerful beaks combined with a constant need of wood to gnaw and shred often turn these jaunts into regular search-and-destroy missions. And nothing is sacred, not the colonial sideboard that’s been in the family for 180 years, that very expensive leather coat you simply couldn’t resist in Milan or anything else you especially treasure. Forget discipline: many (if not most) cockatoos take “No!” to mean, “Try again later when no one’s looking.”
Incidentally, people who’ve been foolish enough to investigate report that the bite of a cockatoo is worse than that of any other parrot, thanks in part to their lower beak having two points rather than just one.
In the wild – Cockatoos are found naturally over wide areas of Australia and Indonesia in three very distinct ranges: tropical rainforests, grassy plains and dry savannahs. Although all cockatoos live together in flocks, some species prefer smaller groups of only eight to 10 birds while others feel more comfortable in the company of thousands. The huge size of such flocks along with the birds’ hearty appetites and fondness for seeds have made them less-than-popular visitors to farmers’ fields. Unfriendly reaction to their plundering, loss of habitat and a fair amount of brazenness have seen cockatoos move into well-populated areas of the country, like the Peninsula.
Because all native birds are protected in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, you should check out the website of the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. You do not need a licence to keep sulphur-crested cockatoos, galahs, long-billed corellas or little corellas, but you are not allowed to trap them in the wild.
Male or female, young or old – Visually sexing cockatoos can be a challenge. With the darker species, notably the various black cockatoos, working out their sex is pretty straightforward. The males have black beaks while the females’ beaks are white or horn-colored. However, visual sexing of the lighter-coloured cockatoos tends to be more problematic. With the larger species eye colour is most often used as an indicator: males have black or dark brown irises, the females are lighter brown, reddish brown or burgundy.
But because females develop their eye colour as they mature, a bird may be three to four years old before this technique can be applied. Corellas and other smaller cockatoos are next to impossible to sex visually. With these birds the eye colour seems to vary by individual rather than by sex.
If you absolutely, positively must know the sex of a bird, then either a surgical probe or DNA from a blood sample or a few plucked feathers is the best route, for both adult and immature birds. We can arrange either procedure. Of course, if you’re in no hurry, you can always wait to see which bird lays an egg.
Determining the age of a cockatoo can also be challenging, but there are a few clues that can help. The beak of a young bird will be smooth while that of an older bird will be darker and marked with striations. Where the plumage of young birds is pale, adult cockatoos have a deeper, richer colouration. And, as just mentioned, on most species the iris of the female will become red to red-brown after about two years.
Varieties – There are nearly 20 species of cockatoo and almost twice as many sub-species, many of which are found in this country. We’re including some information about the cockatoos we’re most likely to see at PAH. Since no one has ever brought us a western long-billed corella or any of the black cockatoos, nor do we anticipate such visits, we’ve seen fit to omit them.
Sulphur-crested (Cacatua galerita galerita) – In case nobody’s ever told you, these are those big, white birds you see and hear up and down the Peninsula…and all along the eastern coast and Tasmania. (Another sub-species can be found in Northern Australia.) Before invading the suburban parks and backyards of Sydney and Canberra, sulphur-crested cockatoos were much more common inhabitants of lowland forests, open woodland and farming country farther inland. During the breeding season they tend to group in pairs or small family parties. The rest of the year they form flocks numbering several hundred birds. They prefer to nest close to water in a hollow limb or hole in a tree, generally high up.
Once upon a time they were quite happy to feed on native seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, flowers, leaf buds and roots with occasional supplements of insects and their larvae for protein. Then Europeans came along and cleared a lot of the birds’ natural habitat to plant crops. It didn’t take long for payback time. Although sulphur-cresteds do feast on seeds sown by farmers, they also eat a considerable amount of weed seeds. Nevertheless, they are considered pests in crop-growing areas, especially in Western Australia where great numbers are culled. As a means of self-protection, sulphur-cresteds have evolved an early warning system. While the majority of the flock feeds on the ground, a few birds stand sentinel duty atop surrounding trees. At the first sign of danger, these lookouts rise into the air screeching loudly, followed smartly by the rest of the flock. (The same arrangement as illegal two-up games.)
Sulphur-cresteds owe their name to that distinctive yellow plume of feathers atop their heads. It’s not just decoration; they raise and lower their crests to communicate. The underside of their wings and tail feathers are similarly coloured. They also have a white, unfeathered area around each eye, pale yellow earspots, grey-to-black beaks and grey legs. The eyes of the male are dark brown to black; females’ are reddish brown or deep burgundy.
If you’re considering getting a sulphur-crested, the bottom line is that they are very large, long-lived, intelligent, demanding, noisy and destructive. And despite the sizeable number kept as pets in this country, they really are not suitable for most households.
Corellas – We have three species in Australia: the eastern long-billed (Cacatua tenuirostris), bare-eyed or little corella (Cacatua sanguinea sanguinea) and western long-billed (Cacatua pastinator pastinator). Here’s a little more information about the two we see at PAH.
Eastern long-billed corella. Sometimes called the slender-billed corella, long-billed cockatoo, blood-stained cockatoo or cut-throat, this irrepressible species has been protected for the past 30 or so years. As a result, a once-declining population is now approaching pre-European numbers. While their range may not be vast, long-billed corellas are quite common in the open and riverine forests, woodlands and farmlands of south-central Victoria and south-western New South Wales. During the summer months flocks of up to 2,000 birds will get together to take advantage of bounteous food supplies. When the breeding season arrives in July, pairs break away to form much smaller groups close to nesting sites, usually hollows high in living gum trees handy to a water source. The long-billed’s typical day starts with an early drink of water followed by a visit to nearby feeding areas, which could well be crops under cultivation. During the heat of the day they retire to shady trees for a siesta. Then in the late afternoon they will feed again before returning to their roosting sites.
When feeding, corellas move across fields in a kind of Mexican wave, the birds to the rear continually flying to the front to get to the freshest pickings. This is where that unique elongated upper mandible that gives them their name comes into play. The birds use it to plow furrows in the ground to uncover hidden delicacies. Although the bill grows quickly, regular use keeps it from becoming overgrown. Of course, using the bill this way brings the birds into rather intimate contact with the soil, resulting in soiled under-feathers. Like sulphur-cresteds, corellas will use a sentinel warning system to alert their feeding brethren of approaching danger.
The long-billed corella is a relatively small cockatoo, averaging 35 to 41 centimetres at maturity. They are almost entirely white with strong orange-pink lores and a similarly coloured collar on the upper breast. When they spread their wings, you’ll see a tinge of yellow underneath and a stronger yellow suffusion below the tail. Look closely and you should also see pink at the base of some other feathers. These corellas have a short, square-ended tail, pointed wings and a large, rounded head with a very short crest and an elliptical, pale blue, unfeathered eye-ring. The iris is dark brown, and their legs and the bill featuring that extremely long upper mandible are grey.
Their natural diet consists of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, roots and bulbs as well as insects and their larvae. And, much to displeasure of farmers, they will also tuck into newly sown grain and ripening crops, including sunflower seeds, onion grass corms and cereal grains.
Smart and full of personality, eastern long-billed corellas make excellent pets and frequently demonstrate why many consider them the clowns of Australian cockatoos. However, they also possess a well-developed mischievous streak and you would be well-advised not to leave one unattended outside its cage for any longer than a split second. Their normal vocalizations include a quavering contact call and some squeaky conversational notes. However, they will let loose an ear-piercing shriek when upset or alarmed. On the subject of their vocal capabilities, long-billeds have earned a reputation for being the best talkers of Australian cockatoos.
Little corella. Abundant especially in the far north and arid interior of mainland Australia, this is the most widely distributed of the three corella species native to this country. Little (or bare-eyed) corellas show a real knack for adapting and can be found in all sorts of habitats where water is handy. Open grassland, mango swamps, open woodlands, scrubland and semi-desert regions will all do just fine. They’ve also adapted quite well to farmlands, isolated homesteads and country towns, particularly where grain silos rise from the landscape. When not breeding they form flocks of several thousand birds, sometimes including galahs and other cockatoos. Needless to say, they can have a profound impact on crops. Like the long-billeds, little corellas usually nest in a hollow limb or trunk of a eucalyptus tree, which they generally use several years in a row.
In recent times as more land as been cleared and sources of water have increased, the little corella has established isolated but rapidly expanding populations along the east coast with growing pockets in the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and around Sydney. Don’t be surprised if you hear some of these birds talking; escaped or deliberately released cage birds are continually augmenting local little corella populations.
As their name suggests, little corellas are smaller than the other two corella species, growing 35 to 39 centimetres in length. Like the long-billed, both sexes are mostly white with sulphur-yellow colouring on the underwing and beneath the tail. They also have a small crest, fleshy blue eye-ring and grey to white beak, but instead of a bright orange-pink patch between the eye and bill, the little corella’s is a pale rose-pink. They, too, are capable of deafening screeches.
And like long-billeds, little corellas require water daily and feed mainly on the ground. Their diet consists of seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, blossoms, roots, insects and their larvae. An increase in agricultural crops in many areas has led inexorably to an increase in little corella numbers, to the point where they’re considered pests. Their image has also taken a beating in suburban areas where they routinely dine at garbage tips.
Galah (Eolophus roseicapillus) – Known overseas as the rose, rose-breasted or roseate cockatoo, these small, extremely gregarious cockatoos live in pairs, small groups or flocks of several hundred birds. Originally, they were found mainly in savannah woodlands and open grasslands all over the interior, but, as you’ve probably noticed, they’ve extended their range to many urban areas, even nesting in trees in parks and gardens. Said nest will be in a hollow of a tree, usually a eucalyptus. Before settling to roost for the night, they often put on their own spectacular little air shows, streaking through tree branches and spiralling down to near ground level then twisting up and banking before landing in a tree. To make sure no one in the neighbourhood misses these aerobatic antics, they accompany their manoeuvres with emphatic screeching. When not performing, galahs make cute but very high-pitched sounds unlike any other cockatoos.
Galahs feed in morning and late afternoon. Their natural menu includes seeds, grain, roots, green shoots, leaf buds and insects and their larvae, but they also quite enjoy the young shoots of wheat as well as ripening crops. Beyond causing considerable damage to farm plantings, galahs even attack grain stores. Between breakfast and dinner, they while away their idle time in the shade of a tree or a bush stripping off bark and/or leaves.
For their body size, galahs have rather long, non-tapering tails and a wide wing span. As you can see from the photos, the back, wings and tail are all grey, varying from a deep charcoal to a very light fog shade. Their rump is lighter grey to pearl. The throat and breast are a rich, rosy red colour. There is pink under the wings and occasionally on the top of the shoulder. When raised, the very light pink crest is higher at the front. Within a grey, unfeathered eye-ring the male has a dark brown to black iris and the female one which is reddish orange-brown. The rather small beak is whitish/pearl and the feet grey.
Perhaps to compensate for all the greyness, galahs are loaded with personality. They are fun-loving, independent, feisty and full of themselves, unafraid of anyone they run across. They enjoy dancing and swinging from ropes or anything else handy. The rather elaborate courtship display of the male features an energetic dance with crest raised and head swinging from side. If he feels his lady’s attention waning, he will break off a twig and wave this about as well. As you can well imagine, galahs can make extremely entertaining pets. They freely make friends with other (receptive) birds, household pets and children. Because of a deeply ingrained mischievious nature, you should keep a close eye on such interactions at all times. If you have household plants you’re particularly fond of, you’ll have to take appropriate precautions to protect them from total demolition. You can teach some galahs to speak words, but their voice will probably sound more like Donald Duck’s than yours.
As a ground feeder, the galah is used to relying on its beak as a sensory organ. So it’s only natural that they use it to touch and taste and feel everything. So don’t be surprised if yours tries to remove every mole and freckle on your body. They also use that little beak to indicate when they’re desirous of more patting, skritching or kissing. Since it’s quite sharp, you could end up being inadvertently nipped.
Like all birds deprived of the exercise they would normally get in the wild, galahs should have a low-fat diet. If you buy a pelleted food, check the ingredient breakdown to be sure it is no more than 4% fat. Supplement that with fresh foods, greens, fruits, vegetables, bean mixes and pasta. Chicken, lamb and steak bones can also be fed on occasion. The wider the variety of food you offer, the more you keep your bird’s interest piqued.
Major Mitchell (for years Cacatua leadbeateri leadbeateri in the east and C. l. mollis in the central and western parts of Australia, now classified as the monotypic genus Lophocroa instead of Cacatua) – Called the pink or Leadbeater’s cockatoo by some, most people here know this gorgeous bird as the Major Mitchell, named for the 19th century explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell. These cockatoos are often found in pairs or family groups, but where food is plentiful they’ve been spotted in flocks of up to several hundred individuals, sometimes mixed with galahs and even corellas. Major Mitchells are most often seen high up in the branches of salmon gums and similar large eucalypts.
Their widespread but patchy distribution through much of inland Australia gives a hint at the problems this species faces in the wild. They have a strong preference for the semi-arid zones all across mainland Australia, shunning the more arid and the humid coastal areas. While Major Mitchells can appear common in some localised areas, for the most part they are relatively rare. In Queensland where changes in land use have had a significant effect on its distribution, this species is certainly on the decline.
Many of the large, old eucalypts needed by Major Mitchells to breed in have been cut down and cleared. Compounding the problem is the need by nesting pairs for two kilometres of exclusive territory around their nest site. While there could be several suitable sites within this zone, the dominant pair will prevent others from breeding. Major Mitchells also don’t help the cause of their survival by being reluctant to fly across large, cleared areas of land. By confining themselves to remnant bush or undisturbed areas outside the agricultural zone, they seem to be limiting their days. Other current threats they face include egg poachers, feral cats and competition with galahs for nest hollows.
All it takes is one look to see the Major Mitchell has to be the most beautiful of all cockatoos. Growing to about 35 centimetres in length and weighing 350 to 400 grams, they feature a subtle, salmon pink head and breast offset by bleached white wings and crown, which is capped by that distinctive crest of brilliant scarlet and yellow. (While the crest of leadbeateri reveals a significant yellow band, that of mollis contains much less yellow.) Their beak and legs are a whitish colour. Although both sexes of the Major Mitchell look quite similar, towards the end of the first year the hen will develop a pink-reddish brown iris while the cock’s is dark brown to black.
In the wild Major Mitchells feed on seeds, fruits, nuts and tubers from a variety of native plants, especially acacia and several of the cyprus or pine (Callitris) species. Pets should receive a similarly varied diet. Supplement a good quality small parrot mix with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Some meat such as cooked chop or chicken bones is important, especially during the breeding season. Eucalypt branches or pine cones go a long way towards relieving boredom.
Because of their striking appearance, Major Mitchells have always been very desirable avian pets. However, while some owners will unreserveably sing the praises of their birds, others report that after highly enjoyable early years, their Majors became aggressive and noisy as they reached maturity (around seven years of age). It may well be that the novelty of owning this most spectacular of cockatoos had also worn off about the same time, resulting in owners paying less attention to their birds. Thus, the aggressiveness and screeching could be a manifestation of resulting boredom and resentment. In any event, Major Mitchells need more not less attention to keep them from becoming dominant as they mature. You should also be aware that these birds are among the more destructive chewers and their unmistakable stuttered, falsetto cry can be truly impressive.
Gang Gang (Callocephalon fimbriatum) – Although traditionally linked to the black cockatoo group, recent biochemical work has shown these birds to be more closely related to galahs and white cockatoos. The distribution of this unique species, aka the red-crowned and red-headed cockatoo, is pretty much limited to south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. During the warmer months when they breed, gang gangs are found in family groups mainly in higher altitude, old-growth eucalypt forests. Not unsurprisingly, these cockatoos also show a preference for hollows high in eucalypt trees. They feed mainly on the seeds of forest gums and wattles, supplementing their diet with other plant material and insects. As winter approaches they tend to form larger flocks and move down into lower altitude woodlands, even into settled areas such as Canberra. It’s not uncommon during the colder months to see flocks of 20 or more gang gangs feasting on cotoneaster and hawthorn berries all around the A.C.T.
This Australian mutation provides one instance where male and female cockatoos can easily be distinguished from each other. Both sexes measure about 35 centimetres in length, weigh roughly 250 grams and generally have grey bodies, legs and beak. Flights and tails will typically be a darker colour than other feathers. Occasionally the flights will appear almost grey-brown and the chest an off-white colour. And there the visual similarities end.
The fellow with the red head and whispy crest pictured above is unquestionably a mature male. What you can’t see from the photo are his lower abdomen feathers, some of which are barred with orange and white, or the underside of his tail feathers, which are a red-brown or chocolate colour. His feet, like his beak, are light coloured. Females, as clearly shown in the photo to the left, lack the males’ red-coloured head and crest and have significantly lighter feathers. Not shown at all are immature birds, who look like the hen except for some red scalloping of the head feathers in young males.
The gang gang is not widely kept in Australian aviculture; in fact, we’ve yet to see our first one as a patient at PAH. However, this situation could well change as the availability of aviary-bred stock increases. When hand-raised, they make fine pets. As with all birds, you should vary the diet to ensure it’s both balanced and interesting. Include different seeds such as wheat, hulled oats, millet and canary (especially good) as well as a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruit. Gang gangs should also get animal protein in the form of chicken or chop bones, mealworms or other grubs. Many birds seem to have a calcium absorption problem and require supplements of this mineral in their drinking water.
One food source to stay away from are sunflower seeds, which are generally believed responsible for significant feather plucking problems. Speaking of which, gang gangs should be kept well supplied with fresh branches of eucalypts and other native trees to help avoid boredom which leads inevitably to feather plucking. This is a problem pet gang gangs are particularly prone to.
Housing – It used to be that when you bought a cocky, you automatically bought a large cage of galvanised iron wire at the same time. And that was that. However, there are several important factors to consider when buying a cage for a cockatoo. First, it must be large enough to allow your bird to flap its wings without hitting the bars. There should be adequate room for it to move about and jump from one perch to another and climb the (horizontal) bars. Ideally, the cage should be wider and deeper rather than taller. The minimum size for a small cockatoo like a galah or corella is 70 x 70 x 100 centimetres. For larger cockatoos you should get a larger cage.
It should be strong, too. Very strong. A cockatoo’s beak is powerful enough to bend bars and pop joints. Basically, you have the choice of stainless steel or iron. Not only does stainless have the advantages of being strong, easier to clean and free of paint that can chip off, they look pretty good as well. Unfortunately, stainless steel cages are pretty dear. However, because they’ll outlast several iron cages, you should come out ahead in the long run. And, as we’ve pointed out, owning a cockatoo is invariably a long-run thing.
Finally, the cage should be secure. Cockatoos are fiendishly clever and have been known to undo bolts and locks and even dismantle their cages. If the cage features feeder doors, they’ll need to be protected as well. Look for a design that prevents your bird from either reaching the doors or being able to open them.
Furnishings. Perches should be native branches of varying thicknesses to exercise the feet and help prevent foot problems. The natural roughness of such branches also helps your bird keep its beak and nails trim. If you use a cement perch instead, make sure it’s not the one your cocky sleeps on. (Do not use sandpaper perches; they’re harmful to a bird’s feet.) Position the perches so that your bird can jump from one to another but not where the droppings can fall onto food bowls or other perches. Most birds like a high perch for sleeping, so you should put one towards the top, rear of the cage. It’s the rare cockatoo who also doesn’t enjoy a swing to play on.
You should use at least three food dishes: one for soft foods and treats, another for dry foods and the third for water. You’ll discover it’s much less hassle to change food and water when there is access from the outside. This way you avoid opening the main cage door and disturbing your bird, and you don’t have to clean up after he or she overturns the food and/or water dish. (Which he or she invariably will do.)
You only have to watch a cockatoo eat once to realise that their table manners are deplorable. Food goes everywhere. Some cages come with devices which surround the outside of the cage and are designed to catch food and debris. But as you’ve probably surmised by now, cockatoos only see that as a challenge. So even if you do opt for a seed catcher, be prepared to tidy up around the cage on a regular basis.
Toys. From a physical standpoint, cockatoos are active birds and need regular exercise to keep their muscles in good condition. From the psychological side, cockatoos are also very intelligent and need diversions to keep them from becoming bored and distressed which, in turn, leads to screeching and feather plucking. This is especially true when a bird is left alone for a good part of the day.
The solution is pretty simple. Provide your cocky with lots of activities in the form of ladders, swings, ropes and large link chains, as well as fresh branches for gnawing and chewing. To help keep your bird even more interested, rotate the toys on a regular basis. It’s fun to watch your bird when you introduce a new toy. He or she will approach warily then cautiously examine it from all sides. Once satisfied, a cockatoo will play with the toy for hours and hours with only short time-outs to rest.
Because cockatoos are so social and inquisitive, you should put the cage in a room that sees a lot of activity. The best location is a quiet, sunny area away from drafts, sudden temperature changes and cooking fumes. Birds also feel safer being able to look down on things, so placing the cage at eye level or higher will increase its comfort zone, as will covering the cage at night.
Maintenance. There are a number of chores which must be carried out on a regular basis. Every day you should clean the water and food dishes and wipe feather dust from the bars and perches. Twice weekly you should change the bottom trays and replace the soiled litter. Once a week you should wash all the perches and dirty toys. Then every month you should clean the entire cage. If you have an aviary and flight, you should thoroughly hose and disinfect it twice a year, replacing anything that needs replacing, such as old dishes, toys, perches and, of course, the sand on the floor.
Grooming. A cockatoo should have a shower or bath of luke-warm water every week to get rid of its accumulated feather dust and keep its plumage in good shape. You can use either a hand-held plant spray or a hose with a fine-spray head to gently mist your bird. Alternatively, you can put a heavy ceramic dish (30-35 centimetres in diameter) on the bottom of the cage. Your cocky will know what to do from there.
To discourage flight and to prevent escape through an open window or door, it’s a good idea to trim both your bird’s wings. The beak and claws should also be trimmed if they haven’t worn down naturally from climbing and chewing. Forget mineral blocks, lava blocks and other such commercial beak-grooming products. They’ll be demolished way too quickly to do any good.
Feeding – We’ve already given you an idea of what the different cockatoo species should be fed. Along with a good quality mix that has been specially formulated for cockatoos or large parrots, you should add sprouted seeds and all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, plums, sultanas, oranges, bananas, peaches, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, chickweed and dandelions are just a few suggestions that should go down well. And now you can even buy assorted native nuts like those shown here.
On occasion you can also offer proteins 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. When you do give your bird human food, be very careful about temperature of the food. As long as you’re providing a good, varied diet, vitamin and mineral supplements shouldn’t be necessary, except in times of change or stress. Instead of calcium blocks, which cockatoos destroy in no time, you can sprinkle this mineral on your bird’s food about once a week. And make sure they always have a fresh supply of water available.
Important! Avocado, chocolate and caffeine are poisonous to all birds. Aerosols, tobacco smoke, Teflon and other chemical fumes can also prove fatal. The same goes for some house plants.
Behaviour – Highly social birds, cockatoos can be quite demanding when it comes to companionship. The best way to keep yours from becoming too dependent on his or her principal human and monopolising that person’s time is to add a second bird, either another of the same species or one of a similar size. While doing this might seem to double the potential for noise, the fact is contented cockatoos are much less likely to indulge in that sort of continuous, ear-splitting shrieking symptomatic of cockies who feel slighted and unloved.
If you have other pets like dogs and cats, it’s possible your cockatoo(s) could establish friendly relations with them. Then again, they might not. You’ll just have to wait and see. However, you definitely should keep smaller animals such as rodents and small birds away from any cockatoo. That beak can be fatal. Because of their sensitivity, cockatoos can become extremely jealous of babies and small children. Never, ever leave them together unattended. In most cases, cockatoos do fine with older children, but you won’t know for certain until the relationship has had time to develop.
As we explained above, exercise and play are important activities for the physical and psychological health of all cockatoos. One sure sign that your cockatoo is both fit and happy is when he or she spends most waking hours performing, or examining and manipulating toys and other cage objects and inventing new games. Contented cockies also love to show off by dancing, bobbing their heads, hanging upside down with outspread wings and calling loudly.
As well as being highly active, cockatoos are very curious about their environment. The problem is, once free of the confines of their cages, they can be powerful flyers. And unlike other pet birds you might be used to, cockatoos have short tails and therefore are unable to stop quickly when flying. The risk of serious injury from crashing into walls or windows provides another good reason to have its wings clipped. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, we can do it for you. The feathers will regrow in about a year.
Training – You won’t get very far until your cockatoo trusts you. Implicitly. Buying a hand-raised baby means your bird will already be used to human contact, and training will be that much easier. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to spend time just to get over a new cockatoo’s tendency to jump off its perch and retreat to the most distant corner of the cage whenever you approach. Besides time, taming and training take patience. Lots of it.
As with most animals you should move slowly and not make any sudden movements. Start by talking with your new friend until it lets you approach the cage without taking evasive action. Next comes hand taming. Offer treats from outside the cage until your bird becomes used to your hand. Then open the cage door, slowly reach in and do the same thing. At no point should you ever punish your pet; this will just undo the rapport you’ve spent so much time building.
Once you’ve earned its trust, your cockatoo will begin climbing on your hand and allowing you to pet him or her. Cockatoos form such strong bonds with their human(s) that they will work for love rewards. In return they expect lots of attention. Even if you go out for just a short while, your cockatoo will expect to be greeted and/or scratched as soon as you walk back in the door.
You should consider cockatoos who talk a bonus. Aside from some individual corellas, cockatoos are not usually the best talkers of the parrot family. Those who do learn tend to have limited vocabularies and poor enuciation. Chances are though, yours will provide so much entertainment performing tricks that you’ll never miss a bit of chat.
Health – Well-cared-for cockatoos seldom become ill. Those that do will most likely be bothered by parasites, intestinal inflammation, coccidiosis or respiratory ailments. You’ve also probably heard of parrot fever (psittacosis). While cockatoos are susceptible and the disease can be both dangerous and contagious to humans, it is not common. Conversely, a healthy cockatoo can pose a threat to some people. The bird’s skin produces a fine, white powder which causes reactions with some allergy sufferers.
If your cockatoo does become ill, telltale signs include plumage that loses lustre, looks ruffled or shows bare areas; loss of appetite; sneezing or discharge from the nostrils; slitted eyes plus excess sleeping, using both feet instead of tucking one up. Some sick cockies will start to pluck their feathers, move oddly and start screaming neurotically. Any change in the feces can also be a sign of illness.
If your bird shows any of these symptoms, isolate it in a hospital cage with an infrared lamp placed about 60 centimetres away. If it does not perk up within 24 hours, bring your cocky to us for diagnosis and treatment.
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). Although strains of the virus affect pigeons, doves, finches and seagulls, this is predominately a disease of parrots, in particular sulphur-crested cockatoos and lorikeets. Younger birds tend to be more susceptible than older birds. In the wild as many as 30 to 40% of parrots may carry PBFD.
Affecting the skin and immune system, the disease manifests itself through a host of feather abnormalities including loss, breakage, discolouration and pinching or narrowing. Loss of feathers not only means the birds cannot fly, they also lose insulation. In many – but not all – cases, beaks may be overgrown, deformed or fractured. In time these birds will starve or succumb to secondary infection.
Because feather abnormalities can have many causes, the only reliable method of diagnosing PBFD involves blood tests. However, positive results don’t necessary indicate the bird has developed the disease; it still could be shedding the organism. Some birds can either clear the virus from their systems or continously shed it. But almost all birds with clinical symptoms testing positive will eventually die from the disease or secondary infections. A few, usually lorikeets, recover.
While the actual virus can be killed by chlorine disinfectants, there is no treatment for the disease.