Considering adding a new avian member to your family? You might be thinking about a cockatoo, as they are one of the most popular types of pet birds. While all birds have distinct personalities, there are some common threads that run through the cockatoo’s behavior and care requirements. Find out what you need to know before you bring a cockatoo home.
Cockatoo Species Snapshot
Types of Cockatoos
Cockatoos are large hookbill parrots. There are over 20 species of cockatoos, each with their own behaviors and personalities. In general, they are highly social and, in the wild, will forage in flocks as large as 100 birds.
Cockatoos come in different varieties, including:
Major Mitchell cockatoo
The average pet cockatoo is 20 inches long, including their crest of narrow, forward-curving feathers on the head.
Lifespan of a Cockatoo
Cockatoos live 20–40 years in the wild, and up to 70 years or more as pets. Proper care is essential for your pet cockatoo to live a long, healthy life.
How Much Is a Cockatoo?
A typical cockatoo will cost anywhere from $600–$1,500, with rarer types skyrocketing into the thousands.
Sadly, due to their long lifespans, behavioral issues, and loudness, many cockatoos get re-homed—sometimes multiple times throughout their life. It’s recommended to adopt a cockatoo in need. Search for local parrot rescue group near your hometown, which often have many cockatoos to choose from. Cockatoo rescues generally require a much smaller adoption fee than buying a cockatoo from a breeder or pet store.
Cockatoos are a large hookbill parrot and have similar care needs to birds like macaws or African grey parrots.
What Do Cockatoos Eat?
Cockatoos need a varied diet, including greens, vegetables, and fruits, with around two-thirds of a typical diet coming from nutritionally balanced, formulated pellets.
An exclusive, seed-only diet is not the best cockatoo food, as seed is deficient in nearly all vital nutrients. Seeds should make up no more than 10% of a cockatoo’s diet. Instead, focus on fresh vegetables, fruits, and cooked grains and legumes. Fruits and veggies should only make up 20–25% of a cockatoo’s diet.
Cockatoos also benefit from calcium supplementation through cuttlebones to help keep them strong and healthy.
A pet cockatoo should have a minimum cage size of 36” L x 24” W x 48” H made with metal bars spaced ¾ inches apart. Make sure your cockatoo habitat has strong locks, as most parrots are escape artists and enjoy the challenge of breaking out of their enclosures.
The bottom of your cockatoo’s cage should have a removeable metal grate covered with habitat paper or paper-based bedding.
Cockatoos also need exposure to UV light, which can be supplemented with a full-spectrum light made for birds. Shine UV light for 10–12 hours per day, placed about 12–18 inches from where your bird normally perches.
Pet cockatoos need bird toys to chew on, such as brightly colored wood and leather they can shred. Cockatoos also enjoy boxes they can open and forage for treats in.
Cockatoos have health needs just like a cat or a dog. It is recommended to have your bird seen by a veterinarian for a check-up at least once per year.
Cockatoo Feather Powder
Cockatoos produce a white powdery coating on their feathers, called powder down, to protect their feathers. This coating is dusty and can be a respiratory irritant to both people allergic to birds and to some other particularly sensitive species of birds, such as macaws.
Keep your cockatoo’s cage—and your home—clean. General precautions, such as handwashing after handling your cockatoo, changing the cage paper daily, and using a vacuum with a high-efficiency filter, may help keep the mess at bay. You can also give your cockatoo a daily shower or mist them with water to help keep down feather dust.
Cockatoo Medical Conditions
Cockatoos often develop certain medical conditions including:
Reproductive disorders (i.e. egg binding)
It’s important to observe your bird closely and monitor for any changes in behavior or appearance. If you spot any abnormalities, contact your veterinarian.
These birds have a penchant for chewing (and swallowing) non-food items, particularly wires, furniture, and paint. Cockatoos should be closely supervised whenever they are outside of their cages.
Avoid using nonstick cookware with a nonstick coating such as Teflon™. Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PTFE releases colorless, odorless fumes that can kill pet birds if inhaled.
Cockatoo pet parents can promote exercise with play—such as climbing on tree stands out of the cage—to help prevent obesity.
Each cockatoo has their own personality, and while some can be affectionate, even “cuddle-able,” especially as babies, others can be very aggressive and prone to biting once they become sexually mature after about 5–7 years of age. In general, however, cockatoos are known for their ability to bond with their people. And while this trait may be wonderful in a pet, it often leads to the development of separation anxiety in these birds.
The biggest factor in owning a cockatoo, perhaps, is the noise. While most cockatoos won’t mimic many words spoken by their pet parents, they still squawk very, very loudly. This is not only damaging to hearing, but incredibly stressful to the pet parent and neighbors. Think twice about a cockatoo if you are in a living situation that’s not conducive to this level of noise.
Excessive loudness or screaming may be mitigated if a pet parent sets proper boundaries with the bird as a baby. Providing the bird with outlets to expend excess energy, as well as adequate mental stimulation, also helps.
If your cockatoo becomes very loud, don’t inadvertently reward the screaming by acknowledging it (yelling back at the bird to stop, for example), coming back into the room (which reinforces bad behavior), or by punishing the bird for screaming. Birds are loud by nature and won’t understand these consequences.
If your cockatoo is producing unusual sounds, visit an exotic/avian veterinarian to confirm there isn’t a medical issue.
It’s common to hear stories of cockatoos plucking their feathers—often completely off, down to bare skin, and sometimes even mutilating the skin. Illnesses can often contribute to development of feather picking, as well as inappropriate care or improper socialization. Pet parents should contact their veterinarian with any concern about their bird feather plucking.
Because a bird’s pet parent is the one providing food, attention, and social interaction, some birds can develop an abnormally close bond with their pet parents. Overly attached cockatoos may see their pet parents as their mates, which can lead to the development of separation anxiety, territorial aggression, and sexual frustration manifested in problem behaviors such as feather picking, self-mutilation, biting, and screaming.
The biggest factor in owning a cockatoo, perhaps, is the noise.
If you are considering a pet cockatoo, it’s vital to set boundaries early when they’re a baby. Resist the temptation to handle your young bird constantly, as this is not sustainable in the long term. Only pet your cockatoo on their head, and not their body, as they become sexually mature. Birds are sensitive to touch around the body where their sexual organs are located. Setting these boundaries from a young age may help lessen the likelihood of your bird developing behavior problems later on.
Do cockatoos talk?
Cockatoos can mimic pet parents and talk like other popular birds. They are generally very noisy and squawk frequently.
What’s the difference between cockatiels vs. cockatoos?
A cockatiel is the smallest species of the cockatoo family. Cockatiels have characteristic orange circles on their cheeks, unlike their larger cockatoo cousins.
Is a cockatoo a parrot?
Yes, a cockatoo is a type of large crested parrot.
Are cockatoos good pets?
Cockatoos typically are very noisy and need lots of mental stimulation. They make good pets for parents who want to pay lots of attention to their bird.
Featured Image: blue caterpillar via Shutterstock
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