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Owned by a Cockatoo

Webmaster’s Note: Here’s a short article from the “Beaufort Observer” about the challenges of keeping cockatoos as pets.


I met Bubba, an Umbrella Cockatoo and his family about seven years ago. Besides mom and dad, there were two cockatiels, Hawkeye and Alphalpha, Majeska a *Goffin Cockatoo and three kitties, Ruby, Emma and Butch. Being a wildlife rehabber with backyard songbirds my specialty for the state of NC for many years, brought about my recommendation as a possible pet sitter for this family.

Cats, little birds and docile birds were routine to me but the giant, raucous emotional Bubba was going to broaden my knowledge considerably. In this crew was one needy cat with an attitude and Bubba with more attitudes than stars in the sky. However, we have managed over these years to all become friends. For the first four of these years I never touched Bubba because his dad told me his mood could change in an instant and he was capable of inflicting terrible wounds on human flesh.

During this time Bubba was distraught and even cried when his folks were away. One day I decided I had enough of the hands off policy and carefully stroked the back of his neck. We bonded like peas in a pod in that second and have never looked back. Even if it is months between my visits he lights up like a Christmas tree when I walk into his room. I validated his feelings of need and loneliness when I stroked his beautiful feathers and eventually tenderly touched his feet and finally kissed him on the top of his soft head.

If you think, you would enjoy welcoming a bird to your household…research, research, research! No matter how many cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs etc. you may have had in the past, you need to increase your understanding and knowledge of birds, especially the larger ones and cockatoos in particular, if this is what might be blipping on your mental radar.

There are 17 species of cockatoos, most of which are in the genus Cacatua. The majority of them, colored mainly in white, but others come in grays and pinks, blacks, and in the Palm’s case, deep blue. They range in size from the Goffin, at about 12″-13″, to the huge Goliath Palm cockatoo, at 27″ long. Their life span is 40-60 years and up. There have been some reported cases of cockatoos living to be over 100. Cockatoos are LOUD. They love to love scream and will for the sheer joy of screaming, usually once or twice a day.

The most mentally and emotionally complicated cockatoo to deal with is the Moluccan with the Umbrella a close runner up. Not just anyone can provide for the many and complex needs of these special birds. Testimony to this fact is that most parrot rescues are full of Moluccan and Umbrella cockatoos because novice owners have no idea what they’re getting when they buy a cockatoo.

The Molucaan and Umbrella cockatoos for sale at pet stores as young birds are affectionate, playful, and cuddly—a trio of traits guaranteed to win customers’ hearts. Impulse buying of any pet is a bad idea. Impulse buying a cockatoo can precipitate a disaster. With a life span of up to ninety years, every bird in captivity, will require more than one owner and most will spend some time in a rescue if not a good chunk of their lives.

Unlike dogs and cats domesticated for thousands of years, birds in the parrot family may only be a generation form living free and wild. As adults, they develop all the instincts of the wild and at times, these instincts come into direct, annoying and often painful conflict with human behavior. Remember Bubba’s mood shift that may cause him to bite? In the wild, this is part of how they communicate their feelings to other birds. Coming away with a mouthful of feathers is one thing…a beak full of human flesh is quite another.

If I have painted a negative picture of owning one of these wonderfully smart and famously entertaining birds, that was not the purpose of this article. I have definitely had the welfare of the birds and humans front and center throughout.

Research, investigate, inquire and then make an educated decision. Maybe contact an avian rescue and save a parrot or cockatoo in need of love and an understanding home. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of parrot rescues in the United States, housing an incredible number of these birds. This link will take you to just one of them! www.cockatoorescue.org

Bubba’s mom told me recently, “I don’t think people really realize the sadness of seeing these amazing creatures locked up inside the confines of a cage. It is really a mistreatment in itself and realizing this, I would never, ever, do that to a creature again. Many of these birds are wild-caught, and have known what it is like to be free. Even the first and second generations are sad to see a cage since they are made to soar. ”

She went on to say, “Cockatoos often bond with one “favorite person” and will often mistake the relationship as a “mate” not as a friend, causing them to feel threatened when that favorite person has other relationships. This can be a very sticky love triangle, especially during mating season, even causing them to be dangerous.”

*Goffin Cockatoos are active, inquisitive, playful, affectionate, love human attention, but usually not as demanding as other cockatoos. They are the smallest cockatoos and with good care in captivity have a life span of forty years, usually considerably longer in the wild.

Webmaster Again: I quite liked this article, although since almost nobody has studied Goffin’s Cockatoos in the wild, we can’t really know how long they live out there. The comment I submitted for this is as follows:

Great article. I have an eighteen-year-old male Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. He’s a wonderful bird and I enjoy his company but he is a handful! He’s quite loud and loves to chew on everything, so I’m always needing to replenish his chew toy supply. He needs to be out of his large cage daily for several hours while he’s being supervised, so this type of bird is a very bad idea for people who aren’t home a lot. He also gets wood splinters everywhere (from his chew toys) and he’s dusty, as all healthy cockatoos are. I had to get a big shop-vac to clean up after him.

He’s smart and even uses sticks to scratch his back (and I didn’t teach him that!) but because cockatoos are so high maintenance I tend to discourage most people from owning them. I also encourage those who think they can handle such a bird to seek out an older bird in need of a home.

And here’s the comment submitted by the administrator of mytoos.com:

A very well written and knowledgeable perspective. At Mytoos we daily see people pop up with cockatoos that they bought as chicks and that have now reached maturity. Most have been through several homes already. There is nothing wrong with these birds, the people that have them just do not understand them and how to live with a wild animal, which is basically what they become because the instinct to reproduce is second to none. Thank you for doing your part to educate others!

Charlie King

Related Posts:

Living with a Cockatoo

Inexpensive and easy ways to keep your cockatoo busy

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  1. September 26, 2009 at 5:08 pm

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