Posts Tagged ‘Cockatoo’

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos in Kakadu National Park

December 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I have five hours to kill at an airport, so I am updating my blog! Merry Christmas everyone!

Today, I will write about the Red-tailed Black Cockatoos I saw in Kakadu National Park, Australia, in September, 2017. I headed to Australia primarily to go birdwatching and see other wildlife, and my trip covered Cairns, the Cape York Peninsula, and Kakadu National Park. Two black cockatoo species (Black Palms and Red-tailed Blacks) were on my target list of animals to see and I managed to see both. Finding them was extremely thrilling!


Range of the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. Map based on

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banskii) are impressive and charismatic birds. They are big (about 60 cm tall), are very loud, and have large, powerful beaks. Like all other black cockatoos, they are extremely rare in aviculture outside of Australia, and as a result the price for a single bird in North America can be very high ($14 000 or more).

Red tailed Black

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo photographed in Kakadu National Park.

Wild red-tailed blacks have a large and fragmented range in Australia. There are five subspecies: C. b. banksii (Bank’s Red-tailed Black Cockatoo), C. b. macrorhynchus (Northern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo), C. b. samueli (Inland Red-tailed Black Cockatoo), C. b. graptogyne (South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo) and C. b. naso (Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo). The birds I saw in Kakadu were Northern Red-tailed Blacks.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

A Northern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo photographed in Kakadu National Park. The lack of bright red in the tail indicates this is a female or a young male.

The various subspecies differ in their foraging habits, beak sizes, female colour patterns, and conservation statuses. Overall, red-tails are not globally endangered and are listed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as “Least Concern.” However, some populations are faring better than others. The South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo is rare (< 1000 birds exist in the wild) and is considered endangered in Australia. Additionally, Bank’s Red-tailed Black Cockatoos are declining in the southern portion of their range (northern Queensland).

Red tailed black cockatoos2

A family group of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos foraging in Kakadu National Park.

Adult male and female red-tailed blacks can be differentiated based on their tail colours: males have bright red panels on their tails while females have orange or pale yellow-orange stripes on their tails. Males younger than about four years look like females. The birds pictured above appeared to be an adult male and female with their offspring. I often saw red-tailed blacks in Kakadu in groups of three, which were most likely to be a breeding pair and their offspring. Red-tails usually only fledge one chick each time they breed, although two is a possibility. Even when I found a loose flock of about thirty or forty red-tails in a grove of trees, many birds were perched together in groups of three (see photo below).

Red Tailed Black Family

Three Red-tailed Black Cockatoos. An adult male (note the solid red in the tail) is on the left.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos were common in Kakadu. They seemed to be comfortable foraging or resting up in trees, as well as foraging on the ground. I saw a few groups foraging on the ground in recently-burned forests (maybe they like toasted seeds?). Most birds I saw were present as pairs, trios, or in small flocks of up to ~40 birds. Active birds were generally quite loud and called frequently, so they were hard to miss. However, birds resting in trees were fairly quiet. Although the flocks of red-tails I saw weren’t huge, flocks can at times contain hundreds of birds, especially where food is abundant (such as at peanut farm plantations).

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo3

A Red-tailed Black Cockatoo foraging in a recently-burned open forest.

Red Tailed Black pair

Male (left) and Female (right) Red-tailed Black Cockatoos seen in Kakadu National Park.

During the hottest part of the day (it got to 40 C while I was in Kakadu), Red-tailed Black Cockatoos spend a lot of time resting in trees. I certainly couldn’t blame them – some birds I saw were panting and clearing feeling the heat. I also saw several red-tailed blacks drinking from a muddy, shallow billabong during the middle of the day. It was the dry season when I visited Kakadu, and most groups of cockatoos I found were close to a water source.

Red Tailed Black Getting Drink

Three Red-tailed Black Cockatoos getting a drink of water.

Overall, I saw three cockatoo species in Kakadu: Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, and Bare-eyed Cockatoos. Galahs (Rose-breasted Cockatoos) also occur in Kakadu, although I didn’t see any while I was there. I did, however, see a large flock of them at the Musgrave Roadhouse, on the Cape York Peninsula.

Galahs 3

Galahs (Rose-breasted Cockatoos) photographed near the Musgrave Roadhouse in northeastern Australia.


Galahs 2

Galahs in the Musgrave area of northeastern Australia.


I will share more of my wildlife photos from Kakadu in my next post. If you’d like more information on Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, please see the below links:

More Information

Conservation of South-eastern red-tailed black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Recovery Plan

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Information from the World Parrot Trust

Recordings of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos


Fleeing the Flames

June 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Back to blogging again! My life has been very crazy during the past couple of months. I was offered a new job working as a biologist specializing in birds that required me to move to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The job started in May and my husband and I decided that I would move up first with five of the parrots and Micro the Maltese, while he stayed behind with the rest of the pets to prepare our house for sale.

The five parrots to come with me were Pteri (Blue and Gold Macaw), Mitri (Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo), Ripley (Red-lored Amazon), Chiku (Green-cheeked Conure mix), and Dip (Rose-crowned Conure). Sadly, Peggy, my Jenday Conure (who I named this blog after), had passed away in November, 2015. Otherwise, she would have come with me as well. Dip is a new bird I got in December 2015.

I moved up April 30 and during the evening of May 1, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke coming up from the south of the city. I later found out that a forest fire had started there, and that it had started to spread very quickly.


Picture of smoke taken May 1 2016. Fort McMurray.

Most of the city was extremely smoky on May 2 and a few communities in the southern part of the city were ordered to evacuate but I wasn’t affected. On the morning of May 3, everything looked quite clear but the city fire chief noted that this was deceptive, as the smoke from the fire was staying near the ground due to the weather conditions. He warned people that the fire was not under control.

By the afternoon, I could see heavy smoke coming from two different directions, and bits of burned debris (including conifer needles) were falling from the sky. More parts of the city were ordered to evacuate, and I was starting to think that I would have to evacuate as well.


This did not look good. Picture taken May 3 2016, Fort McMurray.


Ash falling on the windshield of my car.

Unfortunately, my car was very low on gas, and by the time I was able to try to fill it up, gas stations in the area of the city I lived in had run out of gas. Luckily, I was able to get out of town with a co-worker and we were able to take a work truck.

Once the part of town I lived in was ordered to evacuate, I had to gather up my parrots and dog, and decide what to bring with us. I had no idea how long this evacuation would go on or where we would end up. I did have five carriers handy – one for each bird – but Micro would have to leave with just his harness and leash. When packing supplies, the first thing I thought of were the parrots, and I packed bags of parrot pellets, small bowls, several towels, newspaper, and several bottles of water. I also prepared a big Ziploc bag of dog food, which I ended up forgetting. This meant that Micro got to eat a lot of people food during his adventure. For me, I brought some toiletries (toothpaste, soap, etc), socks, underwear, my laptop, and a book. My co-worker picked us up in a truck and we headed out.

Getting out of town took a long time as there are only two roads out of the city – Highway 63 going north or Highway 63 going south. We were in the northern part of the city so we went north.  All of the radio stations in Fort McMurray had stopped broadcasting so we listened to CBC (the national radio station) for updates.


Gridlock in Fort McMurray

There is only one hamlet north of Fort McMurray that can be reached by road, which is the First Nations community of Fort MacKay. The town did generously house many evacuees but there was no way it could handle the tens of thousands of people who had to flee north. This left various work lodges as potential evacuee destinations. There are many oil extraction operations north of Fort McMurray and there are a lot of lodges there that house workers at these operations. Some of them are huge and can house a few thousand people.

Numerous work lodges opened their doors to evacuees and a lot of the larger oil operations sent workers home to make room for evacuees. After several hours of driving north, we saw a person holding a sign saying that the Shell Albian Sands camp was open and had room for evacuees so we headed there.

It took us about eight hours to arrive at the camp. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 45 minutes to make the same drive. Because of the fuel shortage, some people had to abandon their vehicles at the side of the road. However, the police were patrolling the roads to help people who had run out of fuel. I also saw people heading north riding on ATVs.


Vehicles heading north on Highway 63.

Once we got to the Shell camp, we had to park the truck in a lot and wait in a line outside for a bus to shuttle us to the camp. The parrots were surprisingly calm given the circumstances and they attracted a lot of attention. Pteri in particular generated a lot of interest as she would say “Hi!” to people. I did have to warn people not to put their hands in the bird cages, as all the birds were tired and probably cranky. Micro, however, was happy to have attention and a lot of kids petted him. There were also a lot of other dogs waiting in the line, and even a few cats. As far as I know, all of the lodges taking evacuees were allowing pets of all types.

The shuttle bus arrived and luckily I had a lot of help getting the five birds onto the bus. They had never really ridden on buses before but they were very quiet. Once we arrived, we had to stay in a common area as the camp was saving rooms for people with small children or health problems. We were given a bunch of blankets and pillows by the staff.

I stacked the parrots by a wall and made sure they all had food and water. It was about 2 am by the time I got everyone settled. I also covered Pteri’s cage with a towel as she would screech when she saw people get too close to her cage. Having the towel over her cage seem to calm her down.

I tried sleeping on the floor. Admittedly I did not get much sleep as my dog was, understandably, rather agitated so he whined a lot. He was in a room with other dogs, a few cats, and many stressed and upset people. Many of these people had lost their homes and those who hadn’t were worried that they would. I had to take Micro outside a few times for bathroom breaks. At one point, I tied him to my heavy bag and tried to rest, but he backed out of his harness and wandered around the lodge. Someone found him and called my cell number (which was on Micro’s collar tags).

The next day, we were able to get a little room, which relieved me as I think the parrots were getting a stressed at this point. I was able to give each bird some time out of their cages to stretch their wings. We had a luggage cart they were able to perch on as well. They all seemed quite content once we got into a room. They were fairly quiet, and spent their time napping, preening, or eating.


Mitri perches and preens on a luggage cart

The birds had enough pellets to eat, but I was able to get them some vegetables and fruit from the cafeteria. Evacuees were able to eat for free at the large cafeteria that is normally used by the workers who stay at the lodge.

We stayed at the lodge for a few days, but then they started to fly people out to either the Calgary or Edmonton airports. People and animals were being flown out at no cost from the oil sands aerodromes. A few of the oil sands mines have their own private aerodromes that they use to fly workers in and out and Shell is one of them. I signed up to fly back to Edmonton. All of my birds except Chiku (whose carrier would fit under the plane set) would have to fly in the cargo part of the plane but I was assured that they would  be safe. I have to admit I was worried about them. I wrote each birds’ name, my name, and my cell phone number somewhere on each carrier.

To get onto a flight, I had to wait in a long line with the birds’ (in their carriers) on a luggage cart. Of course, they attracted a huge amount of attention. Pteri even delighted a group of people by saying “Good Morning” to them. Most of the time, though, I kept her cage covered with a towel, which seemed to reduce her stress levels. The other parrots were surprisingly calm.


The parrots waiting in line for their flight.

We had to take another bus ride to get to the aerodrome but that went smoothly. Micro and Chiku rode in the passenger section of the plane and the other birds went to cargo.


Mitri and Dip ride the bus.

All of the birds and Micro were fine after the flight and they got to ride in a taxi to get back to my place in Edmonton. I had a few spare cages there that my husband and I had intended to sell but hadn’t done so yet. The birds had to stay in these cages.

For a little while, I wasn’t really sure if all the things I had moved to Fort McMurray survived the fire. I saw on the news that several homes a couple blocks from my place had burned to the ground. However, I saw on a later report that my place was okay.

I wasn’t able to go back to Fort McMurray until June 3. There was no major damage to my place and I was able to move the five parrots back up there to their bigger cages. I was also able to retain my job up there. Sadly, many other people were not so lucky, as about 2500 homes were destroyed.

I had a place to keep my parrots while I was in Edmonton but not all evacuees had a place for their pets. One local parrot supply store, Meika’s Birdhouse, generously offered to look after parrots belonging to evacuees. There is a news story about this here:

I never really thought I would have to evacuate during an emergency. I’m glad I had enough carriers for my birds and that I was able to get them out safely.

Talking Cockatoos

September 16, 2011 2 comments

Birds of a Feather Talk Together

Click on the above link to see a story about wild, talking cockatoos.

An Excerpt:

NO NEED TO THINK you’re going bird-brained if you hear mysterious voices from the trees – it’s likely just a curious cockatoo wanting a chat. Native parrots, especially cockatoos, seem to be learning the art of conversation from their previously domesticated friends. ”

I was at the botanic garden in Sydney and I thought one of the birds said “Hello” to me.  I guess that’s not all that uncommon of an occurrence.

Here are a few pictures I took while I was there:

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Sacred Ibis

Escape Artist Cockatoos

September 4, 2011 1 comment

Cockatoos have reputations for being escape artists, and various padlocks and clamps are often needed to keep them in their cages.

MyLesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mitri, can easily open the door from his spare cage downstairs. His main, big cage is upstairs, but he spends a lot of time downstairs. He dislikes all the parrot play stands I’ve gotten him, so he has a spare cage downstairs he can hang out on. He’s rarely ever locked in that cage.

Here he is getting out of it:

Mitri is also very proficient at taking nuts and bolts out of his big cage. My husband had to replace all the regular nuts and bolts in Mitri’s cage with lock nuts that Mitri can’t get off.

Mitri can also easily escape from his little travel cage. He did this when my husband and I took him to a parrot club meeting. He was in his travel cage talking to himself and he suddenly went quiet. I then noticed that he was perched on the seat between my husband and me. After he was put back in his cage, Mitri just popped the door open again, so my husband had to hold the door shut for the rest of the ride.

Mitri taking his cage apart.

There are lots of other Youtube videos of cockatoo escapes. Here are a few more (note that these aren’t my birds):

There are more: just search “cockatoo escape” on youtube.

Cockatoos are really amazing birds.

Living with a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

February 13, 2010 14 comments

Webmaster’s note: I wrote this for the June, 2009 issue of “Parrots” magazine. It’s a shorter, slightly modified version of a longer article I posted on this site. I’ve had Mitri for two years now and he’s still doing great!

Living with a Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

The Big Decision: To adopt or not to adopt.

My husband, Quentin, and I have been fostering or bird sitting parrots for a few years, and last year the director of a local animal rescue asked if we could foster a seventeen-year-old male Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.  We jumped at the chance to foster this bird, who would be the second Lesser Sulphur we have fostered, the other being another male named Fergus.  Fergus was adopted by a great home after a few months with us.

Fergus was anything but shy, while Mitri, as we named our new foster bird, appeared very anxious and disheveled upon arrival at our place.  He mainly just clung to the back of his cage to avoid human contact.  He was likely stressed from being moved from his old place, to the rescue director’s place, to the veterinarian’s office, and then to my place.  However, he recovered from this shock quickly, and within two days he was requesting head scratches from me, and a good shower left his tatty-looking feathers clean, bright and soft.  His outgoing, showy personality manifested itself within a week as he started following my husband around the house, dancing and bopping to music, and chewing and playing with his toys with gusto.  Older cockatoos sometimes take a long time to adjust to a new home, so I was very happy with Mitri’s fast progress.

I started clicker training Mitri and found that he is a very fast and eager learner.  I taught him to repeat a few sounds and raise his foot on cue, and I target trained him.  Target training an animal involves teaching him to touch a target stick — such as the end of a spoon — when it is presented to him.  Mitri receives sunflower seeds as training rewards, but I do end each training session by giving him a good head scratch.

Of course, the thought of adopting Mitri occurred to Quentin and me.  However, this was a decision we did not want to make lightly.  This is because taking on a cockatoo is a huge commitment, as a cockatoo like Mitri can live as long as a human can.  And, as all the cockatoos we have had staying with us have demonstrated, they are also incredibly high-maintenance animals to keep.  Mitri needs to be let out of his cage for at least a few hours daily, while he can be supervised. I also have to frequently replenish his supply of chew toys.  However, in the end, since we had a good idea of what cockatoo ownership is like, and since we had been handling Mitri just fine — and rather enjoy his company — we decided to adopt him.

Cockatoo Quirks

Mitri is a fascinating character, and I am sure that many readers with cockatoos will have seen some of the interesting behaviours he displays in some of their birds.  Like many cockatoos, Mitri loves having his head scratched, and he will even allow strangers to scratch his head for him.  However, if no one is around to scratch his head for him, he’ll take a Popsicle stick or he’ll bite a piece off of a wooden perch or wicker basket and scratch his head and back with that.  From talking to other cockatoo owners, I’ve learned that many cockatoos will do this.  Some will even use large, shed feathers as back scratchers.  I find that behaviour so interesting because, as far as I know, the only cockatoos that use tools in the wild are male Black Palm Cockatoos.  They will hold sticks in their feet and drum on nest holes to court females.

I have also seen a captive male Umbrella Cockatoo hold a stick and drum it on a perch and I’ve seen Moluccan Cockatoos drum their feet on perches, but not with sticks.  However, nothing I’ve read on the behaviour of wild Indonesian white cockatoos indicates that they do any drumming with sticks as a part of their courtship display. On the other hand, wild Indonesian cockatoos really haven’t been well studied at all and they can be difficult to observe in the wild.

I wonder if Mitri has a tendency to hold sticks and other objects and just figured out on his own that he can use them to scratch his back and wings. He could have, one day, reached behind his head while holding a stick and realized he could scratch his back and head doing that.  Most cockatoos seem to enjoy receiving a good head or back scratch, and they can be very clever, so it makes sense that many of them would eventually figure out how to scratch those areas themselves by using sticks.  I suspect that Mitri’s ability to scratch his own head and back with a tool prevents him from demanding that I scratch his head for him all day.

Cockatoo Voices and Talking Ability

Mitri isn’t a terribly talented talker, but he can give off an enthusiastic “Hi!” and I trained him to do a wolf whistle if I ask him if he thinks Ripley the Red-lored Amazon is pretty.  He also sometimes says, “Love you,” in a whisper if he really wants attention and isn’t receiving it.  However, Mitri also has an incredibly loud screech. Even well-adjusted cockatoos can be quite screechy at times – often at the worst times, such as when one is on the telephone or trying to concentrate on something.  Plenty of telemarketers probably have thought that I have very loud, out-of-control children due to Mitri’s loud vocalizations.  Mitri also likes to scream if someone goes in the bathroom.  Since everyone who goes in the bathroom does soon come out, I suppose Mitri figures that his screaming makes people come out of there.

Cockatoos can have many different reasons for vocalizing.  Many cockatoos will yell while excited, while trying to “call” to their people, or while alarmed.  Wild cockatoos have a loud, shrill “contact call” they use to communicate with their mate or young, and they also shriek when danger is spotted.  Wild cockatoos are noisiest during their morning foraging expedition, as I noticed while watching free-living cockatoos in Sydney, Australia, at the botanical gardens.  The Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were simple to find there in the morning because they were so noisy calling to each other.

However, wild cockatoos do not shriek all day, and neither should a pet cockatoo.  Many are quiet during the late morning and afternoon, while they rest.  Mitri is noisy at times, but only when he has a reason to be.  He’s quiet during the daytime while he chews his toys or relaxes.  However, he becomes very active in the evening when he’s let out of his cage.

Keeping a Cockatoo Busy

Cockatoos are very busy birds and I have to provide Mitri with plenty of interesting things to chew and manipulate.  He can make a huge mess with his chew toys, but he needs them to keep occupied.  He also needs to be out of his cage as much as possible.  A cockatoo with nothing to chew and inadequate space to exercise can become a very noisy, unhappy bird.  Many cockatoos with inadequate stimulation become feather pluckers or they start to scream excessively.

I do buy Mitri toys from pet stores, but he really seems to enjoy the things I get him at craft stores. These include plain wicker baskets, clothespins with no metal, Popsicle sticks, and wooden beads.  He uses the Popsicle sticks and clothespins as back scratchers or he holds them in his feet and chews them up.  I’ve noticed that a lot of cockatoos love to chew on items they can hold in their feet.  The wicker baskets hold all of Mitri’s “foot toys,” but if he chooses, he can chew on the baskets themselves.  He also gets natural branches from outside to chew on, and he enjoys playing fetch with whole hazelnuts.

Mitri does an odd thing with the big wooden beads I give him.  He will either hold one in his foot and “comb” his crest with it, or he will roll one down his back and then catch it in his beak.  I’ve also seen him put a bead or nut on the back of his neck, hunch his shoulders to keep it there, and preen himself in this odd posture.  I’ve seen other cockatoos do that as well, either with wooden beads or nuts.  I have no idea what function this behaviour serves.

Mitri also loves to shred paper, so I often give him rolls of receipt paper or old phone books to tear up.  He will also shred the newspaper on the bottom of his cage and kick out the mess, so I have to clean the bottom of his cage and the area surrounding it daily.  Mitri often “digs” when he’s outside his cage by chewing items on the ground (or on the ground itself) and then kicking one foot back vigorously.  A tray of dirt with a few goodies hidden in it can be a lot of fun for a cockatoo who likes to dig.  Obviously, such an item is best offered outside or where clean up will be easy!

Many cockatoos also love swings and similar toys. Some will hold on to a swing and flap their wings to make it move.  So, I got Mitri a large “boing” (bouncy, coiled rope) for him to bounce and play on, but he was very afraid of it initially.  That’s the way it goes with parrots: you can buy them a $50 toy and they might ignore it or be scared of it!  However, I hung the boing next to Mitri’s cage so he could learn that it’s not dangerous.  After I while, he got used to it and I was able to put it in his cage.

Despite having lots of toys, Mitri will often go for walks around the house to find other fun items to destroy. He’s chewed on a few shoes, has torn up part of the cover on the couch (luckily, it’s replaceable) and has bitten apart a few back packs.  It only takes him a minute or two to chew up things he shouldn’t. Cockatoo owners must be patient with their birds’ chewing abilities.

Aside from being destructive, Mitri is also quite messy.  Like all cockatoos, he has special feathers called “powder down” feathers, which are fine down feathers that gradually break apart to produce a fine white powder.  This powder can wind up on areas around the cockatoo and it’s very noticeable on black furniture in particular.  The down feathers themselves get shed during molts and can stick to rugs and curtains. And, aside from getting dust everywhere, Mitri’s also very good at spreading crumbs, bits of fruit, wood shards, and shredded paper all around the living room.  I’ve found that a heavy-duty shop vacuum is very useful for owners of cockatoos.

While Mitri makes a big mess, he likes to keep himself clean; as though he knows he is gorgeous and wants to stay that way. To help him out, I give him a shower about twice weekly.  Some cockatoos like to go right in the shower in the bathroom, but that’s too scary for Mitri, so, I spray him with a bottle of water. He loves it!  He spreads his wings, flaps, and hangs upside down in his cage. Cockatoos that do not get showers can wind up with very dry skin and are often somewhat grimy looking.  When giving a cockatoo a shower, it’s important not to spray the bird right in the face.  Rather, aim the spray just above his head, so it falls over him in a fine mist.

Escape Artist

Cockatoos are infamous escape artists and Mitri is no exception.  Quentin and I took him on an outing in the car recently and put him in a small travel cage in the back seat.  Mitri was initially very chatty but he went quiet at one point.  I turned to look at him at a stop light and he had opened the carrier and let himself out.  Quentin put him back in and Mitri immediately popped the door back open.  Quentin had to hold the door shut for the rest of the ride.  What amazed me is that the carrier wasn’t particularly easy to open and he had to manipulate two different latches to let himself out.

Mitri has also started to take his cage apart.  He has managed to

take several nuts off of the screws holding it together and he has even removed a few screws.  The nuts were screwed on tightly, so Mitri must have an incredibly strong beak.  Quentin rearranged the cage so that most of the nuts are on the outside and out of Mitri’s beak range.  I did give Mitri some large stainless steel screws with nuts on them as toys, and he does like to take the nuts off of them.  In general, he seems to enjoy manipulating different items with his feet and beak and is amazingly dexterous for an animal with no hands.

Handling Cockatoos and Avoiding Aggression

Mature male Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have a reputation for being unpredictable biters.  Many also become bonded to one person, who they may guard with ferocity.  However, Mitri is not terribly aggressive, but Quentin and I always watch his body language while interacting with him.  This is important to do with all parrots, but is especially so with cockatoos, who can deliver very deep, painful bites.  I have been bitten by Mitri, but in both cases I wasn’t handling him as carefully as I should have. I treat all bites as learning experiences on how a particular bird does not like to be handled!  Mitri adores my husband, but I make sure to interact with him frequently so he remains friendly to both of us.  I do a lot of training exercises with him when he’s in the mood and teach him using positive reinforcement methods.  He really enjoys learning new things and enjoys the attention and special treats he gets when I train him.

Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Personalities

Mitri is not a large cockatoo and is about 33 cm tall, which makes him a touch bigger than the average Goffin’s Cockatoo.  Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, their close relatives, are bigger at about 50 cm tall.  However, despite their small size, Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are not necessarily easier pets than their “Greater” counterparts.  If anything, they are a bit more highly-strung.  Mitri is very active and demanding but also has quite a bit of patience and will spend a lot of time destroying one toy or removing a nut from a bolt.  He also has an incredibly strong beak and can deliver deep bites and can destroy wooden items very quickly.  He can be mischievous too, and once got hold of a felt pen and scribbled a bit under his wing with it before I took it away.  Even after several showers, he still has a touch of purple on a couple of his feathers.


Mitri has been an interesting and pleasant addition to the household, and Quentin and I are very happy that we adopted him.  Of course, the privilege of living with such a clever, beautiful and charismatic creature does come with a price.  Cockatoos take a lot of work to keep happy and they are not compatible with households where there are no people home most of the time and they are not suitable pets for noise-sensitive people.  I think they are best suited for calm, patient people who like a challenge, won’t get upset over being bitten and enjoy interacting with their birds.

Sidebar: Facts about Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

Scientific Name: Cacatua sulphurea

Subspecies: C. s. sulphurea, C. s. parvula, C. s. citrinocristata, C. s. abbotti.

Other Common Names: Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Citron-crested Cockatoo (for C. s. citrinocristata), Timor Cockatoo (for cockatoos from the island of Timor)

Range: Indonesia, on Sulawesi and its surrounding islands, the Lesser Sunda Islands, Nusa Penida, and Masalembu, in the Java Sea.  There are also introduced populations in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Ecology: Eats seeds, nuts, fruits, and flowers. Will eat cultivated plants. Occurs in forest edges, forests, farmlands, and semi-arid areas below 1200 m.  Generally occurs in pairs or small flocks, although larger groups will congregate in areas with a high density of food. They are very noisy and conspicuous birds.

Threats: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo as critically endangered.  Deforestation and illegal capture for the pet trade are the two primary threats to its survival.

A noisy cockatoo, plus Pet Expo 2010

January 30, 2010 4 comments

Today’s post is just a bunch of miscellaneous musings on parrots.  I recently took a few of my parrots – Lucy, Peggy, and Ripley – to the Edmonton Pet Expo.  We help out with the parrot club information table, which I think is one of the more popular tables there, along with the reptile society’s table.  A lot of people ask me if any of my birds talk and I think that’s the most common question I get, next to, “Can I hold them?”  None of my personal birds are great talkers, although Ripley sure tries sometimes.  However, some of my parrots are great screechers!  Here are a couple of videos of Mitri, my Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, sounding off:

At about two and eleven seconds in, you can hear my Jenday Conure (Peggy) and at about 24 seconds in, Ripley the Red-lored Amazon sounds off in the distance.

Mitri’s not angry or upset in either video.  He just likes to have a good screech off on occasion.  Since quite a few parrots find themselves in need of a new home due to their owner’s inability to tolerate their noise, I tend to warn most potential parrot owners about the noise parrots can make.  It’s not something everyone wants to put up with.

I have noticed that what is and isn’t tolerable does seem to be subjective.  At Pet Expo, Peggy (a Jenday Conure) would sometimes screech at people. Reactions ranged from, “Well, that’s not so bad!” to people thinking that Peggy’s screech was one of the worst sounds ever produced.  Sun and Jenday Conures have reputations for being ridiculously noisy birds and they really are quite shrill and loud.  Some people who’ve visited my house think Peggy’s just adorable and think they want a Jenday of their own until she opens her mouth.  However, Peggy’s screeches barely register in my brain and I just accept them as part of the background noise.  She’s also downright quiet compared to Mitri.  Oddly enough, I’m generally a quiet person that enjoys peace and my house is usually quiet.  If the radio’s on, it’s usually classical music or soft jazz.  This keeps the animals fairly mellow, although if they make noise, it doesn’t upset me.   Animal noises just don’t bug me that much.

Peggy the Jenday Conure

Peggy is missing a foot so at Pet Expo I have to explain to a lot of people what happened.  People tend to feel sorry for her and her accident was unfortunate, but I think she’s adapted very well.  She can perch on large, wide perches just fine and is very comfortable perching on shoulders.  I don’t allow large, volatile birds on my shoulder but Peggy is quite predictable and I trust she won’t bite my face while she’s up there.  Plus, if she did, it’s not something I’d get upset with her over.

Lucy, the Maroon-bellied Conure

Lucy is probably my friendliest, most docile parrot and she often will go to strangers and perch on their fingers.  This year she was more interested in her food dish, which was fine.  If she doesn’t want to go to someone, she’ll just refuse, rather than bite.

Ripley the Red-lored Amazon

Here’s Ripley, my Red-lored Amazon.  She’s very, very calm in public unless someone tries to touch her.  As I explain it to people, she really should be approached like she’s another person.  Most people don’t mind talking to strange people, but nearly everyone would get upset if a stranger just walked up to them and grabbed their feet or hair or whatever and Ripley feels the same way.  She will “step-up” to some men, but for the most part, she’s not that comfortable with strangers touching her.

Of course, every bird is an individual and this lovely female Green-wing Macaw just loves attention and will stand on the arm of any friendly person.  She’s very popular at Pet Expo and lots of people take pictures of their friends or family members holding her.

Moluccan Cockatoo

I don’t bring Mitri to Pet Expo since he’s very highly strung and can be volatile.  If sometime tries to pick him up when he doesn’t want that, he will bite hard with little warning.  This is unlike Ripley, who will scream and squeal a lot before resorting to nipping someone.

However, the Moluccan Cockatoo in the picture above was amazingly calm.  He’d let anyone scratch his head and he stayed on his perch the whole time and relished the attention.  Mitri loves head scratches too and will let strangers scratch his head but sitting still on a perch just isn’t his thing.

Congo African Grey Parrot

Here’s a nice African Grey Parrot that was there.  He seemed pretty calm about everything and did well.

Greys seem to have a reputation for being very shy and neurotic. Indeed, I have come across some greys that fit that description well.  However, there are lots of African Greys in the parrot club I’m in that are very well-adjusted, are calm in public, and are quite friendly.  It seems to me that if an African Grey was well-socialized as a youngster, given lots of toys, and introduced to plenty of friendly people then it has a good chance of becoming a well-adjusted adult.

I’m going to end this post with this cute photo of Chiku! my current foster bird:

Chiku! A Crimson-bellied / Green-cheeked Conure mix.

She loves climbing up on that paper holder.

Wild Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

August 29, 2009 1 comment

While I am posting on the topic of travel, I think I’ll share some pictures of wild Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos I took while I was in Sydney, Australia. I was only there briefly, and I decided to go to the Botanical Gardens, since I have an interest in botany and in birdwatching, and there are lots of wild birds living there.  The most conspicuous animals there are the Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and the flying foxes (large fruit bats).

A tree full of flying foxes. They all came in to roost at about 7 am.

A tree full of flying foxes. They all came in to roost at about 7 am.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox

Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are not endangered and are quite common in their range in Australia. The subspecies that occurs in Sydney is Cacatua galerita galerita. This type of cockatoo is actually rarely kept as a pet outside of Australia.  Most pet C. galerita are of the subspecies that occur in New Guinea and the surrounding islands. These would be C. g. triton and C. g. eleanora. They are a little bit smaller than the Australian Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and the triton subspecies has a blue eye ring.  The eleanora and triton subspecies are often called “Medium Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.”

The Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua sulphurea) occur in southern Indonesia and are critically endangered.

A pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

A pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

I was in Australia during the austral winter (late June) so the cockatoos weren’t breeding. Some large parrots will still visit their nests during the non-breeding season and I assume that’s what the two birds in the above picture were doing. Many large parrots display strong nest sight fidelity and will use the same nest sight year after year if they can.  However, occasionally a nest will be taken over by other animals and a very poor quality nest sight may be abandoned.

Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo


The birds in the pictures with dirty-looking feathers are the juveniles, probably from that year’s crop of babies. Wild juvenile Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos often have a brown-grey “wash” to their feathers.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo


A pair of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos has a disagreement

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and a Sacred Ibis

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and a Sacred Ibis

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo eating the base of a piece of grass.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

The bird  in the above photo spent some time chewing on branches.  Wild Sulphur-crested Cockatoos can actually be quite destructive and have even been known to chew on people’s houses.  As pets, these cockatoos need to have many different items to chew on, particularly non-toxic branches from trees. I give my Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo all sorts of wooden items to chew on and he spends a lot of time reducing them to splinters.



Flock of cockatoos foraging on fallen fruits



The cockatoos at the botanical gardens were not terribly afraid of people and this guy came right up to me while I was sitting on the ground. He started nibbling on my coat and when I stood up, he started to chew on my boot. My pet Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo likes to chew my boots as well.

A sulphur-crested cockatoo preens his/her buddy

A sulphur-crested cockatoo preens his/her buddy

Pairs of parrots often preen each other, and this is called allopreening. Pet cockatoos often enjoy having their heads preened by their people. I do this all the time with my cockatoo. I’ll usually remove any dried sheath that’s ready to flake off of any newly sprouted feathers he has.  New pin feathers are covered in a sheath as they sprout and this sheath starts to become dry as the feather grows and is ready to break out of the sheath. When preening a bird, I do have to be careful not to preen any new bloodfeathers. A bloodfeather is a new feather that’s growing in that still has a blood supply. These are easy to identify in a cockatoo – the blood supply can easily been seen through the sheath.

That’s all for this post! Next I think I’ll post an article I wrote for “Good Bird” magazine about my trip to New Zealand.

Related Posts:

Living with a Cockatoo

Inexpensive ways to keep your cockatoo busy

A list of cockatoo books

January 2009 News (the second article is about destructive cockatoos).

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