How To Take Care Of A Cockatoo

The cockatoo bird has a reputation for being an intelligent and beautiful parrot species. People adore their interesting calls, their striking feather patterns, and their adorable appearance. However, what many people aren’t aware of is that these beautiful birds are also high maintenance pets who require specialized care for their unique dietary needs and well-being. Here is some actionable information you need to learn to care about cockatoos.

History of Cockatoo Bird

Cockatoos are parrots that make up the bird family Cacatuidae. They are also known as “large cockatoos” to distinguish them from other birds called “cockatoos”.

The cockatoo is a beautiful parrot with a crested head. Its scientific name, Cacatua spp., is derived from the Indonesian-Malay word ‘kuk’, which means beak. The name cockatoo is thought to have derived from their mischievous behavior and powerful curved beaks.

Cockatoos are native to Australia and surrounding islands, New Guinea, Indonesia and New Zealand. There are 21 species of cockatoos found throughout these countries.

The 14-inch galah, or rose-breasted cockatoo, is considered the most widespread and many cockatoo species found in the wild. It shows off its pink and gray wings throughout the skies of Australia. However, pet owners are more familiar with the 20-inch long sulfur-crested cockatoo, a white bird with a golden crest found throughout Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea.

Cockatoos can live over 60 years, so this is not a decision you should make lightly.

Cockatoos as pets

Because of their relatively small size, cockatoos make excellent pets for those who live in an apartment or those with limited space. Cockatoo owners need to be prepared to interact significantly with the bird, however, because cockatoos crave attention and companionship. Even when interacting with its human owners, a cockatoo will spend much of its time talking and playing.

Taming cockatoos

Cockatoos can be tamed, but this takes time. Taming a bird of this species is done by taking it from its nest as an infant and hand-rearing it—feeding it every few hours until it becomes independent.

Once you have a tame cockatoo, you must always monitor its behavior because birds are notorious for doing things when you aren’t around. They love to chew on electrical wires and get into trouble.

Many cockatoos also like to chew on wood or wood products, so owners must provide plenty of toys made of different materials such as wood, leather, stainless steel and plastic for them to chew on.

Cockatoos are also very social creatures, so it is important that the bird gets along with other birds and humans. However, this species can become aggressive if not handled properly by those who are inexperienced with them. If your cockatoo is aggressive toward other birds or people, then it may be best to find another bird to provide your cockatoo with company.

Housing for cockatoo

Cage selection- It’s common for cockatoos to be housed in large bird cages sold in pet stores with other parrots. Cockatoos need tall cages with at least two doors to provide easy access for cleaning or transferring the bird from one room to another. Cockatoos love to climb, so they need plenty of horizontal bars and vertical rods. A cage should provide about 3/4 square feet of floor space per 1 pound of bird weight, so a medium-sized cockatoo needs a cage that is 36”W X 24”D X 40” H in size. Smaller cockatoos require smaller cages. An all-metal cage provides the best protection against disease and parasites, but is also the most expensive.

Positioning the cage-The best place for the cage would be somewhere central in your home, not only to make it easy for you and your family to interact with the bird, but also to make sure that it is safe. The cage should be placed out of reach from children and pets. A good rule of thumb is no higher than the top of a toddler’s reach or a cat’s jumping ability. Another consideration for location is that the cage should not be exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time.

Cage accessories- Cockatoos need lots of toys, swings and perches to entertain themselves. A good assortment of different toys will keep your bird from becoming bored and help it develop good hand-to-mouth coordination. Also, cockatoos can be messy, so you’ll need to provide plenty of paper towels and some soft rags or paper towels to clean up the bird’s droppings. You may also want to provide a shallow dish that can be filled with water for drinking, since cockatoos rarely drink enough water on their own.

Cleaning the cage: The cage should be cleaned at least once a week and more often if needed. Many bird owners will clean their cages every other day to keep them fresh and healthy for their cockatoo. You can do this by taking everything out of the cage and scrubbing down the bars with mild soap and warm water. Be sure not to use any sort of chemical or bleach as they can be dangerous to birds.

Home safety

Home safety is a critical issue for cockatoos. Cockatoos are very smart birds and will attempt to escape from cages if given the opportunity. Here are some of the potential household dangers for your cockatoo:

Ceiling fans: Cockatoos aren’t smart enough to know that these will hurt them if they fly into them. Stay one step ahead of your bird. Don’t leave your cockatoo alone when you are out of the house. Close all doors, turn off the ceiling fan and then go outside for a smoke or something.

Super clean windows and mirrors: If your cockatoo is nervous, he may try to get away from things by flapping hard against the mirror or window. He could break it with his beak or crack his skull open on it. It may take a while to get him to realize that he’s not going anywhere, but once he figures this out, he’ll be fine.

Electrical wires: Cockatoos love to chew through electrical wires because it tastes so good. While chewing on power cords, they could shock themselves, burn their mouth and/or die by getting electrocuted by all the electricity running through them.

Aerosol sprays: Birds have no protective mechanisms against these and so can easily be affected by them. Even small children are known to spray aerosols near birds. Using an air freshener or deodorant in your home is not recommended.

Paint–paint contains many solvents and other chemicals that could cause severe illness or death if ingested by your cockatoo. To prevent this from happening, make sure all paints are out of reach and stored safely where they cannot be reached by your Cockatoo.

Candles: If a bird gets close enough to the candle, they may attempt to fly over the flame. This usually results in a singed tail.

Non-stick cookware: Non-stick pans are dangerous in two ways. First, the non-stick coating could be ingested by your bird if they choose to peck at it, which could cause internal damage to their digestive system. Second, it is possible that the pan may be heated up so much that it catches fire and then burns your bird severely. Never use these pans near your pet bird!

Other pets: Your Cockatoo is just as susceptible to being attacked as any other pet bird. Not only must you keep the other pets away from the Cockatoo, but make sure you watch your Cockatoo closely when out of its cage or play area.

Diet & feeding of cockatoo

The first step in cockatoo care is to provide a well-balanced diet. The ideal cockatoo diet comprises 75% Pelleted Diet, 20% Natural Diet, and 5% Treats.

Pellets can be offered to your bird in a separate dish or mixed with the fresh food. We do not recommend a 100% pellet diet for birds. Pellets are a significant source of nutrition but lack the fiber that a cockatoo needs to stimulate its natural digestive system.

This is not to say that you should only feed your cockatoo pellets, but you should make sure it gets the proper nutrition from a variety of sources.

The best way to achieve this is through a commercial pellet food with lots of added vitamins and minerals. Below are the three major brands that have been around for a while (in no particular order):

  • Harrison’s Bird Food
  • Zupreme
  • Roudy Bush
  • Kaytee Exact and
  • Lafeber

These brands can be found at most pet stores or online. Just make sure that if you buy online, you buy from a reputable dealer who will guarantee freshness. If you go to a pet store, make sure that some of the bags in stock haven’t been there for months on end!

Natural diet should be offered daily and comprise fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, corn and occasional pasta. We only recommended treats as a reward or for entertainment. Any treat fed to your cockatoo should be low in fat and low in sugar content.

Grooming the cockatoo

Cockatoos (like most parrots) require frequent grooming. Bonding through grooming can be rewarding. However, some grooming—such as de-clipping the wings and beak and trimming the claws—should be left to professionals, since these tasks are difficult for an amateur to do correctly and can hurt or harm the bird if done incorrectly. Here are some basic grooming tips:

Bathing– Cockatoos need to be bathed regularly. If you cannot provide a bath yourself, you can take your bird to an avian groomer.

You should prepare a few days before giving your cockatoo its bath by packing away all perches, toys, mirrors and anything else that the bird uses for climbing except for its one main perch. This will prevent it from getting injured on anything while it is wet.

Natural bathing tubs for cockatoos need to be large enough for the bird to move around in, and they must have sides that are too steep for the cockatoo’s feet to get wet. If your cockatoo is small or large, you may need to change the size of the bathing tub accordingly. The water should come up no higher than just below the crest. The cockatoo should not be able to stand in the water.

To give your cockatoo a bath, wash only its head and neck at first, then after rinsing gently clean its crest and nape feathers with a soft toothbrush. Wipe down any eye stains with a damp paper towel or baby wipe after you have finished washing the crest feathers. Rinse off any soap residue with a spray bottle of clean water.

Pedicure– Pedicures are recommended to keep the nails clipped, prevent ingrown nails, and other problems. The cockatoo’s nails can grow rather long and require a great deal of attention. It is important to clip them when they are young, as the nail will grow into the bird’s pad if not regularly trimmed.

If you cannot find a professional groomer, invest in clippers that have an off/on switch, as most cockatoos will attempt to bite if they think you are hurting them.

Pedicure your bird about every three months. This may seem like a long time for something so simple, but it takes time to properly trim these beautiful birds’ claws.

Beak trimming– Trimming the beak is relatively simple, but those who are inexperienced in handling birds should not attempt it. If you are inexperienced, have someone more experienced show you the correct way to hold the bird and trim its beak. Call the vet if there is malocclusion or deformity.

When to have your pet’s beak trimmed is a hotly debated topic. Some people say trimming your pet bird’s beak is cruel and unnecessary, while others say it is necessary for the safety of your bird (and you). Birds get their food by grabbing it with their beak. However, if the beak gets too long, they can’t grab it properly and may starve to death.

Preening– Preening is important for your cockatoo to keep their feathers clean and in good condition. Good feather condition provides better weather resistance and flight performance, as well as a healthy appearance. Preening also removes dust and parasites from the feather surfaces. All birds should be given time each day for preening, but cockatoos need extra attention to keep their feathers in good condition.

Wing Trim– A groomer or your bird’s veterinarian performs wing trimming. Birds with wing trims will still be able to lift their wings up but won’t be able to extend them out for flight.

Wing trims are growing in popularity as an additional safety measure for cockatiels and cockatoos who have figured out how to open their cage doors and fly out of their cages.

Training the cockatoo

‘Training’ is a loaded word for many people. It conjures images of dog whisperers and circus animal trainers. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Training your cockatoo is just preparing them for life with you, so that you can enjoy each other’s company and live well together.

Taming your bird, as we discussed earlier, is the first step to training. Make your cockatoo respect you before it will pay attention to you. If you don’t do this, training will be pointless, because there won’t be any connection between the two of you.

Training your cockatiel is important if you want him to be the best pet he can be. Positive reinforcement training is one of the best ways to train your bird. This helps your bird learn what you want from him and rewards him for it.

Talk to your cockatoo and let it get used to you being around. Step up and down on your hand a few times a day, rewarding it with a treat when it gets it right (i.e., “step up” or “down”). If you use food rewards, make sure that you do not overfeed your bird as this will lead to obesity, which can cause many health problems in birds.

Negative reinforcement is also an effective way to train your cockatiel by teaching him what not to do by making it undesirable for him. If you don’t want your cockatiel landing on your head, make it unpleasant for him and he will learn quickly not to land there again.

Rewarding your cockatiel for behaviors that you like, such as coming out of his cage willingly or perching on your finger, will strengthen those behaviors, making it more likely that they are repeated in the future. Making it difficult for them to perform undesired behaviors such as landing on your head will help stop this behavior from becoming a problem.

Behavioral Issues in Cockatoos

Behavioral issues are the number one cause for surrender of cockatoos to avian rescue organizations. The type of behavioral issues will vary depending on whether you have a male or female cockatoo (or a cockatiel). Males are more aggressive and territorial than females.

Socialization issue– There are many behavioral issues with cockatoos that cause people to give up on them. These issues can result from husbandry, such as improper diet and inadequate space, or from lack of proper socialization when the bird is young. The early weaning stage requires that the babies be kept with other young birds so they learn how to interact with their own species. The second period of socialization occurs during adolescence when the young birds need to develop their adult plumage.

Feather picking– The most common behavioral issue reported is feather picking. In captivity, this behavior results from boredom and frustration. Besides, an underlying cause may be a deficiency in certain vitamins or minerals. Cockatoo owners report that feather picking is often seasonal, occurring in spring and summer when the birds have been exposed to more hours of sunlight.

Biting– The next most common behavioral issue reported is biting, which again can be attributed to the bird’s environment and lack of stimulating activity. These parrots are smart and need plenty of mental stimulation and physical enrichment in order to stay content.

Selective mutism – Selective mutism is a behavior that plagues many parrots and cockatoos. A selective mute will not speak at all to certain people. The cause of this behavior is unknown, but it occurs in some birds who were either hand raised or not properly socialized from a young age. Selective mutism can be treated with patience and positive reinforcement training by an experienced trainer.

Self-mutilation – Cockatoos can sometimes cut or bite themselves with their sharp beaks. They do this for a variety of reasons, including boredom and stress. To combat self-mutilation, keep your pet’s nails trimmed, give it plenty of toys to chew on and provide it with the mental stimulation it needs through interactions and playtime.

Cockatoos suffer from behavioral issues when their owners respond to undesirable behaviors with punishment instead of positive reinforcement or management techniques. The most important thing to remember when working with a pet cockatoo is to always respond immediately and consistently every time an undesirable behavior occurs. This is the only way you can change your bird’s behavior.

Conclusions

When people think of a parrot, they immediately start thinking of colorful birds that talk and can be quite entertaining. Some people have opted to get a cockatoo as their pet because of the interesting qualities that are associated with them. However, most people are unaware of how they take care of such animals for their safety and wel-being. We hope this guide provided you with actionable tips on how to take care of your cockatoo properly.

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Dr Harunur Rashid (Harun) is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who has five years of experience in large pet animal medicine. He worked as a livestock officer for two years in an NGO, and since then he has been practicing pet animals medicine privately. He holds an MS in Pharmacology from Bangladesh Agricultural University and a DVM from the same institution.