Cockatoos are part of the parrot family. However, unlike many parrot species from South America, they are usually not very colorful. Nevertheless, there are also exceptionally beautifully colored species among them, for example with brightly colored hoods. They are very pretty animals that can develop a close relationship with their caregiver. If you want to keep cockatoos as pets, you should meet certain requirements and know the requirements of the individual species from the cockatoo family.

What Does a Cockatoo Look Like?

The cockatoo family includes a whole group of large parakeets. Depending on the type of cockatoo, the birds differ considerably from one another in terms of plumage color, size, and the needs of the species.

The yellow-cheeked cockatoo, for example, has white plumage with a yellow hood and yellow cheeks and is approx. 35 cm tall. Helmet cockatoos are comparable in size, but have dark, mottled plumage, with the male having a head with a red hood and the female having a hood adapted to the rest of the plumage. A white-crested cockatoo has – as the name suggests – white plumage with a white crest.

Cockatoos can – depending on the species – reach a length between 30 – 66 cm. The smallest representative is the cockatiel, the largest cockatoo species is the pitch-black palm cockatoo except for its red cheeks. Cockatoos are therefore among the medium-sized to large parrot birds. Just like other parrots, they also have the powerful hooked bill. In addition, it is characteristic of the members of this bird family that they can assume an almost upright posture while resting.

The feet each have 4 toes, with the first and fourth toes pointing forward and the second and third toes pointing backward. The birds use them very skillfully as a powerful gripping tool.

In contrast to other parrot families, the cockatoo family also has a feathered hood that is movable. This raises them up when they are excited or worried.

Where Does the Cockatoo Live?

Cockatoos have a smaller range than other parrots. The birds are only found in Australasia, with the northernmost distribution zone on the island of Luzon, which belongs to the Philippines. Tasmania is the southernmost limit of distribution. The birds can even be found in New Guinea, with families limited to yellow-hooded, palm, and hairless cockatoos.

There are a total of 21 different species, 3 of which are found in both Australia and New Guinea. However, the cockatoo families that live outside of Australia only have a narrow range.

In addition, the birds can also be found in Hong Kong, Palau, Singapore, and New Zealand.

So cockatoos are evidently particularly at home in the tropics and the subtropics. Many species prefer open grasslands with few trees, such as wet savannahs with a longer dry season. Others are drawn to thorny steppes with the transition to the desert and dry savannas with dry forests. The mangroves, the tropical and subtropical rainforests, the gallery forests, and the alpine forests are also populated by cockatoos. The animals can even be found in cities, such as Sydney, Canberra, Perth, and Melbourne.

How Can I Keep a Cockatoo as a Species-appropriate Pet?

Some species of cockatoo are extremely popular as pets. When purchasing such a bird, you have to take into account in advance that the animals – like all species of parrots – are very social and need at least one partner bird in order to be able to lead a happy life. In addition, the other living conditions must also be really ideal for the animals.

Otherwise, these beauties suffer a lot and the very intelligent birds can suffer massive psychological problems. These are mostly expressed in plucking their own feathers and in acute constant screaming. This condition would be torture for the animal as well as for the owner.

In addition, one should be aware when purchasing that the bird species belonging to the cockatoo, in particular, can produce a lot of dust due to special powder down and due to the special structure of the feathers.

We would like to advise against keeping flightless birds! Flying is a bird’s natural mode of locomotion and should therefore not (and certainly not permanently) be prevented. This is very likely to provoke behavioral disorders.

What Should Be Considered Before Purchasing?

As mentioned above, all species of cockatoos are quite intelligent birds that require appropriate utilization. You have to have a lot of time available every day for the care of your protégés and also for their species-appropriate occupation. With a little patience, you can teach them fun tricks, for example with clicker training. You can also educate them about this, which, by the way, is absolutely necessary when living with larger parrots in the apartment.

Cockatoos all have a strong need to gnaw. That is hardly surprising when you look at the large and powerful beak. Furniture or other components of the home furnishings quickly suffer as a result. Always offer enough alternatives to gnawing, for example, untreated fruit tree branches. Praise the animals for using them. And the volume that cockatoos can display is not a factor that should be underestimated.

Sufficient free flight should be possible every day so that the animals can also develop. Alternatively, accommodation in a very large aviary is possible, which should be frost-protected and heated in the outdoor area, unless the choice is an indoor aviary.

The minimum size of the aviary is understandably dependent on the cockatoo species you choose. Three pairs of cockatiels need an aviary with the minimum dimensions of 2m x 1.5m x 0.6m (WxHxD). Larger cockatoos than the cockatiel need at least 3m x 2m x 1m (WxHxD) per pair for free use. Of course, you will need more space in the aviary, especially for large species and additional birds. The rule is: the larger the aviary, the more beautiful it is for the animals. At best, free flight is even possible all day. You should always inquire about the special needs of the respective cockatoo species before purchasing.

Aviary models made of metal prove to be particularly advantageous because variants made of wood quickly fall victim to the beaks of the birds. Make sure that the metal is free of lead or zinc to rule out any risk of poisoning in advance. Metal grids with plastic covers are also not recommended, the cover is quickly nibbled off and then sometimes swallowed.

When keeping cockatoos, the effect of light is often neglected. Not every light source is suitable for illuminating rooms where cockatoos are kept. Fluorescent tubes, for example, produce a flicker that is imperceptible to our eyes and that is comparable to a stroboscope for birds. It’s hard to imagine having to endure a constant disco effect every day. So pay attention to lighting that also does justice to sensitive bird eyes.

Simple cage management is definitely not recommended due to the enormous urge to move, as this too can lead to psychological problems for the animals due to the lack of flight opportunities. Playing should not be neglected, because a cockatoo wants to be challenged because it is very intelligent and can also practice smaller tricks within a very short time.

It is therefore a family of birds with very high demands that want to be satisfied. The greater the bond with the caregiver and ultimately the happier the birds are.

Last but not least, you should be clear about the life expectancy of your protégés. Cockatoos can live for several decades. Depending on the species, 50-60 years or more are quite possible.

How Should the Aviary Be Set Up?

When setting up the aviary, the birds should have sufficient seating options in the form of perches. Climbing branches, some retreats, and a swimming pool are also welcome in the aviary and provide variety. There should also be enough toys, such as sisal ropes on which the birds can swing and do gymnastics. Special wooden toys and natural fruit tree branches to nibble on should not be missing. As with other birds, make sure that perches of different strengths are available. Otherwise, painful pressure points are inevitable due to constant loads on the soles of the feet.

Interesting Facts About Feeding

The healthy basic food should not be neglected with these birds, because they tend to quickly become overweight, which is why special pellets or alternatively seed mixtures should be used. It should be ensured that the proportion of high-fat grains, for example, sunflower seeds, is kept low. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also on the menu of cockatoos. Forage plants such as dandelions and wild fruits such as rose hips also ensure a healthy variety in the food bowl.

If you take all these tips into account, nothing should stand in the way of the purchase and the pure zest for the life of the animals.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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