Should You Own a Cockatoo?
People who have cockatoos (known as the "Velcro bird") know how affectionate and charismatic these birds can be. The bird's spirited personality has captured the hearts of bird enthusiasts everywhere.
But there is a dark side, as not everyone is suited to be a cockatoo owner. These intelligent and long-lived animals require consistent and dedicated care, attention and a deep understanding of their unique needs.
If you're thinking about getting a cockatoo, there are some things you should take into consideration before making the jump.
Choosing the Right Cockatoo for Your Lifestyle
There are several cockatoo species to choose from, and each has unique characteristics, care requirements and behavioral traits that may or may not align with your lifestyle. They come in various sizes, so before getting a bird, you'll need to assess the space you have and ensure you have enough room to accommodate its needs.
You'll also have to consider the amount of time you have and the attention you can give to your pet. Some cockatoos, like the Goffin's cockatoo, can adapt to a slightly less interactive schedule. However, other cockatoo species are not for beginners — for example, the Moluccan cockatoo or palm cockatoo have very specific needs and strong personalities.
Finally, you must ensure that the species you choose is legally available in your area and that you can acquire it from reputable sources.
Considering the Lifespan of a Cockatoo
Like many birds, cockatoos live a long time — their lifespans are greatly extended in captivity, as they have easy access to food and no predators. They can live anywhere from 40 to 70 years, depending on the species of bird, and some can even live longer.
The specific lifespan of a cockatoo varies depending on its genetics, diet, overall health care and environmental conditions. Also, if you're thinking about getting a cockatoo, it's best to make plans for its care in case you're unable to do so in the future.
Cockatoos Are Highly Intelligent
Birds in general are smart, but cockatoos are one of the smartest bird groups out there. Many species possess exceptional problem-solving abilities and cognitive skills and have a great capacity for learning and mimicry.
The birds are also emotionally intelligent and form deep bonds with their human caretakers. They can show empathy, recognize human emotions and respond to subtle cues and body language.
Some cockatoos are able to associate words or phrases with specific meanings and use them in the appropriate context. They even have the ability to dance — one bird named Snowball has up to 14 different "moves" that he'll employ depending on the beat.
The Cockatoo Diet
To keep them healthy, cockatoos should have a varied diet. Their base diet should be 60 to 80 percent pellets or complete food. Additions should be sprouting and other seeds, vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Of course, like other animals, some foods are toxic to cockatoos. These include anything with caffeine (including chocolate or cocoa) or alcohol, dairy products, onions, garlic, scallions, mushrooms, meat and uncooked beans. It also includes any food that is high in salt, sugar or fat or that has dyes or preservatives.
Cockatoos are susceptible to nutritional deficiencies if they are not provided with a balanced diet. A lack of essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin A or vitamin D, can lead to major health problems.
Cockatoo Health Issues
Cockatoos are prone to pneumonia, respiratory infections and respiratory distress — do not expose them to airborne pollutants like cigarette smoke or even drafts.
Beak and nail overgrowth is another common health issue. Regular maintenance is necessary, as overgrowth can cause discomfort and difficulty with eating or perching. You can keep their beaks and nails worn down with the right toys and perches. Cockatoos are also susceptible to infectious diseases, particularly the avian flu.
If you notice any changes in your cockatoo's behavior, appetite or appearance, consult a qualified avian veterinarian. Vaccinations, parasite control and routine vet examinations are a must.
Beware of the Cockatoo's Behavioral Issues
As a result of stress, boredom or hormones, cockatoos can — and will — pluck their own feathers off. It is, therefore, important they live in a healthy environment with loads of enrichment.
And while they are cuddle bugs, the can also become quite possessive of their owners. This may lead them to lash out or, once again, feather pick because they do not mate with the human they've become bonded to. When petting a cockatoo, you should only stroke its head — stroking the bird's body may stimulate its hormones and create sexual frustration.
Cockatoos should have a schedule and boundaries as children do. This is crucial to their socialization, especially after they become mature.
One more thing — cockatoos are known for their vocalizations, which can be quite loud. If you live in an apartment or have noise restrictions, it may be wise to choose a species that's a little quieter. However, all cockatoos are capable of making significant noise.
Cockatoo Housing Should Be Ample
Cockatoos are generally large parrots, and they need plenty of room to thrive. The minimum recommended size for a cockatoo cage is typically 3 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet, but bigger is always better for the bird. The bars should be close enough together to prevent a cockatoo from getting its head or body stuck — ideal bar space is usually between 3/4 inch to 1 inch.
Cockatoos have strong beaks, so whatever they are housed in should be durable. Stainless steel cages are recommended as they can withstand any attempts a cockatoo makes to break the bars. Perches should have different thicknesses and textures, and natural wood perches are best for gripping.
And don't forget the toys! Remember, cockatoos are smart and need to be challenged. Rotate toys out regularly to prevent boredom and provide a stimulating environment.
Letting a Cockatoo Spread Its Wings
Another way to alleviate boredom and keep a cockatoo healthy is through exercise and interaction, which is a crucial part of any parrot's daily routine. Your pet should get out of its cage and be active for at least three hours per day. If you don't have that time to devote to your pet, a cockatoo may not be for you.
The birds should be able fly and walk on the floor for a few hours, as it will not only allow them to remain engaged (and keep your home intact), but it will also keep them at a healthy weight. (And don't forget the dancing!)
A Warning About Cockatoos and Kids
If you have small children, it's probably best to wait until they hit their teens before getting a cockatoo. The birds can be jumpy and easily stressed, which may cause them to bite.
If a cockatoo is near a small child, close adult supervision is crucial during the interaction. Adults should teach children how to properly handle and approach a cockatoo. They should be calm and avoid sudden movements or rough handling, which could potentially provoke a negative response.
Buying a Cockatoo
If you're interested in a bird, look for reputable breeders or avian rescues in your area, and make sure they have good reputations. Read reviews, if there are any, and visit their facilities if you can. This way, you can gauge the organization's conditions for housing the birds and note their overall health and behavior before making a commitment.
Make sure to ask the breeder or rescue questions about their practices, bird care and any health guarantees they may offer. A responsible organization will happily address any concerns you may have.