Caring For Your Cockatoo

When we mention pets, most of us often think of cats, dogs, rabbits etc. But then the trend is changing fast, people nowadays are keen on exotic pets too for example, iguanas, snakes, parrots and birds. In this article, we’ll take a look at a very special pet of the feathered kind – the Cockatoo.

The cockatoo is exclusively found in Australia and its surrounding islands. Many bird lovers in the country own them even though purchasing them can be pricey. Generally, cockatoos are a joy to own.

There are many different species and varieties of cockatoos. Among them are the Bare-Eyed cockatoo, (also known as Little Corella Cockatoo), The Citron-crested Cockatoo, Ducorp’s cockatoo, Funereal Cockatoo. They all come in a variety of sizes and colour. Pet owners enjoy keeping them as they are intelligent, and have the ability to talk. These attributes have given them instant appeal even for those who have never owned a bird before.

Selecting the right cockatoo

You should always choose a young bird since older birds find it hard to settle down in a domesticated environment. A hand-reared baby, should prove to be a good investment as they show no interest in other birds and are people oriented. Professional bird enthusiasts and pet shop owners will be able the assist you in choosing a healthy bird. Some pet shop specialist dealing in different varieties of exotic birds are conveniently located in the city.

Tips on how to choose a healthy cockatoo:
1. The eyes should be clear and alert with no lumps on the eye ring.
2. The nasal openings should be clean and open, round and regularly shaped.
3. The beak should fit evenly with the upper mandible neatly closing over the lower.
4. There should be even heat in both feet, each one having two toes to the front and two to the rear.
5. Wings should be fully feathered, held snugly to the body, and neither wing should droop.
6. The legs should be of equal thickness and have smooth scales.
7. The breast must not be thin and breathing should be slow and even.
8. The droppings should be dark green with white matter and have solid form.

Initial stages of training/taming

During the initial days of training and taming your cockatoo, it is advisable to wear gloves. This will leave you feeling confident and also to avoid sudden movements that may alarm the bird, thereby slowing down the taming process.

Start the taming process by offering apples or nuts through the cage bars, until the bird gets used to you. Patience is the key and as the saying goes, in time your cockatoo will be eating out of your hand! It all depends on how confident he is to be fed directly from your hand.

Cockatoos are friendly and love attention. Just like any other pet dog or cat, in time they will start trusting you more and a special bond will be built. At this time you can also gently scratch his head with a gloved finger. As time goes, you can encourage him to take an alternative perch, on your hand or arm, while still in the cage.

Do remember that they have high vocal powers and can be particularly harsh when heard at close quarters. Therefore, complaints from neighbors is highly probable. There is a likelihood for them to scream all day until their master gets home from work. Therefore, if you are an owner who is not around most of the time, this may not be the best pet for you as they require a great deal of attention.

Lessons can also include encouraging your cockatoo to climb on a stick about 3.5cm in diameter and eventually entice him to climb up your shoulder. Lessons should be kept short several times a day to help him learn all the tricks in the book.

Teaching simple words and phrases
You can teach your cockatoo to say simple words like “Good morning”, “Hello”, and so forth. Remember that they require constant repetition of the chosen word or phrase. Begin with simple two word phrases and do not alter the chosen phrase until the bird has mastered it. Do use the same tone in your voice as you repeat it several times.


Just like other parrots, cockatoos use their feet for holding food. Do use heavy feed bowls to prevent the bird tipping them over. They enjoy eating sunflower seeds, nuts and some fruits. Purchase your sunflower seeds and peanuts from a reliable source. They should be stored in bins, to keep it dry and away from rodents, whose excrement can transmit serious diseases like ‘salmonellosis’ to birds. Do remember that they can be finicky eaters. Fruits such as apples can be added to the diets too. Carrots, baby corn, lettuce, chickweed, spinach, boiled potatoes are good sources of additional nutrition for them. Cockatoos that are domesticated need enough calcium.

If he is on fresh vegetable and fruit diet, then supplements are a necessity for his well-being. The bird care range of products has grown so wide now that you can even buy supplements that are aimed to give better plumage (feathers) such as “Omega 3 & 6” fatty acids. This can be added onto the food. You can also soak bird seeds in “Water Guard” to help keep away rapid the growth of bacteria. Products such as “Stop Pick Spray” can assist in preventing feather plucking due to boredom. Vitamin mineral supplements such as “Avi-Vite” (powder form) from the Aristopet range can be easily dispensed in water or mixed with food.

To lessen the hassles of feeding, you can purchase premium imported bird food that come in kibble or biscuit form that are easily available in pet shops near you. They are complete and balanced with all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for every lifestage of a cockatoo. However, switching its diet from fresh fruit and vegetables to bird food formula is not an easy task as these birds would not go for it too readily. Therefore, a gradual switch is highly recommended.


The bird cage should be clean at all times. Food and water containers washed daily to ensure a clean hygienic environment for your cockatoo. Bird droppings must be cleared to prevent bacteria and germs that may cause harm to your pet.

It is also very important to spend time with your cockatoos since these birds crave attention. Please do not even think of owning this species of bird if you cannot spare the time and patience in keeping them happy. We do not want your cockatoo to get bored since these birds by nature can get a little destructive if they are left alone.

Proper housing for your cockatoo

All pets need some kind of housing to ensure they get enough rest and are comfortable in their surroundings and it is the same for the cockatoo. A cage or aviary is ideal depending on the number of birds you have. Single birds can be in a cage while aviaries are suitable for a number of birds. Closely confined adult birds will succumb to feather plucking, due to lack of attention or stress. It is a good idea therefore, to choose a cage according to the wingspan of the cockatoo. It is recommended to have the flight feathers of both wings clipped by an experienced handler or veterinarian. This helps prevent flight, but it should not be overdone or the bird will be injured from falling.

Remember to keep the cage away from heat and rain in a covered area and don’t forget to cover the cage at nights with a cloth or towel to keep from getting cold.

Common health problems

Generally, cockatoos rarely fall ill and live for decades. It is known to have a lifespan of a maximum of 60 – 70 years. If a bird is ill, he should be transferred to a warm environment, about 30°C (85°F). This can be maintained with an infra-red lamp, and a veterinarian’s advice must be sought. A sick bird will appear dull and fluffed-up as well as losing its appetite. Infections of bacterial origin usually respond well to antibiotic powders dissolved in the drinking water.

Household fumes irritate the respiratory system and cause wheezing, but viruses and fungi such as Aspergillus can result in wheezing infections generally proving incurable.

Eye Disorders
Eye discharge often coupled with swelling ca be a localized problem or a symptom of a generalized illness and can be assisted by antibiotic opthalmic preparations.

Abnormal feathering and feather plucking
Plucking is usually caused by boredom, lack of attention and the stress of close confinement in adult birds. It is rare in aviary birds and usually caused by dietary imbalances. Do remove all moulted feathers from the cage, add toys such as wooden cotton-reels suspended on a wire loop to relieve boredom, and provide adequate wood for gnawing purposes, usually in the form of perches.

In some species of cockatoos, “Feather Rot” can occur. The feathers get brittle and break off easily while the beak and claws become soft. It is typically seen in young birds especially in the “Lesser Sulphur-Crested” variety just before their first moult. However, there is very little supportive evidence that this is caused by dietary and infectious causes. Dietary supplements of sulphur-containing amino acids such as methionine may help.

Parasites may live on the bird’s feathers and skin or inside the body, in the digestive tract and blood. Red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) lives in the bird’s environment causing irritation which may lead to feather-plucking, as well as blood loss. Internal parasites such as intestinal worms, may be suspected from a loss of condition, confirmed by microscopic examination of a fresh sample of feces, and treatment obtained.

Psittacosis or “Parrot Fever” can be transmitted to humans, producing pneumonia-like symptoms. Tumors are relatively rare in cockatoos except lipoma encountered quite frequently in Galah cockatoos.