Cockatoos as Pets

Cockatoos as Pets

By Shelly Bohannon

Cockatoo’s make exceptional companion birds, if their needs and requirements are adequately met.  They are affectionate, funny, comical, mischievous and generally easy to get along with

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    Their requirements, however, are rather complex and many.

    If you are looking for a quick summary of this article, check out this video from our YouTube channel

    The key to a great Cockatoo as a companion bird is a great beginning. 

    Cockatoo’s are known for becoming phobic and developing behavioral issues such as plucking and/or screaming. 

    A study was done a few years ago by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM and associates that indicated that many of these phobic issues may be caused by the early weaning that is practiced by many breeders. 

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      In the wild, and also in captivity, if left alone, Cockatoo babies stay with their parents until the next breeding season.  Thus, a year or slightly less. 

      While the babies are certainly eating on their own a few weeks after fledging, they have also been observed being fed by their parents up until the next clutch is laid.


      A properly raised, socialized and trained Cockatoo makes a wonderful companion.   Cockatoo’s are noted for being very sweet, affectionate birds, with a voice that sounds a lot like “Cousin It”.   

      They are also known for being exceptionally cuddly birds that want to be “on” their people as much as possible.  They have rightly earned their title of “Velcro Birds”.  They love attention and affection and will generally like just about anybody that will pet them.

      When raising Cockatoo babies the process is much the opposite then with Parrots and Macaws. 

      With Parrot and Macaw babies you handle as much as possible.  They are by nature independent and will generally learn to entertain themselves on their own. 

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        With Cockatoo babies you handle frequently, but just as frequently you must leave the Too baby in his/her cage or play area, without human interaction to encourage independence and the ability to entertain itself.

        Alternately, an improperly handled, raised or spoiled Too can (and often does) become destructive, overly dependent, self-mutilators and/or screamers. 

        Correct handling and meeting their dietary, exercise, activity and affection needs, is a must.  Somewhat of an effort but most Too owners will agree, that their Too is well worth the effort!

        Cockatoo’s are renown for their affectionate, cuddly nature, as well as being an energetic, playful and often silly bird.   Most species of Cockatoo will learn to talk, and although they are not noted as particularly accomplished talkers, the “Cousin It” quality to their voices lends a humorous element to their speech.  If you have never seen a Cockatoo ‘war dance’ or play ‘psycho bird’, your are certainly missing some great entertainment!

        The basics

        Diet:  A healthy Cockatoo diet consists of a large variety of fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts.  As well as cooked grains such as barley, oats, brown rice, vegetable pasta, and sweet potato.  Pellets* and a small amount of seed should be included at least several times a week. *Please note: When feeding pellets to your pet, please be aware of the fact that overly feeding citrus fruits (including oranges) or vitamin-C-rich foods to your birds can lead to “Iron Overload Disease” as vitamin C increases the amount of iron absorbed from foods and supplements.

        Exercise: A cockatoo should be allowed plenty of opportunity for exercise.  3 to 4 hours a day outside of the cage is ideal.  If not practical, then at least an hour on a Play Gym with time allowed for interaction with people.

        Cage Size: the bigger the cage the better.  Large Cockatoo’s, such as Umbrella’s and Moluccan’s should have a cage 40” wide x 30” deep at minimum.   Smaller Cockatoo’s such as the Goffin’s and Ducorps can get by with a cage 36”wide x 24” deep, but again bigger is always better!  I recommend 40” wide x 36” deep for ALL size Cockatoo’s.  They love the space and this allows lots of room for toys and perches.

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          Entertainment: Lots and lots and lots of toys….. toys to chew, toys to shred, puzzle toys, simple toys, complicated toys, wood toys,  rope toys, raffia toys…… Leaving the television or a radio on when you are gone is appreciated by many Cockatoo’s.  Most love music!

          In conclusion, if you are dedicated and willing to go the extra mile, a Cockatoo makes an exceptional companion bird.  However, if you aren’t willing to go the extra distance, stick to one of the less needy and demanding species.


          ³Speer, Brian, DVM.  “Cockatoo’s as Companion Birds”, Exotic Pets Veterinary Symposium, October 11-15, 2000, University of California at Davis

          Training and Behavioral Guidance:

          Cockatoos certainly demand a lot of attention, but are appreciated for their exceptionally loving, devoted personality that is second to none. Cockatoos require an extremely dedicated owner who is willing to provide significant and meaningful attention to these intelligent parrots. They require consistent training from a young age to ensure potential cockatoo owners enjoy a bird free of destructive and annoying habits. Behavioral challenges that cockatoos present include:

          • Excessive Chewing: Any parrot will chew. In nature, they use their beak to “customize” their favorite tree, to enlarge the size of their nest in a tree hollow. Doing this keeps their beaks in good condition. The problem is excessive and undesirable chewing. Undisciplined cockatoos will chew on electric wiring potentially causing house fires. The owner needs to provide plenty of “healthy” chewing opportunities (bird toys, natural wood branches, etc.) and training is necessary to teach a cockatoo what is “off-limits.”
          • >Biting: Cockatoos, as most parrots, are likely to discover their beaks as a method of “disciplining us” once they are out of the “baby stage.” It really is important to learn to understand them and to guide their behavior before an undesirable behavior has been established. If this behavior is unchecked, the cockatoo is likely to be dominating the entire family, chasing and attacking their least favorite humans (usually the ones they deem to be a competitor for their human mate’s affection). Training is vital to stop this destructive behavior.
          • Screaming: Not everybody can tolerate the natural loud call of a cockatoo, and even though it can’t (or should not) be entirely eliminated, there are ways to discourage screaming / screeching in your pet cockatoo.

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