Complete Care System for Cockatoos
by Dr Rob Marshall & Tailai O'brien
This section has been compiled especially for our clients and looks at the daily life and behaviour of cockatoos in the wild. From this information you will gain a better understanding of the needs and true potential of your pet cockatoo. A detailed account of our recommended daily and weekly routines for cockatoos is also included in a chart format that you can download for easy reference. These routines give your bird the best possible opportunity to remain happy, healthy and develop its true personality as a companion pet.
Before reading this section you may like to look at the following introductory articles attached to this web page Diet & Foraging Behaviour of Parrots in Nature and Daily Routine for Pet Birds - Introduction.
An understanding of the behaviour and daily routines of the different cockatoos in Nature described in this section will allow you to better understand their needs in captivity.
Cockatoos are large, intelligent birds. They make wonderful pets but are naturally destructive and noisy so require an owner who is willing to provide them with the necessary stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.
As pets they should be provided with a lot of space and supervised time outside the cage. They should also follow a daily routine that encourages development of their natural characteristics and true personality.
Adolescent cockatoos are prone to behavioural problems (i.e. they may become noisy, aggressive and destructive) when they are not provided with enough physical or emotional support. At sexual maturity some individuals may develop seasonal behavioural problems (aggression) and become difficult to manage.
- Cockatoos in Nature
- Characteristics of & Special Instructions for Cockatoos:
- White Cockatoos
- Black Cockatoos
- Pink Cockatoos
- Food & Foraging Opportunities for Pet Cockatoos
- Daily Routine for Pet Cockatoos
- Weekly Health & Nutritional Programme
- Annual Health Check-up
Cockatoos in Nature
The Australian Cockatoos are divided into White Cockatoos, Black Cockatoos and Pink Cockatoos. Although grouped together they exhibit different foraging behaviours so that their behavioural needs in captivity differ also. White Cockatoos forage as a flock whereas Pink and Black Cockatoos forage in smaller groups and stay together as pairs or small family groups outside the breeding season.
Australian White Cockatoos are flock birds. Sulfur Crested Cockatoo & Long-billed Corellas inhabit the coastal wetter regions of eastern and northern Australia. The little Corella inhabits the hotter drier parts of inland and northern western Australia. White cockatoos congregate in large numbers during the breeding season. Their offspring become independent at a young age.
Australian Black Cockatoos (Yellow, White and Red-tailed, Glossy and Gang Gang) remain as pairs or in small family groups. They occupy niche environments inclose proximity to waterways. Their young remain with their parents for up to a year. Family groups congregate and forage as small flocks (up to 30 birds) during the breeding season.
However, when flying the pairs remain together on their own or as a small family group of three birds.
Australian Pink Cockatoos (Galah and Major Mitchell) inhabit arid and semi arid regions. They occur mostly in pairs or small family groups. Both Galahs and Major Mitchel Cockatoos spend a lot of their time foraging on the ground.
The Sulfur-Crested White Cockatoo, Long-billed Corella, Galah, Yellow, White and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos make wonderful pets. Black Cockatoos must be licensed.
The Little Corella and Major Mitchell often become aggressive at sexual maturity and are less suitable as pets. Gang-Gang Cockatoos and Glossy Black cockatoos have beautiful temperaments but need a dedicated owner, as they require specialised feeding.
As a group the cockatoos are large destructive parrots that need to forage for most of the day to satisfy their hunger and nutrient needs. Pink Cockatoos spend most of their foraging time on the ground. White Cockatoos spend equal amounts of their foraging time on the ground and in trees. The Black Cockatoos spend most of their time foraging in trees.
Characteristics of & Special Instructions for Cockatoos
The diet of White Cockatoos is far more diverse texturally than budgerigars, cockatiels and other grass parrots. They forage as a flock or small party spending much of their time on the ground grazing and digging the soil in search of the nutritious embryo plant of grass shoots and succulent roots. They are also avid tree feeders, although their foraging technique is clumsy and wasteful compared to parrots that live in areas where food is scarce. They use their strong beaks to destructively open tree fruits and nuts in search of seeds. They also feed on grass seeds, berries, nuts, flowers, leaf buds, roots, insects and their larvae.
White cockatoos often play/fight over food items in Nature and playtime during meals is also an enjoyable past time for pets. They are large birds and in order to find enough food to survive spend a large proportion of their day foraging. Their raucous personality relates directly to their principle foraging tactic that uses rapid destruction and a strong beak to find food. White cockatoos also use their foot at every opportunity to accelerate the foraging process, as the foods they eat take longer to find and consume than grass seeds. In their unruly search for nutrients they are noisy and highly destructive often discarding and tossing items about carelessly.
In captivity, white cockatoos require special foraging opportunities throughout the entire day because if behavioural problems are to be avoided. They require foods that exercise their strong beaks and require time to destruct. For example, white cockatoos enjoy beans and seeds that they can extract from their pods (e.g. Sirus tree pods). The seeds of Acacia (wattle) trees are also relished by white cockatoos and are obtainable from August to November from native gardens. These seeds are high in protein and for pet birds, are a good substitute for sunflower seeds which are too high in fat.
There are two types of Corella. The little Corella is not suited as a pet but the Long-billed Corella makes a particularly good pet bird. Long-billed Corellas and S.C. Cockatoos like to dig in soil as they enjoy the succulent stems of grasses and other plants.
They also forage in trees. As pets, they both relish cooked sweet potato that they can dig their beak into. Expect a messy cage at feed time because they are naturally destructive and wasteful. Tough hardwood branches containing gum nuts are enjoyed by white cockatoos and satisfy their destructive style of foraging. Food provided in stainless steel treat box style puzzle toys is ideal for white cockatoos as it fulfils their natural desire to be noisy and playful whilst foraging.
The foraging behaviour and personality of Black Cockatoos aligns more closely with the Eclectus parrot although the food types they eat are completely different. Black Cockatoos are demanding and uncommon as pets because their social and foraging behaviour is far more complex than other types of Cockatoos.
Black cockatoos occupy niche habitats so that their feeding opportunities are severely limited. This has created a foraging behaviour that is extremely frugal compared to the wasteful eating habits of white cockatoos. Black cockatoos communicate clearly to each other when flying in search of food and when the reach a new feeding site they eat with deliberate purpose and communicate continuously to each other in very soft tones. Reassurance using a soft voice is an important part of feed time for pet Black Cockatoos
Seeds found in Australian bush nuts are favoured by Black Cockatoos. The strong outer shell of a hard fruit must be forcibly opened as it does not split or fall off when the seed inside ripens. Black cockatoos are very adept at extracting the tasty seeds or delicious kernel from hard fruits. These seeds are highly nutritious with high oil content and rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
Extremely strong beaks allow Black cockatoos to open very hard nuts. The tiny seeds of the she-oak nut are a favourite food. These highly nutritious seeds are meticulously and expertly extricated and eaten. The nut is not discarded until every last seed has been devoured. As pets, Black cockatoos should only receive a mixture of very small millet seeds in a dish or as a spray. They will spend an entire day picking small seeds off millets sprays and when small seeds are provided in a dish they can regularly be observed to pick up these seeds in their claws and eat them one at a time.
Black cockatoos are less inclined to fling food around whilst eating and will not retrieve discarded food items that often fall to ground. The larger Australian parrots are highly prone to behavioural issues when they lack of foraging opportunities.
Each species of Black Cockatoo has a specialized diet that needs to be understood when keeping them as pets. The Gang Gang cockatoo for example requires a very specialized diet which includes a variety of native fruit and nuts including the casuarina nut and Geebung bush fruits. Without this varied diet, Gang Gangs are prone to feather plucking.
Pink Cockatoos (Galahs and Major Mitchell Cockatoos) inhabit arid to semi arid areas of Australia. They share many of the behavioural characteristics of Black and White cockatoos but they also maintain distinct differences.
Galahs inhabit savannah woodlands and open grasslands of the interior of Australia. They share the same grassland environment of budgerigars and like budgerigars rely upon seeding grasses for their staple food. They spend many hours in the morning and late afternoon feeding on the ground and eat the same grass seeds as budgerigars - Button grass, Mitchell grass and Flinders grass. Their food also includes seeds of Acacia and other native trees, roots, green shoots, leaf buds and insects and their larvae. They spend most of their time on the ground and are seen foraging as small parties or flocks. During the heat of the day they shelter in a tree or bush idly striping leaves ands bark. After their evening drink they move to roosting trees. They are highly intelligent and adaptable as they live in a harsh unpredictable environment where food supply is variable and often sparse.
As pets, Galahs are less likely to accept fleshy fruits and vegetables compared to the other cockatoos. They prefer more fibrous foods such as beans and sweet potato.
Major Mitchells inhabit sparsely timbered grasslands, dry Acacia scrublands and semi-arid woodlands including mallee across the southern areas of Australia. They are usually seen in pairs or small parties and rarely congregate in flocks. They are wary birds and protect their nest holes aggressively against all intruders including large goanna.
They feed on seeds of grasses, roots and the nuts, fruits, berries of trees. They are particularly fond of Acacia seeds, which they procure in the trees or on the ground underneath. Like other cockatoos they have the habit of stripping leaves and bark from trees in which they roost. Major Mitchel Cockatoos require special care as pets in order to avoid their very aggressive and territorial behaviour during the breeding season.
Food & Foraging Opportunities for Pet Cockatoos
The daily routine of Australian Cockatoos kept as pets must provide foraging opportunities that are both time consuming and challenging to ensure they remain occupied throughout the day and are not idle. Because they are naturally destructive, cockatoos should be encouraged to use their beak, tongue, foot and brain during foraging and during their leisure time.
Foods in their natural state are most beneficial and relished by companion birds. In their captive setting, fresh organic human fruits and vegetables are nutritious and they also present foraging opportunities and occupation for the Australian cockatoos. A selection of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables coupled with a seed mix provides interesting colour and a variety of different tastes for their sensory stimulation.
The recommended core diet for Australian cockatoos therefore includes a seed mix, and fresh fruits and vegetable items that can be prepared in different ways to encourage beak exercise and activity for the muscular tongue as well as foot and claw coordination. Galahs are the only member of this group that will not readily accept vegetables and fruits.
All Cockatoos are highly dexterous with their feet and enjoy uncooked fruits and vegetables (except Galahs) as foot toys. Long carrots, whole beans, pieces of apple in squares are ideal foot toy foods that cockatoos hand up to beak rather than just eat it out of a dish.
Foraging dexterity builds confidence and inquisitiveness in young birds, creating a strong foundation for life long learning as a companion bird. These items can be served on a stainless skewer, mashed, chopped, diced, cooked, soaked or sprouted to add variety and to suit the textures contained in the natural foods of the different species.
At meal times and during the day pet cockatoos require foraging opportunities that are time consuming and very physical. Hand held foot food toys e.g. long beans, carrot strips, apple pieces to hold in their "hand" whilst eating are recommended. Grainy toast is a favourite time consuming and interesting food that cockatoos enjoy to eat.
Many of the foraging activities inside and outside the cage provided for cockatoos require supervision because of their highly destructive nature. Cockatoos like to destroy tougher hard woods and may demolish an entire branch being used as a perch in the course of the day.
Human fruits and vegetables as well as agricultural grains and pulses however do not provide a complete nutritional balance for pet birds and for this reason an ongoing health programme of added nutritional supplements is essential to vitality and longevity of the Australian cockatoos in captivity. Without provision of all the essential nutrients pet birds are prone to over-engorging on foodstuffs and ingesting foreign bodies while searching for depleted nutrients in carpets, power cords etc. Other examples of diet related problems include undesirable behaviours such as feather picking, excessive screaming and aggression, poor feather quality and a lack of energy.
For cockatoos it is observed in nature that eating and sharing meals is the most important flock/family group meeting time of the day. Happiness behaviours such as tail wiggles, chatting and playful antics are observed during these times. Therefore, the best companion bird feeding routine mimics the morning and evening flock activity of wild birds. It involves providing freshly prepared fruits and vegetables at human meal times, ideally at breakfast time and again as part of the family evening meal.
Eating at the same times as the human family reinforces the pet bird to human bond, and provides essential security and the knowledge that their human carers will return at the end of the day to eat and play again with them. Cockatoos adjust quickly to shared mealtime routines as it is an instinctual behaviour which encourages them to occupy themselves happily during the day time hours when most owners are at work.
In the wild, white cockatoos forage in large groups whereas black and pink cockatoos spend much of their day foraging in small groups. Individual foraging in the captive setting can be achieved during the day when the humans are away from home by providing a selection of fresh, clean branches and millet sprays as well as a dish of small seeds. This eliminates the need for fruits and vegetables to be left in the cage where they may spoil during the heat of the day.
A final element for dietary consideration is portion size. The amount of food required must be allocated according to the relative size and dietary requirements of the pet bird. Flighted birds require and will use more energy than those with clipped wings. It should be noted that most pet parrots are far more sedentary and require less food than their wild cousins that must spend many hours each day foraging for survival and use strong flight repeatedly during foraging and also to evade predation. Overfeeding is a common cause of fat tumours in Galahs, Major Mitchel and Sulfur Crested Cockatoos.
Daily Routine Pet Cockatoos
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Weekly Health & Nutritional Programme for Pet Cockatoos
Click here to view the complete weekly health programme for pet cockatoos.
Click here to order health products for your pet bird.
Pet Cockatoo Annual Health Check-up
We believe an annual health check is an integral part of developing your bird's innate potential as a companion pet, because without good health your bird is unable to respond fully to your affection or concentrate during training sessions. Microscopic testing of droppings (and sometimes other tests) are required as part of this health examination since birds are masters of hiding their illness. As part of the examination, Dr Marshall and Talai will also assess your daily routines and the progress of your bird's intellect. This is a most important part of the annual health examination as it allows us to tailor a programme specific to your bird's individual needs.
During your bird's health check Dr Marshall will examine the progress of your bird's annual moult. This gives a good indication of your bird's overall health as the moult may be delayed or interrupted when an underlying health problem or nutritional deficiency is present. Adjustments to your bird's weekly health programme may be recommended based on your bird's individual needs.
The best time for a health check varies between bird species and sex. February to March is the best time for an annual health check for cockatoos as the annual moult should be completed by this time. Cockatoos are susceptible to breeding problems and a second health check is advisable. Females are prone to egg laying problems between June and July and a health check at this time ensures they are fully prepared for the breeding season. Male cockatoos are prone to abnormal chewing behaviour and bowel blockages when breeding activity continues into the moult period. A health check is recommended between September and October for male cockatoos with a female partner.