Cockatoos are beautiful and intelligent but demanding pets.    (Big Bugger, medium sulphur crested cockatoo, courtesy of Foster Parrots.)

Cockatiels first became widely popular as pets in the 1970s. Everyone wanted their own "Baretta bird" with the snowy white feathers and flaring crest. But cockatoos are one of the largest and most demanding types of parrots to own. There are 18 species in all ranging from the big Moluccan (Cacatua moluccensis) to popular pets such as the umbrella crested (Cacatua alba), sulphur crested (Cacatua galerita), lesser sulphur crested (Cacatua sulphurea) and Goffinís (Cacatua goffini), to rare birds, such as the black Palm (Probosciger a. aterrimus). Most cockatoos have gleaming-white plumage accented by yellow or rose-colored crest feathers. Like the cockatiel, a related but much smaller crested parrot, the cockatoo sheds a fine powder down.

Countries of origin: Mostly Australia and Indonesia.

Size: Ranges widely, from the pint-size Goffin's to the Moluccan, one of the largest parrots. A midget among cockatoos, the Goffin's measures only 12.5 inches long and weighs under 380 grams. Also on the small side: the galah (Eolophus r. roseicapillus), the lesser sulphur-crested (Cacatua sulphurea) and gang-gang (Callocephalon fimbriatum) cockatoos. The umbrella crested and greater sulphur-crested are large, at 18 inches and about 600 grams. But the imposing palm and moluccan are the true giants of the cockatoo world, at 27 and 20 inches, respectively, and over 1000 grams, or two pounds.

Personality: Personable, affectionate, entertaining and highly intelligent. Largest species have especially powerful beaks and require plenty of hard chewing material. Can be clingy and demanding of owners' attention; prone to feather plucking. Among the loudest of parrots, capable of high-decible screaming several times a day.

Talking ability: Moderate to good.

cockatooMedium sulphur-crested cockatoo.
(Thanks to Tim Maher.)

cockatooTwo Moluccan cockatoos.
(Thanks to Jerry Waters

Average lifespan: About 70 years.

What owners say:

I WALKED INTO A PET SHOP to buy a hamster for a grandson and walked out with a bundle of white fluff. The day I brought him home he earned his name - he bit me so hard with that little grey beak of his that the grandson said, "Grandma, let's name him Chomper." Mischievous, funny, very very loving. He squawks and yells when someone drives up our driveway, the best watchdog anyone could ask for. But letting this little stinker be alone without someone watching him can spell $$$$$$. A cockatoo can dismantle anything! I wonder how many people have been awakened soaked to their necks in a waterbed from their loving parrot that got out of his cage to come find them? But we're still smiling, still taking pictures of the birds with the grandkids who are almost grown up now and our bundles of fluff are still our precious babies. --Mary VanPuymbrouck, Wisconsin

AFTER LOTS of research and reading I decided that the larger 'toos were out. At the breeder's I fell in love with the bundle of pink and grey fluff that was my galah cockatoo, Clouseau! He talks quite a bit, especially at night when he thinks no one is around. He says hello, Ruby (our dog's name), hello Jessie, woodgy woodgy (he always whispers this) and he can guffaw, which is quite amusing. Otherwise, heís pretty quiet, apart from meal times where, if he doesn't get table food, he will flap and shriek. Heís chewy but never draws blood, being very sensitive to his humanís feelings. He also has a shower everyday, and then a hairdryer, which he loves. He is very demanding, and really wants your attention 24/7, so anyone considering buying a cockatoo, please research carefully and make sure a 'too is right for you! --Jessica Hunt

A MOLUCCAN'S SCREAMING and demand for attention can be very trying, but the love I have for mine keeps me going and helps me be patient. Mia is the youngest and loudest of my five parrots. I guess I spoiled her when she was young, since I hand fed her for two years and gave her double the attention. Yeah, I know - two stupid mistakes! When Mia gets rowdy and gets on my nerves, I simply have to cuddle her and talk to her. She tucks her beak under my chin, tilts her head to look at me, and falls asleep while I scratch her. When I feel down all I have to do is open her cage. Her eyes to me are like a child's on Christmas day, so full of happiness and excitement. She knows when I am happy and flaps her wings to share in the joy. And she knows when I am sad and seems to look at me as if to say, "It's okay, Daddy, things will be okay." While Moluccans can try your patience, Mia has kept me in good spirits even when times get bad. She is my little baby girl; lways will be to me.--Michael Schmuldt, Plainfield, Ill.

I GET A BIT angered when I see people write, "If I knew what it was going to be like getting a cockatoo I never would have gotten him, but we love him." Yeah, right. They haven't spent enough time with the bird to bond. I bought "Ziggy", our fiesty Moluccan cockatoo, about two years ago and he has really been the joy of the family. Ziggy has free run of the house and follows you from room to room or he'll just perch on your shoulder while you clean house and talk up a storm. He understands when you have to leave for work and has never once plucked his feathers. True, they scream but only if you allow them to be, without proper loving, training and discipline. If the bird knows this is unacceptable behavior and you have worked with him enough he will not be a screamer. Instead of screaming for attention he can be trained to whistle, call your name, say hello or any other vocal training you want to give him. Moluccans are the most loving and sincere birds. Ziggy has a fantastic vocabulary and comprehends conversations. He is extremely affectionate and loves to cuddle. Biting is not a problem if you involve yourself in "beak play." I've never once been truly bitten by Ziggy. Handling and playing with your bird is a must for him to bond with you. At first it may be in small steps as he is in unfamiliar territory, but he will warm up to you very soon. If you are afraid of the bird from the beginning and jump back and lock him in his cage every time he squawks or lunges then he will remain an aggressive bird. They are just as curious about you as you are about them and will become another part of your family if you interact with them. --Alan Gray

I AM THE LOVING COMPANION of Eden, an 8-year-old Triton cockatoo. She is the first and only bird I've owned and I have to admit I started out with a toughie. Cockatoos require much time, energy and money. I can't tell you how many times I've watched Eden reduce a $50 toy to toothpicks in a matter of a few hours. I think the most important thing a cockatoo owner must have is a sense of humor. Not everyone has the time and dedication to own a 'too. I'm not trying to discourage people from adopting 'toos but I believe it is an absolute must that a person realize what is involved in loving and caring for these beautiful creatures. Caring for a 'too is equivalent to adopting a human toddler; only this toddler will remain a toddler for the rest of its life. These birds can live to be 70 years old. If you are willing to spend the time, energy and bucks, a relationship with a 'too is a wonderful experience, one of the most fulfilling I've had. --Claudia Smith, Dallas, Texas

MY BIRDS TAKE all my time but today, living alone, they make my life interesting. Lalla, a 10-year-old goffin's male, sold himself to me in a pet shop. Charmed me as he today charms everyone visiting my home. I regard him as a very clever bird. He can bully some times, but mostly I can handle him. (I can't put a finger into his cage, but out in the room I can do almost anything with him.) He got himself some company in August - a rosebreasted young lady bought from a breeder. Rozette does answer when I call on her, but not in words as Lalla does (he says hello and goodbye but no new words since I got him). It will be interesting to watch Rozette grow older - will she learn to say anything or will she stick to her bird sounds? Finally, I have my caiques, an 11-year-old male and 7-year-old female; they have had eggs several times but the female comes off them too early. But caiques are very entertaining and clever birds.--Karin Folkertsen,

AS A PROUD OWNER of a Triton, I disagree with so many of the bad things that are said about them. Sun Bear came into my life just before the death of my lesser sulpher crested, Romeo. Bear came from the Native American symbol of a healer and I wanted to have Sun Bear heal my heart. What I didn't know then, was that he would come to heal and ease so many hearts, including terminally ill children. Sun Bear loves people and does a lot of volunteer work in the community, he goes to anyone that accepts his advances. His community work has included nursing homes, schools, adult daycare centers, schools and doing kid care events with The Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association. Sun Bear has an extensive vocabulary that is over 70 words including Greek and Spanish. Sun Bear speaks in full sentences and what is amazing is his body language when he is speaking. Sun Bear can identify objects ie airplanes babies, cats, dogs police cars and can identify these objects even from a photo. He was recently heard on a local radio station ordering my coffee, bagel and his baby food at the drive-up window at a Dunkin Donuts.--Mary,

I AM THE PROUD owner of a rose-breasted (also known as galah) cockatoo. I went to a breeder's, to "just talk". Yeah, right. I saw this beautiful pink-and-grey bird and fell in love. And he with me. I was apprehensive, as I had heard how loud cockatoos can be. The breeder assured me that "rosies" are quiet compared with their white cousins. Sure enough, Rudy is a very sweet, quiet bird. He might scream a few times a week, usually while hanging off the top of his cage or attacking a toy. He talks: "I'm Rudy," "I love you," "whatcha doing," and "step up" are just a few of his phrases. He is "bitey," but that is a rosie trait. He has never broken skin or drawn any blood, but he does love to put his beak around fingers and apply a lot of pressure. --Marie Dalzell, Belmont, N.H.

WHILE I LOVE my 3-year-old male umbrella cockatoo with all my heart, he is messy and demanding and a difficult bird to keep happy and stimulated. Cockatoos are the parrot most likely to be passed from home to home. They are prone to feather picking and self-mutilation. Cockatoos have about the worst bite of the large parrots because the upper mandible punctures and tears and the lower mandible slices the underside. I've needed stitches. Cockatoos are also extremely loud. I read somewhere they have the fourth loudest voice known to man. I am profoundly deaf and can hear my bird clearly. My nearest neighbors live a good distance away and they can hear him yell. It always bothers me when I read sites that claim that cockatoos are quiet except twice a day. Mine will scream for a good half hour at a shot. Cockatoos yell when they want something they don't have (like anything you own that is out of their reach) and they yell and squawk when they are happy. If he is bored he will yell, if he is hungry he will yell. If he is afraid of a speck of dust floating near the cage he will yell. In my 'too's case he yells "peekaboo!" He thinks that whenever he can't see me, all he has to say is peekaboo and I will appear. Usually I just answer him back with a "I am right here" and that seems to be ok. However, many times that's not good enough. The problem is that many people bring home this cute little parrot and he is new and sweet and a baby and they love him and spend every second holding him and cuddling him - and then the novelty wears off. They have things to do, they have to go back to work, or school. While my cockatoo has a home forever, I can honestly say that if I knew then what I know now, I would not have come home with a cockatoo. What is it that the Crocodile Hunter said? Something like he would rather tackle a crock anyday over a cockatoo. That tells you something.--Stephanie Green

I CANNOT IMAGINE LIFE without Snicker, my 6-year-old male Goffin's. Luckily, he is able to entertain himself and really enjoys his toys. Goffin's are more independent than many of the other cockatoos, a quality I find most desirable. Snicker is very attached to me as his mate, and is a one-person bird. We snuggle twice daily, he calls when I leave the room (naturally I answer), and he courts me during breeding seasons. He is a rather aggressive mate, and while I've been bitten many times, it's been due to my misreading him. His screams are challenging but his vocalizations are always welcome. He knows that "I love you" always gets a response, and he uses language appropriately. As an apartment dweller, I can't sleep in because once he's awake he wants me near, and won't quit until I'm up. He cannot be left unattended because his beak will get him in trouble; he's an enormous chewer of paper, leather, wood, stuffed animals, and, his all-time favorite, clothing labels. He has chewed a lead weight and the couch. Goffin's are a lot of bird in a small package. I highly recommend them. --Susan, Parsippany, N.J.

I "INHERITED" MY GALAH from my youngest daughter, who received Jaqui as an 18th birthday present but has not had the time to spend with her. Jaqui raises the alarm if anyone comes into our property (as would a barking dog), and also calls when anyone goes out of the front door. However, her cries last only half a minute so are not a problem. For the most part she is quiet and plays happily, just chatting to me from time to time. I find her little squeaks, squeals and cries fun and cute. In all honesty, had I known just how much close attention is needed I might not have bought her, but I feel it was a "good" mistake as I love her dearly. I also have had to learn to avoid the situations that might result in her biting. Living in Australia we frequently have flocks of galahs around and constantly compare our darling with them. Of course, they don't even compare to Jaqui's talking ability, which astonishes everyone. --Summer Luke, Melbourne, Australia

I OWN THREE cockatoos and each one is so different. My first one was the rose-breasted (aka galah), whom I named Belle. I walked into the pet store, took one look at her and knew I had to have her. I went home, did a little research, read that they were quiet and friendly and went back for her. My second one is a Goffins, appropriately named Goofy. He is the sweetest and funniest bird I have ever seen! Now don't get me wrong, he is a challenge, as he can escape from any cage and will open the door to Belle's cage so they can 'play' together. Goofy is very, very quiet, except late at nite, he will yell when he knows I am nearby and wants to come out to cuddle. Goofy is a messy bird, he throws his food everywhere and loves to shred paper. He has also done a fair amount of damage to the woodwork. But I wouldn't trade him for the world when he snuggles under my chin and 'cries' for me to preen him. JoJo, a 6-year-old Moluccan, has a history of abuse and neglect. He came to live with us during his first breeding season, so he screamed and bit a lot! He has settled down some now, but every so often he will rip open one of my fingers. JoJo is bonded to my partner, but he does cherish the frequent head rubs that I give him. In summary, I love all of my birds, although Goofy has the special place in my heart. If you are considering getting a cockatoo, please read everything you can before you obtain one, as they do have the traits described. --Marby,

What's life like with your cockatoo? Share your experiences with other readers!



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