Faithful, loving, and playful, the cockatoo’s high energy and noisy demeanor are a reflection of its rich inner emotional life. These birds have a fairly friendly temperament and are sometimes good companions for humans as pets. In their natural habitat in the Asia Pacific region, cockatoos are a familiar sight even in some urban and suburban areas, but their playful and destructive behavior doesn’t always make them welcome among the local population.
- Cockatoos are some of the most popular exotic birds in the international pet trade. They are a common sight in zoos and are sometimes kept as pets.
- One particular cockatoo named Harley has become an Instagram celebrity. Harley is a white cockatoo (also known as an umbrella) who resides in the Netherlands.
- Cockatoos have a sharp beak that sometimes acts as a kind of the third leg when climbing or grabbing objects.
- Cockatoos die or replace flying feathers at a very slow rate. A species takes two full years to complete the molting process.
- Cockatoos are cleaned with constant care. They create a powder-like substance and then apply it all over the body with their beaks to keep themselves clean.
Cockatoo Scientific Name
The cockatoo is a type of parrot that is part of the Cacatuidae family. The name comes from the Dutch word kaketoe, which comes from the local Indonesian name kakaktua, which means “kaka” parrot. Along with true parrots and New Zealand parrots, it is one of the few large families that make up the parrot order known as Psittaciformes. There are currently 21 living species of cockatoos divided into seven different genera. Very few extinct cockatoos are known from the fossil record.
Appearance and Behavior
The cockatoo is a medium to a large-sized parrot with a large curved beak, small, rounded eyes, and an elaborate crest on its head that can rise and fall at will to signal its mood to others. Cockatoos have a digital arrangement on their feet known as zygodactyls, which means that two of the toes point forward and two-point backward. This allows them to cling tightly to branches and climb trees with great precision. They also have the ability to climb on one foot and grab food with the other foot.
Most cockatoos exhibit much less coloration than parrots. They are usually distributed in simple black and white colors because they lack the colorful textures found in other parrots. However, some species come in all kinds of bright and elaborate colors, including reds, blues, yellows, and greens.
Typical cockatoo species can be between 12 and 24 inches long and weigh up to a few pounds, or about the size of a table lamp. The largest species is the large black or palm cockatoo, which can be up to 30 inches long.
Cockatoos are very social animals that congregate in large flocks. Flock size can range from a few dozen to thousands, depending on the amount of feed available in a given area. Large flock sizes are often temporary problems from which individuals can come and go as they please. Cockatoos usually don’t form strong bonds except with their mates.
They make loud, shrill sounds to communicate with each other through the thick foliage of their native habitats. These harsh noises allow them to convey their mood, send warnings, or build social bonds. The herd will leave the sentries to stand guard and raise the alarm if a predator threatens them.
The crest feathers also transmit important signals to nearby cockatoos. When down, these feathers indicate a relaxed or docile mood. Upright feathers may suggest that the bird is very agitated or excited. A featherless patch of skin under the eyes will also change color when the bird is excited.
Cockatoos are somewhat nomadic birds that will travel great distances in large flocks depending on the changes of the season. The degree of willingness to migrate depends on the species and the actual availability of food in the area. Forest species, for example, tend to migrate less due to a more stable food supply. Regardless of the species, cockatoos are almost always active during the day and rest in their homes at night.
Cockatoos are some of the smartest birds on the planet. Scientists have observed, for example, that they can create tools with sticks with little help. What is less understood is its ability to create custom tools by breaking a stick to a more appropriate size. Then the bird will use the stick to hit the hollow part of a tree. It is believed that this behavior can serve as a territorial warning or even be a means to deepen the bond with a partner. Studies show that cockatoos are also adept at solving puzzles and manipulating objects.
The cockatoo’s main diet consists of fruits, nuts, seeds, and roots. If cockatoos feel compelled to eat meat, they will generally turn to eat insects. Some cockatoos may specialize in a specific type of vegetation or opportunistically feed on what they can find. They can use their strong, curved beak and large, muscular tongue as a kind of makeshift tool to open shells or dig up roots and insects from the ground.
Predators and Threats
Cockatoos are often preyed upon by hawks, eagles, owls, snakes, and big cats in the wild. While not completely defenseless, their smaller size makes individuals susceptible to large predators if they can be removed from the flock. They are also prone to diseases and infections.
Cockatoos have lived with humans for thousands of years. However, large-scale hunting and land development have generated some friction. Due to highly specialized environmental requirements, cockatoos are vulnerable to habitat loss from logging, mining, and agriculture. Another big problem is the wildlife trade. International law severely restricts the capture and trade of cockatoos on the market, but poaching persists in many regions.
Some farmers consider cockatoos to be a serious pest because they tend to feed on domestic crops. People have resorted to poisoning them, shooting them, capturing them, or simply pushing them away to prevent them from ruining the crops. When they live near human settlements, they also have a tendency to destroy property, damage gardens, or chew threads to feed or keep their beak sharp. This has sometimes led to a difficult relationship with humans.
Cockatoos are largely monogamous animals that can form deep bonds of years with their mates. Their emotional bonds are so strong that they are sometimes known to suffer psychologically from being separated from their partner. Cockatoos are known to court each other by feeding or grooming. These displays of courtship tend to fade once the bond is established.
After acquiring a mate, the pair will find a pre-existing hole large enough for an adult to enter, then meticulously build a nest out of sticks, wood chips, and leaves. These holes are sometimes so rare that cockatoos will compete with each other for real estate.
After mating, the female will lay one to eight eggs at intervals of two to three days. Both parents can share incubation tasks after all the eggs have been laid. The last chicks to hatch will face fierce competition for food and don’t always survive.
During the first few years of life, young birds will begin to develop and learn valuable skills from their parents. They tend to develop flight feathers in the first few months after hatching and generally reach sexual maturity between three and seven years of age.
Cockatoos enjoy a long lifespan of decades in the wild, usually 25 to 60 years. Some individuals are known to live nearly as long as humans.
The number of the cockatoo population can vary greatly depending on the species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, seven cockatoo species are currently threatened or vulnerable to extinction.
The species closest to extinction are the yellow-crested cockatoo and the Philippine cockatoo. Both are classified as endangered. The white cockatoo (also known as the umbrella cockatoo), which lives on the islands of Indonesia, has also fallen low enough to qualify for endangered status.
Fortunately, most cockatoo species are not currently at risk of extinction, perhaps because many of them inhabit large areas of the Australian outback. Some species have adapted or even benefited from human invasion. The most common species is the galah or pink cockatoo. Sometimes tens or hundreds of people can be seen hovering across the Australian horizon.
The cockatoo is currently protected by international treaties, which have helped limit population depletion. Various organizations and zoos are dedicated to the purpose of saving cockatoos from extinction and maintaining their diverse genetic makeup through breeding programs.