Home | Bird Behavior | The Moluccan (Salmon-Crested) Cockatoo – Captive Care and Conservation

The Moluccan (Salmon-Crested) Cockatoo – Captive Care and Conservation

Moluccan CockatooIt’s not easy to stand-out among such spectacular birds as the cockatoos, but the Moluccan Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) does so admirably.  In size, color, trainability, and many other ways, it is in a class by itself.  This adds to the species’ allure, but there is a downside…wild populations are plummeting, and their needs, as pets, are beyond the capabilities of many owners.


At 20 inches in length, the Moluccan is the largest of the white-colored cockatoos.  Females often exceed males in size, and are also distinguished by their brown, as opposed to black, eyes.

The white body feathers, infused with pink, are often described as having a “peach-colored hue”.  Even by cockatoo standards, the head crest is magnificent, being very long and colored deep-pink to orange-red.

Range and Habitat

The Moluccan Cockatoo is known from only 4 small islands within the Malaccan or Spice Island chain in Indonesia.  It seems now to have disappeared as a breeding bird from all except Seram Island, where only two significant populations remain.

Within its tiny range, the Moluccan Cockatoo relies upon primary (un-cut) lowland forests.  Unfortunately, this habitat is disappearing rapidly due to logging activities.  It sometimes appears in secondary forests, but has difficulty breeding there due to the lack of suitable nesting sites (tree cavities high above the forest floor).


Moluccan Cockatoo Kuala LampurThe Moluccan Cockatoo is listed on CITES Appendix I and classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.  Habitat loss due to lumbering and dam building appears to be the greatest current threat.

In the past, populations were decimated by collection for the pet trade.  Estimates place the numbers exported between 1980 and 1990 at 75,000+; in-country sales were also significant.  Despite legal protections, poaching continues, and wild-caught cockatoos are sold openly in some Indonesian markets.

As is true for any species confined to a small island, storms and similar natural events can cause overnight population crashes.

Moluccan Cockatoos as Pets: Loveable, but…

Moluccans are considered by many to be among the most intelligent and responsive of all cockatoos.  Pets are often described as sociable and affectionate, and may form extremely strong bonds to a single person.  Professional trainers, zoo educators and others who use Moluccan Cockatoos in bird shows and demonstrations rave about their abilities to learn tricks and mimic words and sounds.

However, the needs of a large, intelligent, active bird of any species must be carefully considered by potential owners.  Perhaps even more than their relatives, pet Moluccans are prone to developing severe behavioral problems if denied proper care, space and attention.  Feather-plucking, screaming and stress-related illnesses are all-too common.  Birds that bond to one person, or are in breeding condition, may become aggressive…and with beaks capable of cutting into young coconuts (a favorite food), they can inflict serious injuries.

A loud (even by parrot standards!), shrill call and copious powder-down production are other points to consider.

A large indoor cage or outdoor aviary, along with ample out-of-cage time, is absolutely essential to their well-being.  Please write in for information on care and feeding.

A Plea to Potential Cockatoo Owners

Moluccan CockatooDesirable qualities tempt many to underestimate the difficulties entailed in owning a cockatoo of any species.  Please research carefully, speak with cockatoo owners and write me for advice before acquiring one of these magnificent birds.



Further Reading

Videos and Natural History

Project Bird Watch: field research report

Further thoughts on care and conservation



Moluccan Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Clinton Steeds

Bottom two Moluccan Cockatoo images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mahbob Yusef


  1. avatar

    Great article Frank. Thanks for pointing out the difficulties with living with a Moluccan cockatoo!

  2. avatar

    Hello Amy,

    Nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the kind words.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hi Frank, thank you for the article. My groomer has a Moluccan cockatoo and she no longer has the time for it and has asked me if I would like him. He seems very loving and she says he likes allot of attention. I have been ready allot of articles about them. My question is I have 2 Lineolated Parakeets, they are my sweeties, I also have a male and female cockatiel, I got those because the people that had them didn’t take care of them and I didn’t want to see them destroyed. They now talk for me and love to be played with and talked to. I leave all my birds out for a little time so they are not caged all the time. Should I take the cockatoo will he get along with the other birds? I have the time to spend with all the birds, along with my dogs and fish tanks. My husband likes to say it is wild kingdom at our home. I don’t want to see the bird go to a bad home or owner. Any information you could give me and your opinion would be well welcomed.
    Thank you so much for your time.

  4. avatar

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your note. Unfortunately, they are very complex birds and it’s impossible to judge the effects of a move, and of other animals. Reactions vary greatly from bird to bird, Sometimes the personality changes radically in a new environment, even as regard people the bird is familiar with…other times the bird quickly adjusts. It’s should easier to move a cockatoo into a home that already has other animals, than vice-versa, but no way to predict. Can you arrange a trial? Bear in mind that things could change, for better or worse, once the bird settles in, but a trial visit or such may least give you an idea of what to expect. I can search for contacts near you if all does not work out, and your friend needs to search elsewhere for a home.

    Good luck and please keep me posted, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hi Lisa,

    Just as a word of caution, if you do take the bird and it’s out at the same time and in the same room as the others, be careful that the Moluccan can’t get at the other birds, since it could easily harm or kill a smaller bird.


  6. avatar

    Hi Amy,

    Nice to hear from you again; thanks for your thoughts,

    Best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Thank you so much Frank for your advise. We have brought him home for a trial run. He is doing semi good, does do some loud screaming and I do tell him no that is bad bird and it seems to make him stop.. We have also found out for some odd reason he likes to have a towel in his cage and rolls up in it. He even plays peek a boo with you.. But should it not work out I would like to know of a place close by that would be able to deal with him. Again thank you so much for any and all advise you have given..

  8. avatar

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the update; even by parrot standards, cockatoos need a great deal of attention. In the wild, they are never out of contact with a mate and flock members. I hope all goes well: please keep me posted, Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    Can you send me details please of measures being taken to protect the Salmon Crested Cockatoo especially measures to protect their environment.

    David Grant.

  10. avatar

    Hello David,

    I addition to the measures mentioned in this article, the this species is also listed under the US Endangered Species Act. The situation regarding habitat protection in in Indonesia is unclear. One protected area, Manusela National Park, Seram, is home to a population, but the level of protection afforded by the park is far from ideal (at least 30% of the area is also being logged, legally). it is estimated that the park could support nearly 10,000 individuals if conditions were perfect. ProFauna Indonesia has been involved in monitoring the situation. Local education and ecotourism programs feature this species as well, but their effectiveness is not known.

    best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi I’m hoping you can give me some advise. For ten years I had a male moluccan. He would bite me when I tried to get him back into his cage and also within this last year became very hormonal screaming and chewing on feathers. I have two female smaller breed cockatoos. One day about 6 months ago he lunged at me through his Cage and bite my nose traumatizing me very much I took him to a breeder who found a home with a mate for him. I have been heartbroken and very depressed at losing him . I would like to get a female moluccan cockatoo–would I encounter any of these problems or are females less hormonal and aggressive? Thank you for any help you can give me.

  12. avatar

    Hi Lenore,

    Sorry for the delay…storm related probs here in NY. Unfortunately, Molucaans are among the most difficult of the cockatoos to work with, if very rewarding when all goes well. Females are not necessarily calmer or less prone to aggression, etc. A wide variety of factors other than hormones can influence their behavior, and females cam become as unpredictable as males when coming into breeding condition. Sorry I could not offer a more promising prediction for you,

    Best, Frank

  13. avatar

    Hi , I have a question about the breeding condition how long does it usually last and how many times a year does it happen? When I gave Milo up to a breeder he said it was he was constantly frustrated by my female goffin cockatoo. Could you give me more information about this. Thanks

  14. avatar


    The breeding season runs from May-August in the wild; in the northern hemisphere, pets tend to breed in late winter and spring. However, captive conditions usually affect their “internal clocks”, with the result that breeding may occur at any time. Some pairs breed 2-3 times yearly, but 1 nesting per year is the norm. It can be difficult to house pairs together, males often become aggressive, even after years of peaceful co-habitation with a female. This may be due to hormones being out of sync…in the wild, both would come into breeding condition at the same time, but pets change due to effects of differing light and temperature cycles, dietary influences, bonds formed with owners, etc. Please let me know if you need more info, Best, Frank

  15. avatar

    Four days ago I gave up my 3year old mollucan to a wonderful lady who has several birds. I miss her terribly and wondered ..in time…if I would be able to visit her . Is she in emotional pain as I am. We have an extremely strong bond but because of the screaming and disturbing neighbors I had to give her up. I don’t want to cause her more stress or pain by visiting her but I thought in tint we could spend a little time together maybe twice a month. Please advise me. Thank you

  16. avatar

    Hi Carolyn,

    Sorry for your difficulty; very thoughtful of you to consider the consequences of a visit, despite your own sadness. Unfortunately, there are no hard/fast rules; each bird and situation will vary. In general, any change is stressful…in addition to the relationship aspect, changing the bird’s environment triggers instinctual fears of new threats, predators, competitors etc. It’s important to watch for signs of illness, as the immune system may be weakened for a time, leaving the bird exposed to attack by bacteria, etc. that are normally killed off.

    All things considered, it’s usually best to let the bird settle in and adjust to its new home and owner. There’s no specific time frame for this, but by speaking with owner you both will know when to try a short visit…the bird’s reactions at that time will help you decide on the next step. It may go smoothly right away, or you may need to keep trying; time should help. Considering that it is usually quite difficult to place a bird, and the thousands that are awaiting homes, I think the fact that your finding someone you trust is fortunate, and the best that can be done in a difficult situation, Good luck and please keep me posted, best, Frank

  17. avatar

    We’ve had our female Moluccan Cockatoo, Bub, for nearly 30 years. Until three years ago when we retired, she was alone most of the time. Since retiring, I’ve spent a lot of time with Bub and we’ve really bonded, in fact, too much so. I made the mistake of over cuddling and petting her. I’ve since learned that you should never do this. Now, it seems she’s hopelessly in love with me and takes an occasional mean nip at my husband. It’s getting to be a problem. How do I go about retraining her and convincing her I’m not her mate? We love this bird. She’s been with us throughout our entire married life. I don’t even want to think about finding her a new home because of this. I’d appreciate any help you can give us.
    Thank you

  18. avatar

    Hi Ellen,

    Unfortunately, what you describe is not uncommon, especially re cockatoos. Success in changing the behavior varies by individual bird, and can be difficult to impossible. Try having your husband spend time with the bird, offering it favored foods, etc.,,,going slowly, and not approaching to feed by hand at first, to avoid being bitten. merely being in the same area, especially if you are not present, can help. Also, try you might try giving the bird treats and handling or plying with her with your husband [resent; for this to be most effective, you should, for a time, limit treats etc. to those times when your husband is present (but not to a degree that you stress the bird). The idea is for the bird to associate your husband with good times. Sorry I could not provide a simpler answer, please keep me posted, Frank

  19. avatar

    hi frank,i have a 18 yr old female salmon crested. a few days ago she started digging around her rectum,. actually making it bleed. she did this w/her beak, I would get her to stop briefly then she just had to go right back at it. she would climb on the cage where I could view the area , it looks like a small hemroide or such. she once in awhile messes with it but nothing like the 1st day. her moods seem alright, the only thing different was she had her 1st mango from my daughter a few days before.

  20. avatar

    Hi Doug,

    Unfortunately it’s not possible to diagnose via appearance alone..can be any number of conditions. please let me know if you need help in locating an avian vet. Best regards, Frank

  21. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    I have a male Moluccan Cockatoo who is now five. I knew him prior to adopting him for two years at the bird rescue I volunteer at. He was very aggressive and loud, and he could not be placed – they even soundproofed him a box to put his cage into to keep down the sound. I was the only volunteer who could be trusted enough to handle him. He had bitten literally every volunteer in the place. He bonded to me, and although I have had ups and downs, I never found him to act in aggression towards me like he did with other people. If he bit me, it was because I played with him too long or something else had gotten him excited, and because I was holding him, he would take it out on me, so I didn’t take it personally. I officially adopted him in March, and after I took him home, he was close-to-perfect (I say close to because he doesn’t like my dad haha). He never screamed, even when I went to work during the day. He has never received any complaints from the neighbors. He never got aggressive, overstimulated, or tried to bite. This past week, though, has been…. kind of rough. He has bitten me in several places all within a couple days. He gets easily stimulated and his moods are trigger-happy. One thing (like putting my makeup on) will set him off. He has been acting aggressive towards me (hissing & charging me, giving me the stink eye), something he’s never done, even when he was being rehabilitated in the rescue. I fear I am losing him and that he will no longer likes me. I don’t know if it is temporarily, and I hope it is, because I love him and I don’t want to give him up. The only thing that has changed is that I got a new pet, a rat. My cockatoo does not seem to be very happy that I have another pet. He gets very jealous when I pay attention to him and tries to get in the way. I need the rat for my final grade in behavior class (he needs to run a maze) so I can’t just rehome him, and I don’t want to rehome either of them – especially not my bird. Please let me know if you can think of anything, training wise or other, than will help me with my cockatoo!

  22. avatar


    Unfortunately it’s very difficult to identify specific causes of behavioral changes in such complicated birds, because captivity is such an un-natural situation and changes much about their basic ways of dealing with the world, etc. In addition, the effects of hormones must be considered…these ebb and flow as the bird matures, change with seasons or other factors, and do not follow a predictable pattern, as they would in the wild. This complicates the job of identifying a reason for a bird’s stress, etc…even w/o an external cause, changes within the bird play a major role. then you have the effects of past experiences…since the bird has had a difficult past, there will always be triggers etc that will affect it, and which we cannot predict. However, a new pet or person in the house very commonly causes problems, even for well-adjusted parrots. That would be the first change I’d make…no real way to change the birds reaction to that, except perhaps over the very long term, unfortunately. Sorry I could not offer a more promising reply, I hope all goes well, Frank

  23. avatar

    Hey frank, how is a rose breasted cockatoo for a pet?

  24. avatar

    Hi Jordan,

    There are so many variables that it’s really impossible to generalize – all the concerns and cautions mentioned in articles on other species apply – space and time needed, difficulties in keeping a single bird, etc., and much depends on the individual animal and keeper. please let me know if you need specifics, or if you have a certain individual bird in mind, best,. Frank

  25. avatar

    Hello Frank, My fiance and I are about to rehome a Salmon Crested Cockatoo. We have done tons of research for months now, and have found a beautiful 1 1/2yr old female named Angela. her current owner hasn’t had enough time to spend with her since becoming a single mother. I was wondering if you had any training tips or any websites that you could point me into the right direction of? Once she is settled in our home and comfortable with her surroundings, we would like to start working with her and getting her socialized so she can go places with us. We are picking her up this evening, and it’s going to be her first car ride ever so she is riding in a pet carrier so she doesn’t freak out and hurt herself or us! Thank you in advanced for any advice or info you can give us!

  26. avatar

    Hello Susan,

    Most important would be to get a complete background on the bird, as training etc must be geared to the individual – there are general rules, but a great deal of variation and what works with one may not with another.

    As for taking the bird with you in the future, I wouldn’t consider that right now, unless the bird is used to such…possible only with certain very well-habituated birds.

    The Parrot Society of Australia is a good organization and provides links to useful resources, forums etc. I would also pick up a good cockatoo care and training book, as the important basics are often overlooked/hard to locate on line. Most any one by an experienced author/reputable publisher will cover the basic…I’m not up on current titles, but let me know if you need help with this and I’ll look into it. Enjoy and please keep me posted, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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