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Individual species profiles on various birds.

Goffin’s Cockatoo (Cacatua goffini): The Natural History and Captive Care of a Popular but Little-Studied Psittacine


Despite its status as one of the most frequently kept cockatoos, this Indonesian native remains something of a mystery in the wild. The Goffin’s cockatoo is, in fact, in somewhat of an unusual situation – being at once bred in huge numbers in captivity and yet likely endangered in the wild. Today we’ll take a look at what little is known about its natural behaviors.

Order: Psittaciformes (the parrots)

Family: Cacatuidae (the cockatoos). Twenty one species of cockatoo have been described, 11 of which are confined to Australia. The remainder inhabit New Guinea and nearby islands.

Physical Description
Average size: At 13 inches, this is one of the smaller cockatoos.

Smallest Cockatoo: The cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus (please see my article The Cockatiel: Facts about the World’s Smallest Cockatoo)

Largest Cockatoo: The massive palm cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus, reaches 29 inches in length (please see my article, Hand Rearing Palm Cockatoos)

The impression is, in my opinion, one of muted beauty – the overall white color of the Goffin’s cockatoo is set off by salmon-pink splashes at the lores (area between the eye and bill) and at the bases of the head feathers. The ear coverlets and underside of the tail and flight feathers are subtly tinged with yellow. The head crest is comparatively small.

Goffin’s cockatoos are limited in distribution to Indonesia’s Tanimbar Islands, in the Banda Sea (between New Guinea, Australia and Timor). It has been introduced to Tual (Kai Islands, Indonesia) and to Singapore.

Coastal lowland primary and secondary forests and agricultural areas.

Status in the Wild
Goffin’s cockatoo is, along with 4 other species, listed on Appendix I of CITES. Populations have long been in decline due to the effects of logging, which destroys nesting sites and brings nestlings within reach of collectors. The World Parrot Trust has, on occasion, purchased illegally-captured birds for return to the wild, but concrete conservation action is otherwise in short supply.

Their exact status remains unknown, but it is believed that there are far more captive than wild Goffin’s cockatoos.

Fruits, berries, flower buds and blossoms and nuts. Field reports indicate that they may consume insects at times. Goffin’s cockatoos occasionally raid corn fields, but the species is not considered a major agricultural pest.

Very little is known of the specifics of breeding in nature. Pairs mate for life, and produce 2-3 eggs per clutch. The weather in the Goffin’s natural habitat fluctuates wildly between very dry and very wet, and they seem able to breed year-round, whenever suitable conditions prevail.

The eggs are laid in a tree hollow, and are incubated for 28-30 days. The chicks remain in the nest for 8 weeks or so, after which they may forage as a small flock with the parents for some time.

Sexual maturity is reached in 2-3 years, but most do not breed until age 5-7.

Wild birds seem not to survive longer than 20 years or so, but captives routinely reach age 40, occasionally age 60-70.

Goffin’s cockatoos are extremely cautious in the wild, staying to taller trees and flying off at the slightest hint of danger. They are most often observed in pairs or small family groups of 3-10 birds.


Conservation-oriented information concerning this cockatoo is posted on the web site of the Committee on the International Trade in Endangered Species (note: the range CITES lists for this bird is more extensive than that which is generally accepted by ornithologists):

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Goffin.jpg

The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) in Nature – Facts about the World’s Smallest Cockatoo

“Cockatoo”? Yes, molecular genetic studies have revealed that this most common of pet birds is actually a true cockatoo. Today I would like to pass along a few facts about its life in the wild.

cockatielCockatiels range throughout nearly all of interior Australia and along the northwestern coast. During drought years, immense flocks may appear in coastal areas from which they have been absent for decades.

Food and Feeding
Unlike most parrots and cockatoos, cockatiels are clad in subtle gray – perhaps to camouflage the birds as they feed on the ground. They also feed in trees and bushes, and have been observed consuming mistletoe berries – a toxic meal that would kill most other bird species. Cockatiels sometimes forage in mixed species groups, especially with red-rumped parrots (Psephotus haematonotus).

In common with the hardy budgerigar, cockatiel reproduction is driven largely by rainfall. The usual breeding season extends from August to December, but they may nest as early as April if conditions are favorable. The ability to come into breeding condition on “short notice” may account for the egg-laying success (sometimes “over success!) of pet cockatiels and budgerigars. In captivity conditions are always good (hopefully!) and the birds take maximum advantage of this happy situation.

The Australian Avicultural Society has posted an informative article on cockatiel natural history at:

Introducing the Pin-Tailed Whydah or Widowbird (Vidua macruura)

An Under-handed Reproductive Strategy
At first glance, it might seem odd that East Africa’s pin-tailed whydah is such a popular aviary bird, as this resourceful sneak lays its eggs in the nests of other species, and relies upon the unwitting “foster parents” to raise its young. This reproductive strategy, termed brood parasitism, is shared by most the whydah’s 18 relatives, all classified within the family Viduidae. I should point out that adult whydahs do not (as is the case with a better known brood parasite, the common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus) toss out or eat the host’s eggs, and the fledglings rarely dislodge host chicks from the nest – the foster parents usually raise both successfully.So, in order to breed pin-tailed whydahs, one must have at least one mated pair of host birds, synchronized to lay eggs at a time favorable to a mated pair of whydahs. As successful and aspiring breeders can imagine, this can be very tricky, and will likely consume no small amount of time, space and money.

However, upon first viewing a male whydah in courtship flight, I immediately understood why many people happily put in the effort. The breeding male trails a fabulous, 10-12 inch tail from his 5-inch long, finch-like body, which itself is boldly marked in black and white. What’s more, his bobbing flight is often punctuated by falcon-like dives, which add to the drama of the display. Three to six females, or more, may line up to view his efforts.

Breeding Whydahs
Those of you with spacious outdoor aviaries, and tempted to take on a new challenge, might wish to consider this fascinating bird. Its usual host, the red-eared waxbill (Estrilida troglodytes) is common in the trade a reliable breeder. The waxbill’s courtship behavior usually brings the whydah into breeding readiness in short order.

If you do take on pin-tailed whydahs, bear in mind that they are polygamous in nature, and so are best kept in groups consisting of 1 cock and 2-6 hens (males are intolerant of each other). If you lack the space required by these gorgeous birds, by all means try to see them in a zoo or, better yet, in the wild (they are quite common throughout much of East Africa – the name “whydah” is drawn from a Nigerian town of the same name).


You can read more about whydahs in the wild and captivity at:

Introducing the Red-Cheeked Cordon Blue (Uraeginthus bengalus)

These beautiful little finches are among the most popular of the exotic seedeaters, both here and abroad. I highly recommend them to those who have a bit of finch-keeping experience and are looking to expand collections.

Natural History
Native to sub-Saharan Africa, cordon blues range from Senegal to Ethiopia, and south through eastern Africa to Zambia. They are usually associated with grassland habitats, but frequent farms and villages as well. They are members of the family Estrildidae, the waxbills.

Cordon blues top out at 4 ½ inches in length, and are clad in fawn brown and sky blue. The beak is red, with a black tip, and males have crimson cheek patches.

Warmth and Large Cages Required
Despite their small size, cordon blues need alot of space if they are to thrive, so provide them with one of our larger finch cages. Hailing from warm, dry climates, they are a bit more sensitive than most finches to cool, damp conditions, and do best at temperatures of 77 F or so.

Insects and Other Dietary Needs
Another thing to bear in mind is their need for a diet rich in insects – they will not do well on a seed-only diet. Small crickets, mealworms, waxworms and wild caught insects (consider using a ZooMed Bug Napper Insect Trap) are all relished. Small canned insects, such as Exo Terra silkworms, and ZooMed Anole Food (dried insects) are also worth trying. A quality finch seed should form the bulk of the diet, and sprouting grass and small amounts of carrot, broccoli and spinach should be provided 2-3 times weekly. Gravel, cuttlebone and a bath should always be available.

Breeding in Nature and Captivity
Cordon Blues will breed readily if provided with a roomy cage, and both sexes sing melodiously. An oven-shaped nest is constructed, and up to 5 eggs may be laid. Both sexes incubate the eggs for approximately 13 days, and the young fledge 17 days after hatching.

Interestingly, wild cordon blues often nest in trees occupied by wasp colonies. I’ll write more about this in the future, but it seems that finches nesting in such trees are twice as likely to be successful in fledging chicks as are birds nesting in trees without wasp colonies – probably because the wasps chase off egg and chick predators.

A number of other waxbills are popular in the pet trade…please write in with your observations and questions. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons and first posted by Christiaan Kooyman.

The Sun Conure (Aratinga solstitialis) and its Relatives – Praise and Warnings

Sun Conure ExhibitI was recently involved in designing an exhibit for sun conures, and was inspired once again to consider their suitability as pets and as birds for public exhibit. In their latter role, they are unparalleled – splashed in bright orange and yellow, and possessed of boundless energy, they never fail to delight zoo and aviary visitors. I furnished the exhibit mentioned with dead tree limbs and grapevine, and the new inhabitants lost no time in amusing themselves for hours on end.Pet conures, however, are often not so fortunate as those housed in public exhibits, since not everyone can deal with their loud voices and need for attention and exercise. People are often lured by the group’s spectacular plumage, and may not consider all that is involved in owning such a bird – they can be wonderful pets, but only in the right situations.

Of course, not all conures are noisy – although none of the 42 species, all native to Central and South America, can be termed “quiet”. The smaller ones, such as the green-cheeked, black-capped and maroon-bellied conures, are good choices if you are looking for a quieter, (but not quite “quiet”!) pet. The Patagonian, nanday, mitred, red-fronted and other medium to large conures tend to cause a racket. That being said, I must admit that a group of Patagonian conures I worked with at the Bronx Zoo were among the friendliest and most interesting birds I have ever run across.

Jenday ConureVocal tendencies aside, there can be no doubt that the sun conure makes a charming pet. In addition to its brilliant coloration, it is very playful and has a friendly, curious demeanor. The jenday conure, perhaps even more outgoing, is also a great companion bird – but is among the most vocal of the group.


You can see a sun conure’s playful nature in action at:

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