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The Magnificent Cockatoos – Pros and Cons for Potential New Owners – Part 2

Cockatoo in SydneyStriking in appearance, playful and affectionate when socialized, hardy and possessed of complex, interesting personalities, Cockatoos have much to recommend them as pets (please see Part I of this article for more information).  Today, however, I feel it is important that we also consider some of the difficulties that may face the Cockatoo owner (or person owned by a Cockatoo!).

Need for Contact

A high degree of sociability renders Cockatoos as wonderful companions but in need of a great deal of human contact.  Even more so than many other parrots, Cockatoos left alone for long periods nearly always begin to scream or to pluck their feathers.

A typical working schedule does not allow for enough interaction time…two birds should always be kept in such situations (on the positive side, Cockatoos often get along well with other parrots, including lovebirds and other small species).

Housing Considerations

Cockatoos are extremely active and need a very large cage  or outdoor aviary.

The degeneration of powder-down feathers forms a fine, powdery “dust” that Cockatoos use in grooming and waterproofing their flight feathers.  This material spreads like windblown ash, and invariably winds up on furniture, clothes and floors.  Air filters and spraying the bird with water daily (Cockatoos like this!) will help, but powder down will remain a fact of life for the Cockatoo owner.

Potentially Troublesome Characteristics

Palm CockatooEven by parrot standards, most Cockatoos have very loud voices.

Cockatoos are inveterate wood chewers, and can demolish furniture and perches that would stand up to the largest macaw (or, it seems, axe!).  Interestingly (or annoyingly!) they are quite systematic in their “projects”…once a potential target has caught its eye, your Cockatoo, no matter how well trained, will usually find a way to get at it.


While most species can learn to repeat a few words, Cockatoos are not the most gifted mimics (they do excel in learning tricks, however).

Further Reading

You can read about a unique “digging” cockatoo, the Long Billed Corella.

An interesting article on powder down and its relation to health and illness in cockatoos is posted here.

For some idea of the impressive carrying power of a cockatoo’s voice, check out this video.



Cockatoo in Sydney image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio
Palm Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Doug Jansen

Parrot Conservation in Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific

Most aviculturists are aware that most parrot species face threats to their continued survival in the wild.  However, I sometimes feel that the successes that we have had both in and out of captivity blinds us to the fact that a great many, including several that are well-established in the pet trade, are still declining in the wild.

Parrot Central

KakapoThe region extending from New Zealand northwest through Australia to New Guinea and the islands of Indonesia is home to the world’s greatest diversity of parrots, with over one half of the known genera represented.  Conservation efforts are most effective in Australia and New Zealand, but less in evidence in New Guinea and islands in the Southwest Pacific.

Threatened Species

Of the many parrot species in need of attention in the area, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers 20 to be threatened with.  Particularly troublesome is the fact that almost half of these are listed as either “Endangered” or Critically Endangered”, including the New Caledonian, Kuhl’s and Ultramarine Lorikeets, the Night, Orange-bellied and Golden-shouldered Parrots, the Forbes’ and Orange-fronted Parakeets and the Kakapo.


Habitat Loss

CockatooHabitat loss and alteration is the gravest threats facing Australia’s parrots.  The felling of old trees bearing suitable hollows for nesting is particularly serious, as many parrots have specific requirements as to the size, height and location of nesting hollows, and will not utilize alternatives.  Especially hard hit have been Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and Mitchell’s Cockatoos, but most others are affected as well.

The loss of unique feeding habitats, especially lightly wooded grasslands, has severely impacted superb and swift parrot numbers.  These fertile areas are scarce in Australia, and most have long been converted to agricultural use.

The spread of agriculture and the introduction of exotic plants has benefitted those parrots that have been able to adapt to new diets.  Included among these are Galahs, Long-billed Corellas and Turquoise Parakeets.  However, these species are thriving at the expense of others, and their unnaturally high numbers radically upset the normal species compositions of their habitats.

Livestock and Kangaroos

Centuries of intensive grazing by introduced domestic and feral animals such as rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and camels has rendered natural plant and tree re-growth impossible in many regions.  Populations of native kangaroos have skyrocketed in those places where permanent water holes have been established for livestock, adding to the overgrazing problem.


Certain parrots rely upon fire to spur the reproduction of food plants, while others inhabit stable environments that rarely experience natural fires.  Human engineered fire use – burning off brush in some habitats while suppressing natural fires in others, threatens parrots in both categories.  Night, Princess, Golden-shouldered and Orange-bellied Parrots have declined radically due to changes in fire frequency.

Islands of the Southwest Pacific

While logging is a grave concern on the Solomon Islands and elsewhere, introduced predators account for the greatest losses in this region.  Five parrot species on New Zealand alone owe their threatened status to non-native predators such as Brush-tailed Possums, cats, black and Norway Rats, ferrets and stoats.

It often surprises those unfamiliar with the region that hunting is still a concern in New Guinea.  The highly endangered palm cockatoo is a much valued food item in some areas, and Pesquet’s Parrots are frequently killed for their plumage.

Further Reading

You can learn what the IUCN is doing to help conserve parrots in the Southwest Pacific here.


Kakapo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mnolf
Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio

Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories & Lorikeets – Interesting Facts and Figures – Part Two

Click here to view the first part of this article.

Most parrots lay their eggs within holes in trees, using little if any nesting material.

Lovebirds build true nests. Females wedge dried grasses and other nesting material into the feathers of their rumps for transport to the nest site.

Monk parrots build huge, communal stick nests. Escaped pets have established large colonies in NYC. At the Bronx Zoo I cared for a group that built a nest in their outdoor exhibit – their calls attracted free-living monk parrots, which added sticks to the exhibit roof, eventually forming an extension to the nest within the exhibit.

Golden-shouldered parrots (Australia) evacuate nests within terrestrial termite mounds, while New Guinea’s buff-faced pygmy parrot does the same in arboreal termite nests. It is assumed that the insects confer a degree of protection to nesting birds, although why they do not attack the parrots is unknown. The eggs may also benefit from the stable temperatures maintained within the mounds.

The Patagonian conure burrows into riverbanks and cliffs to a depth of 10 feet or more when nesting. Those I kept at the Bronx Zoo would not breed until provided with artificial burrows.

Ground parrots (Australia) nest in depressions below grass clumps.

Peach-faced loveLovebirdbirds (East Africa) nest colonially – often commandeering the intricately woven nests of weaver finches after driving out the rightful owners.

The rock parrot is surely the oddest of all when it comes to egg-laying. Its nests have only been found below rocks, just above the high tide mark along the South Australian coast.

Breeding and Courtship
Most parrots form monogamous pair bonds that may last a lifetime. New Zealand’s kakapo and kea, however, are polygamous.

The nocturnal kakapos are the only parrots to display in leks – females choose mates from groups of males which gather in one place to compete with loud, booming calls. In contrast to other parrots, male kakapos provide no care to the young.

Courting parrots utilize a behavior known as the “eye blaze”, in which the brightly colored iris expands in size.

Male and female parrots are often indistinguishable from one another. Male Australian king parrots, however, are scarlet in color while the females are bright green. Male and female eclectus parrots differ so much in appearance that they were long thought to be separate species – males are emerald green with scarlet flanks and under-wings, while females are crimson red with violet-blue bellies.

The IUCN Red Data Book lists 18 species of parrot as extinct, 32 as endangered, 17 as critically endangered and 82 as either vulnerable or threatened.

The spix macaw is likely extinct in the wild (although it survives in captivity) and the glaucous macaw has only been sighted twice in the 20th century. The flightless kakapo, threatened by introduced rats, cats and stoats, likely numbers less than 100 in its native New Zealand.

An article examining the relationship between natural and pet parrot behavior is posted at:http://www.realmacaw.com/pages/parrbehav.html

Parrots, Parakeets, Macaws, Cockatoos, Lories & Lorikeets – Interesting Facts and Figures – Part One

Parrots and their relatives have such a long history as pets (the first written record of a parrot in captivity is that of a plum-headed parakeet in Greece in 400 BC) that it is easy to forget how spectacularly adapted they are for life in the wild. Today I would like to pass along some information concerning the natural history of these fascinating birds, with the hope that it will help you to develop a better understanding and deeper appreciation of your pet’s unique qualities.

All 360 species of “parrot-like birds” (of the world’s nearly 10,000 bird species) are classified within the order Psittaciformes. They are divided into approximately 80 genera but belong to a single family, Psittacidae.

The hyacinth macaw, which reaches 3.4 feet in length and sports a wingspan of nearly 5 feet, is the world’s largest parrot. Papua New Guinea’s buff-faced pygmy parrot, fully grown at 3 inches, is the smallest. The flightless kakapo of New Zealand, at 9 pounds in weight, is the heaviest parrot.

Parrot bills are distinguished from those of other birds by the fact that the upper bill is hinged where it joins the skull, allowing for great flexibility and rendering it very useful as a tool. The thick tongue also helps give parrots their extraordinary ability to manipulate objects.

Parrot tails may be long, as in the macaws (2/3 birds total length) or nearly absent, as in the blue-crowned hanging parrots. The central tail feathers of the racket-tailed parrots of Indonesia and the Philippines are elongated and bare, and capped with flat, rounded tips. The function of their odd shape is not unknown. The New Guinea pygmy parrot’s stiff, bare tail feathers support the bird as it forages on tree trunks.

Parrots feet are termed “zygodactyl” – 2 toes point forward and 2 point backwards. This arrangement confers strength and dexterity. Parrots are distinctly “left-footed” or “right-footed” when it comes to handling objects with their feet.

Range and Habitat
The ring-necked parakeet, found from North Africa to China, is the widest ranging parrot. A group that escaped at Kennedy Airport in NYC still survives in the area surrounding the Bronx Zoo (an injured one that I came upon had lost some toes due to frostbite, but was otherwise in fine shape). Stephen’s lorry, the species most limited in distribution, survives only within a 13.5 square mile area on Henderson Island in the South Pacific.

The now extinct Carolina parakeet ranged to North America’s Great Lake region, making it the most northerly of parrots in distribution. Today that title is held by the slaty-headed parrot of Afghanistan. Tierra del Fuego’s austral conure ranges the furthest south.

Most parrots are associated with forested areas and even grassland species, such as the budgerigar (common parakeet) and Fischer’s lovebird, rarely stray far from thickets. There are however, a number of exceptions:
The kea lives at elevations of 2-6,000 feet in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, and is often seen rolling about in the snow. Other mountain dwelling parrots include the derbyan parakeet of the Himalayas and the Sierra parakeet of the Andes.
Australia’s ground parrot inhabits coastal sand dunes while the night parrot, also of Australia, is found only in desert grasslands.

While the vast majority of the world’s parrots feed upon nuts, seeds and fruit, several species take quite unique food items:
Black cockatoo – the larvae of wood-boring beetles
Kakapo – juice obtained by chewing leaves
Pygmy parrot – fungus
Lories and lorikeets – pollen and nectar

Perhaps the oddest parrot diet of all is that of New Zealand’s kea, which favors bot fly larvae. The kea hunts fly larvae by perching upon the backs of sheep and pecking at the skin – much to the dismay of both sheep and shepherds! This habit, and the bird’s inordinate fondness for carrion, has resulted in their being unjustly labeled as sheep-killers.

Hand Rearing Palm Cockatoos, Probosciger aterrimus – Part 1

Palm Cockatoo
It is not easy for a single species to stand out among a group of birds as spectacular as the cockatoos, but the striking palm cockatoo does so quite handily. At nearly 30 inches in length and with a 30-inch wingspan, this giant among cockatoos approaches the hyacinth macaw, Andorhynchus hyacinthus, the largest of the world’s 350+ species of parrot-like birds, in size. Its jet black feathers are set off by powdery gray down and highlighted by brilliant red cheek patches. Adding to the air of imposing size, the head is topped by a crest of long feathers and the beak is massive. Today I would like to tell you about my involvement with the first large group of palm cockatoos brought into this country and to discuss some of this magnificent creature’s unique characteristics.

But first, if I may, a bit more about what distinguishes this bird from the approximately 20 other species belonging to the family Cacatuidae, the cockatoos (all of which are members of the order Psittaciformes, along with parrots, lories and macaws). Palm cockatoos, also known as black palm cockatoos or goliath aratoos, are the only tropical rain forest-adapted members of their family — the rest being more at home in dry, often sparsely vegetative habitats. They are native to northern Australia’s Cape York Peninsula, New Guinea, Aru Island and smaller neighboring islands. Three subspecies have been identified, with New Guinea’s P. a. goliath being the largest.

Although this bird is unique among cockatoos in many ways, perhaps its most distinguishing feature is tool use — a phenomenon quite rare among birds in general. Most likely as an adaptation to a thickly forested habitat where sound travels poorly, palm cockatoos beat sticks and large nuts against hollow trees when communicating with others of their kind. This behavior, known as “drumming”, is repeated anywhere from 2 to over 100 times, and creates quite a racket. In fact, “palms” seem prone to odd modes of self-expression — when frightened, rather than hissing in typical cockatoo fashion, they stamp their feet!

Palm cockatoos are also unusual in possessing bare patches on the cheeks. The skin on these patches varies in color from dull red to bright crimson, depending on the bird’s mood, stress level, health and other factors of which we are as yet unaware. The face patch can also be covered with feathers during communication displays. The maxillary, or upper beak, is twice the size of that of its largest relative (its genus name, Probosciger, alludes to the beak). Extraordinarily powerful, this impressive structure assists the bird in securing its diet of large nuts (in captivity, even Brazil nuts pose no problem), seeds, fruits and leaf buds. The lower beak meets the upper only at the tip, leaving the mouth always slightly open. Unlike other cockatoos, which forage in large flocks, “palms” feed singly, in pairs, or in groups of up to 7 in number. Pairs return to their territories in the evening, but roost separately.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


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