3 Mistakes You Must Not Make With A Cockatoo


 

If you are the kind of person who has scoured the internet to learn everything available about your parrot, you have no doubt come across this word “anthropomorphism”. It means to assign human traits to things that are not human, such as a parrot. An example of this would be the presumption that parrots fall in love like humans do based on the fact that they choose a mate for life.

Anthropomorphizing is a tool that many humans use to try to make sense of things that they don’t understand. However, when we allow ourselves that convenience it causes us to make mistakes in our care for our parrots, such as allowing them to “play” in a “fort” they are building inside a dark cabinet.

In reality parrots choose mates based on their ability to produce healthy chicks and defend their nest. It has nothing to do with having found their other half. The “fort” is a nest and the bird is definitely not playing. However, we are human, and it is hard to see things from a parrot’s perspective. It is even harder to WANT to see things from their perspective because sometimes it is a harsh look at the realities of nature.

Anthropomorphizing is a hole we don’t want to fall into. One of the biggest struggles we have in doing things right for our parrots is with our humanness because it makes something that should be completely natural feel like work. However, our humanness is also the very thing that makes us try so hard to get it right.

The cockatoo, specifically the white ones, are parrots that excel at pulling on our heartstrings. There are specific traits that they have that make it nearly impossible to avoid anthropomorphizing their behavior. As it turns out, the traits that make us fall in love with cockatoos are the same ones that cause their behavior problems and land them in rescues everywhere. A cockatoo is his own worst enemy.

There is an abundance of very entertaining videos posted all over that make life with a cockatoo appear to be the most fun a human could ever hope for with a companion animal. I will put money on the fact that those videos depict the day’s best 3 minutes with that bird and that the endings of some of the videos were edited out.

For anyone considering a cockatoo, I want to offer three pieces of advice that might help you avoid ruining your life and the life of your new cockatoo.

  1. Don’t allow your cockatoo to become over-excited.
    The videos mentioned above often depict cockatoos in a very excited state. They are often “arguing” with their humans with very animated, human-like gestures and voice inflections that are an impeccable imitation of human excitement. It’s impressive. However, they aren’t just pretending to be excited. They are excited. There is a tipping point with a cockatoo where excitement becomes aggression. It is very much like the child whose birthday party has become overwhelming. The event often ends with tears and tantrums. You will be wise to end the excitement while it is still of a happy nature. That time frame is short. Remember, you can always initiate more fun times later, but the bite you might receive because you waited too long will be on everyone’s permanent record.
  2. Try to keep your cockatoo off the floor.
    I know. This is a tough one. Cockatoos tend to migrate to the floor. I don’t know whether it is because they are ground foragers or because their brazen nature makes them unafraid of things that tower over them. What I do know is that they have a foot fetish, and a floor is the place where feet are most commonly found. If you notice your cockatoo quietly staring at your feet, you need to remove one or the other from the floor right away. This behavior is very common, and I feel it is tied into over excitement. Even the feet of seated people are in motion more than we might realize, and from the vantage point of a cockatoo that is on the floor, it may look like an invitation to “interact”. A cockatoo can cause serious injury to a human foot.
  3. Resist the urge to cuddle your cockatoo.
    This is the hardest one of all but also the most important, and it is the reason I went on about anthropomorphizing at the beginning of this post. The cuddly nature of the cockatoo is their biggest selling point, but also, unfortunately, their downfall. It is hard to understand why a cockatoo would want to cuddle with a human being, a predator. I know with my Goffin's cockatoo, Theo, it is a sexual thing. The minute she feels the warmth of an embrace she starts to quiver. But with Linus it is different; it feels like hugging a child. There is only a sense of the need for affection, comfort, and love; and it feels right, but giving into your bird’s constant requests for this type of interaction will result in problem behaviors. A constantly cuddled cockatoo will grow into an overly needy and demanding bird which can’t get through the day without his human. They often never learn to play independently because they are constantly seeking human attention. They become seriously high-maintenance birds, screaming until they get what they have grown to expect from their human flock member.

Those who have the best success with a cockatoo understand and dispense tough love. They know that they must never compare the behaviors of cockatoos with those of humans, and they understand that less is more when it comes to just about everything they do with their bird.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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30 comments

Suzanne Gibson

Well lets see I’ve now had 3 Cockatoos, 1 back in 1995 Umbrella raised her from an egg…. I ended up losing her to my house burning down devastated me.. It took me till 4 years ago 2017 to actually get another one and this time instead of buying I decided to help the birds that have no homes (Rescue Birds) Got my first rescue in 2017 Very sociable bird and came around really fast he’s a mullocaan, 30 years old and just beautiful and doing great…. then just a couple months ago I found out two birds were in need of rescuing 1 mullocan and 1 blue and gold they were in a dark back bedroom and the mullocaan actually was so socialized he bit the owners finger off… when I first got him home I thought he was gonna destroy me he and the blue and gold had no social skills at all.. he did not get to come out and left him in his cage and he is now in the living room so he has to deal with people and everything.. (traffic) I left him in his cage and just talked to him for about 3? weeks till I felt he was ready to come out.. He showed all the signs of aggression thats why it took 3 weeks.. He’s out now its been two months and he’s come around beautifully… Loves to be loved, loves to be talked to now I’m having issues with weather or not I can get the two male cockatoos to enjoy socializing with each other… ones 26 the other is 30 both mullocans they both have their own cages would never cage them together but I worried they might fight if they get too close will they get along eventually? I really need to know…

Suzanne Gibson
Amanda

Please help, I have taken in a Cockatoo from a friend of a friend. We were told that he was lonely and stressed, and because of this, he has plucked all feather off his body. He only has feather on his head, wings, and tail. He can still fly! I feel this is a key factor to my story. As soon as we got home, we warned the kids to stay clear of the bird as we don’t know his personality, and he doesn’t known ours. Well I let him out of his travel cage so he can moved to his large cage at home where he can acclimate. He instantly flew on to my arm and was very chatty. He refused to go back in to any cage. I think it must be because he spent a long time in his old cage from previous owner with no interaction or attention. All was well, he wanted all the attention from me and my kids, but he is hissing at my husband. The entire night went wonderful. The kids held him after very careful supervision, he loved their scratches on the head and he even opens his wing to get scratches under his wings. He seems to looking for human interaction. The next day went very different. We did manage to get him in his enclosure, which he hated me for. But in the morning, my husband let him out while I got up and ready for the day. As soon as I walk out my room, the cockatoo sees me and flies straight to my arm. He was very lovey and wanted head scratches instantly. Kids got up and hand fed him a few pellets and carried on with their day. Later that afternoon is when everything went crazy. I left the room for a bit to take our dogs out and I left the cockatoo on his perch on his cage. I can hear him squawking loud, assuming he is mad I am out of sight? He seems very attached to me and only wants to be on me mostly. When I came in, and while I was unleashing the dogs in the hallway, I seen the cockatoo fly to my sons arm, but he then proceeds to fly / attack? my 3 year old daughter who walked up. After he scares her off, he then turns around and flies after my son who is almost 9. Both my kids are now terrified. My son said he was sitting on the couch when the cockatoo flew off the cage towards him. He was just petting his head when my daughter walked up. Was he jealous? Mad? Protection my son? I removed the cockatoo and managed to get him in his cage until everything and everyone cooled down. Later that evening I let out the cockatoo, and as usual, he jumps straight on my arm and is a happy camper on my shoulder. I gave my daughter a pellet and allowed her to attempt to give the cockatoo a treat. When she did this, the cockatoo instantly lunges at her. She runs away absolutely beside herself, she is so scared of this bird now. I am now convinced he is trying to inflect harm. For the rest of the evening I keep the bird away from my kids until the last part of the night. My daughter was calling me to help her on the potty, so I sat the cockatoo down on a chair in my bedroom and went on with business in the bathroom with my daughter. When she finished, she noticed the bird on the chair and proceeded to climb over the bed to take the long way around the bird, she doesn’t want to be anywhere close to him. Well the cockatoo turns from the chair, flies on to my bed after her. She is screaming and crying as she is trying to get away. The cockatoo’s feathers on his head are up, and he is hopping right towards her. I grab the comforter and pull it towards me so it brings the bird closer, and my daughter makes a run for it as she is now traumatized that this bird is out to get her. I feel the same and feel absolutely awful. We only wanted to provide the best home for our new bird. We have lots of toys, treats, very social family and have neighbors that like to come over for football games. The first night was awesome, but now I feel like the bird hates my husband (who he has never tried attacking) and he clearly wants to attack my daughter, or so it appears. Someone please help, give insight! Is he just playing? Is he being possessive over me? Can a person and bird even bond that fast for him to feel jealous of my kid(s)? I need to know if this is a behavior that will continue to worsen, and I should really consider a new home for the health and safety of my family.

Amanda
Jon

We just adopted a 5 year old female Goffin named Maki, yesterday. She was raised from egg by her previous owner whom has since passed and was bounced around between a couple homes very quickly before we found her. She has taken quite nicely to me but is doing a couple things I thought I should ask about. First thing, she really likes hiding stuff in her wings, to the point she’ll clip feathers to hide so I keep a good assortment of toys for her destroy which keeps her from getting at her feathers…should I be doing something else as well? Second thing, she likes to snuggle right up to my neck as close as she can then tries to put me under her wing and scritches her neck with one foot…should I not let her do that or is it fine? Thanks a bunch

Jon
Ozbloke40

100% agreed. Every Cockatoo is so different, you cannot generalise, (I mean you can but doesn’t mean it will work across the board) as they all have very different personalities. I have had two Red-Tailed black cockatoos and both have been female and couldn’t be anymore different. Both didn’t bite me on the floor. One likes to cuddle, sometimes, the other one didn’t really at all. Zero sexual nature about any of them towards me.

Ozbloke40
Diana Whitehead

I have rescued a 10 Yr old Corella Cockatoo, he has been neglected. Need help

Diana Whitehead
Ramy

Hi we just got a male cokatoo last week between 2 and 5 years old . We are the third owner and the second owner gave it to me because he was biting her husband I realized he likes to put the food under his wings ? What is that mean ? Is it a female then ? We have no certificates or no ring on his feet’s He is very quiet ? And bonding with my wife to be caressed and with me he just wants to give kisses Is there anything I should know ? Thank you for your advise

Ramy
Karen Straight

Linda Horton, do you still have the Cockatoo you found? Karen kstr873@yahoo.com

Karen Straight
Trina

We just adopted a 17 year old sulphur. When we got her she was plucking, her skin was dry and itchy. She now has the proper diet and a large cage but its been 2 months and she’s so aggressive. She has bitten my neck so bad I have a 1/2 inch scare. She bit my daughter on. the bridge of the nose and she has a splinter fracture. We are at a loss as to how to get her to stop bitting and lunging at everyone. She used to be with male owners , the last one inherited her and did not take care of her. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Trina
Becky Wein

I am a Too lover. Sunny is the best parrot I’ve had (out of 5). He is so personable and cuddly like a kitten. He was adopted at 4 yrs and was afraid to get out of his cage. I did trigger training and he’s become the best pet ever. Now he’s 10 yrs old and minds like a typical 2 yr old (when he wants to).But that’s what is so endearing. I outsmart him, set limits and read his body language, just like any other parrot. Horny boy at times, yes, but we set limits since he can’t. He loves my husband too, but is very skittish and shy around others. Has nipped but never bitten because he’s never felt threatened I guess. His one bad habit is that he hangs from his beak and screetches at times. I leave the room and close the door. Yes, he is a handful, as with any parrot. Sunny is my pet with his personality and wouldn’t have him any other way.

Becky Wein
Kate

To Linda Horton who posted on 25/04/2020 – please check ParrotAlert.com for any lost posts in your region. You should also call your local council/pound to see if there are any reported Sulfurs missing. There’s also great lost and found groups on FB to check. Make sure to ask for proof of ownership though, as many people want to take in lost birds that aren’t actually theirs.

Kate
Phil

I’m Australian, which means these animals are wild. A sulphar crested cockatoo was severely injured outside my house, so I took her in. Vet diagnosed beak and feather disease, so its irresponsible to return her to the wild. Turning her over to a wildlife organization would mean euthenasia for her. We are now stuck with each other. She is as demanding as the article suggests and I would say don’t take one in unless you really understand the responsibilities. Having said that, i have found caring for her to be epically rewarding. I doubt i will ever buy a pet, but I’ll certainly rescue another if the opportunity arises.

Phil
Linda Horton

I found a sulfur cockatoo in my yard. It was dehydrated and weak I put it in a large cage gave it water and fruit and cocktail seed. It’s friendly and sweet. No one has came forward to owning this bird and it is now a week. I’m not sure what I should do.

Linda Horton
Jan Ford

I have a 27 yr old Cockatoo that I ‘rescued’ from a ho.e where he was shut in a 10′ × 10′ room for 3 years. We have came a long way and he is a wonderful bird. His problem is he will not step up from his cage. This has become a real issue as he is the one that decides when he will come off the cage for anything. He will step up anywhere else, his behavior is great in almost every other way. Not saying he is perfect, he’s a Cockatoo with all the normal Cockatoo behaviors! Good and bad. I am at a loss as to how to get him in and out of his cage on my direction, not his!! Can you help? A sincere thank you for any advice!

Jan Ford
Kerre Anne

I just got this Umbrella Cockatoo about 2 months ago and even though I have a blue and gold macaw I couldn’t find much on the behaviors have a cockatoo and if I had I probably have thought twice! The people I got him from didn’t disclose all of his bad behaviors and I’ve tried to have as much patience as I can but without the proper tools I didn’t know what to do and your advice is the best I’ve seen yet! He screams to no end and the other people used to cover him all the time and so that’s what I do to get them to quiet down and I hate it! I give him wooden blocks to chew and he loves them but they do make quite a bit of a mess but that’s okay. He’s attacked my son any his girlfriend. At first he was fine with my son and then all of a sudden the more he got attached to me the more he didn’t like anybody else! This bird came from a family of 7 people from kids to adult but after spending time with him and learning what I could from the old owners it looks like this was more the husband’s bird and the wife wanted it gone I’ve tried to talk to the husband about the bird but the wife or you seems to intervene when I send emails it says that this bird never had any issues… yeah right! I’m not giving up because I feel like it would be unfair to him but he’s a very sexual bird on top of it sometimes I don’t want to hold him because all he does is try to make love with my hand LOL help please anyone

Kerre Anne
Vivianne Lee

Guilty of all 3. Is there a guide on correcting behavior? Also my Goffin’s Cockatoo plucks. She’s a rescue and I got her with all her back and chest feathers plucked. I’ve tried making sock sweaters so she can’t get at them. I’ve taken her to a vet who said it was behavioral.

Vivianne Lee
Michael Chaitin

I’m totally guilty of #3 with my 19 year old female Umbrella. 36 years ago when I first started keeping or should I say parronting toos there was very little information. Certainly no internet ! I happened to make some serious mistakes with my U2. During breeding season I can’t get near her as she has bonded with me (mate wise). I feel sorry for her….I take the blame ! When things get bad I take her to her avian vet for hormone injections ( I didn’t like the implants as they were just too invasive).

Michael Chaitin
Barb s

Very well said. And I totally agree. Thanks.

Barb s
Lori

This is what I try to impart on others when they meet Casey (29 yr old Male Goffins) and in his blog. It isn’t all cutsey fun and games. It is a lot of hard work and sorry, this is anthorpomorphizing but it can be LIKE having a young inconsolable, tantrum-throwing child that bites! The key is understanding their behaviour. Casey gets aggressive if he gets over excited but I have learned how to read his body language very well. At times, I push it but it is my own fault. As for the feet… hard to avoid. He runs around when he is out but what works is good eye contact and communication as a means to avoid any beak n’ toe run ins. He can entertain himself but yes, as with all ’toos is demanding of his humans. His timer goes off at around 5 pm daily and we have to be diligent in not caving in to the screams and waiting until the lulls are present around his designated “out” time otherwise we are doomed :)

Lori
betty

Extremely wise, but difficult to follow advice. I wish everyone understood these 3 things as realities before they got a cockatoo.

betty
Jessica

This is a great article… My female Umbrella Cockatoo is the ultimate affectionate cuddler of all times. Sometimes its bc she wants a feather rub and other times it can be sexual. I have been working with Molly for almost 3yrs to break her of the, “I need my human all the time” issue. She has come a long way since she first became a family member. I have found that a routine time schedule and plenty of toys has been the most effective approach… also, she does have a foot fetish but we call it the Molly Pedicure, bc she just tickles our toes. She’s not a biter just a lover.

Jessica
Launa

I have 2 cockatoos, 1 sulfer crested and 1 umbrella. They were my aunt & uncle’s, who have both passed. The umbrella had a collar on when I got her, due to the lack of attention she was used to when my aunt was living. I have had 3years now and the collar is an on again off again thing. The cuddling thing probably explains the plucking? She can go a couple months with it off then one day she will pluck again. This isn’t just plucking, she digs a wound in her chest. She loves to cuddle and will start panting like a dog. When she has the collar on we don’t cuddle. I thought maybe she would realize the collar was a bad thing. How do I break these habits without her feeling neglected? She is a sweat lovable bird but i hate the collar on her. And she does have feet issues as well.

Launa
Margaret

I have a galah who I leave at my dads place when I cant have him at home. Now all of a sudden he has grown to love my dad. He just sits with my dad for as long as he is not in his cage.. Now when I go over to my dads place to see Rocky and let him out for a fly he goes over to my dad. When I go near dad he fluffs up to three times his size. I ignore it and give him a treat to distract him. Twice now he has attacked me savagely and I mean, drew blood. After he calms down he says “are you okay” like it was nothing. He seems very dangerous. How can I change that anger.

Margaret
Leesa Strawbridge

Yes great information. I learned all those lessons the hard way. Now I’m working on making things right.

Leesa Strawbridge
Jason

Funny people praise how great my cockatoos are and they both plan on the and I cuddle them often. I have never had a problem. As far as getting over excited, it is impossible to avoid that all the time unless you NEVER interact with them. If that is the case you shouldn’t have them in the first place.

Jason
Gayle

Excellent advice…thank you. I don’t have a Cockatoo in my life, but I have a Buff-Crowned Hawkhead. The behaviors you describe in your three “Don’ts” could be written about owning and interacting with a Hawkhead – at least mine anyway. Her breeder experienced her foot fetish when she was still a chick – around 3 months old. I have to be constantly aware of her proximity when she goes to the floor, which is often. She really likes being on the floor, and she isn’t a large bird. However, my Caique also likes being on the floor, and the two of them often go on walk-abouts. Anyway, I find it interesting how well your advice applies to my Hawkhead, who also flares her head feathers when she gets excited :-)

Gayle

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