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

Sherry N

This is great info. If only every potential Cockatoo or parrot owner would read it and listen. I’ve rescued 2 throw-away u2’s. It has taken lots of hard work, advice, and persistence. 8 years later…… My male is in a good place. The new female is still working on feeling safe. It breaks my heart to see posts about, bad birds who bite, scream, throw food, destroys stuff! This is natural behavior the human is fighting against, not working with.

Sherry N
Susan

I had a citron crested cockatoo for 22 years. He is now in a Bird Sanctuary with other birds in an aviary. I miss him terribly, but his life is better and more bird-like now. He would bite when he got excited and lots of things made him excited. Other people approaching me, playing too rough with a toy…..I used to take him outside in the yard (his wings were trimmed) and sit him on the back of my lawn chair. He would occasionally get cranky and literally lunge for the back of my head. I would take him in after that, being very careful to watch him as I carried him. If he went for my hand, I’d shift his balance so he would have to straighten up again and couldn’t bite me. Other times he was SO sweet – but yes, he could be very testy and bitey. I never let him on the floor – it always resulted in some attempt to bite me.

Susan
Jamieleigh

Sounds like using the treat as a distraction has actually been rewarding him for being aggressive towards you (fluffing up, etc) and literally trained him to exaggerate the behavior. Check out our tuesday videos on youtube; www.youtube.com/birdtricks

Jamieleigh
Laura Rankin

How easy can it be to break a Too of previous owner’s bad habits? MI e is only about 4 or 5 years old, and he is an all day screamer… but only when I’m home.

Laura Rankin
Stephen

I am opposed to all sweeping and broad generalizations, whether about people or birds. We have 4 parrots – all different breeds, including a big "Too.. Every bird is a different “person” and has his or her own personality. Our ’Too likes be on the floor but it does not cause him to be aggressive at all. He likes to explore and play hide and seek and tag with us. If he ever displays aggressive behavior in any situation, we let him know RIGHT AWAY that is not acceptable and he gets it.

Stephen

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