a Cockatoo resting on a branch

Cockatoos are a type of parrot that make wonderful family pets. They are highly intelligent, social birds that can form strong bonds with their owners. Cockatoos come in a variety of colors and sizes, so there is sure to be one that fits your lifestyle and personality.

If you’re considering getting a Cockatoo as a pet, it’s important to understand what they need in order to thrive. Cockatoos are highly social birds and need a lot of attention from their owners. They need plenty of time out of their cage to interact with people and explore their environment. They also need a variety of toys, perches, and other items to keep them entertained.

A Cockatoo is an Australian parrot species that has become increasingly popular over the past few decades. They’re native to Australia and New Guinea, where they live in large flocks. They are often referred to as “cocky birds” by Australians because they come up with nicknames for everything.

Although Cockatoos are extremely social birds, they are still fairly independent and need some training before they can be fully integrated into a household.

Cockatoos are actually more similar to parrots than they are to parakeets, and they are much larger than either of those breeds. 

Cockatoos can be quite loud, so it’s important to consider your living situation before getting one. They’re also quite messy, so you’ll need to be prepared to clean up after them on a regular basis.

Cockatoos are very smart and trainable. They enjoy learning new tricks and will quickly pick up commands such as ‘sit’, ‘come’, and ‘stay’. They are highly adaptable, and will happily learn to use toys and objects that are placed in their cages.

Cockatoos are very intelligent birds and can be taught to do a variety of tricks. They can also learn to talk, although they may not be as proficient at it as some other parrots. With patience and consistency, you can teach your Cockatoo to recognize words and even mimic some of your own speech.

Because of their intelligence, cockatoos are excellent conversationalists and can be taught to speak multiple languages. They are also very vocal, making it easier to teach them to talk. Their loud voices also help them communicate with each other, which makes them great companions for people who like to listen to music or watch television together.

Cockatoos make wonderful family pets, but it’s important to remember that they need a lot of care and attention. If you’re willing to make the commitment, a Cockatoo can be a wonderful addition to your family. With the right care and attention, they can bring years of joy and companionship.

Information about Cockatoos

  • Average Length: 12 to 24 inches 
  • Colors: Black; White; Red and Gray. 
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: Yes
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes.
  • Safe with Children: No as they tend to feel jealous of younger children and may even bite them.
  • Good with Other Cockatoos: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No because they are very loud and noisy.
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No because they need constant attention and more care than other parrots.
  • Training: They have a short attention span and require a lot of patience to train.
  • Exercise Needs: High
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), Bumblefoot,  Feather Plucking and Mutilation Disease, Avian Sarcocystosis and Fatty Tumors.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 40 to 60 years

Physical Appearance of Cockatoos

a younger Cockatoo standing on a tree stump

There are 21 different species of the Cockatoos and each type has a different personality and physical traits. The different Cockatoo species can be differentiated by the different color of their feathers and crests. Most Cockatoos will be white or black with slight variations.

The Moluccan or Salmon-Crested Cockatoo is one of the largest white Cockatoo breeds. They have a rosy-pink plumage with a salmon-colored crest. The Moluccans have one of the fullest crests among the Cockatoos. Most of the time the crest remains hidden and shows up when they get excited. The beak and feet are black but some Moluccans will be a powder-brown color. The males have black eyes and the females are brown.

Black Palm Cockatoos are the largest of the Cockatoo species with an average length of 23 inches. Their plumage has smoky gray feathers with gray beak and feet. Some Black Palm Cockatoos will have darker feathers. They have a long crest with red patches on their cheeks. An interesting thing about their cheeks is that they can change color when they get excited.

They are monomorphic species which means that there is no visual way to determine their sex. If you want to know what sex they are then a surgical or genetic sexing will need to be done.

Rose-Breasted or Galah Cockatoo have feathers that look spectacular with vibrant shades of pink and gray. They’re shorter than other Cockatoos with an average length of 14 inches. The Galah Cockatoo has a pink chest and lower face with a pinkish-white crest. Their beak is tan but their feet and tail are gray. They are one of the most popular birds because of their looks and friendly personalities.

Temperament of Cockatoos

Cockatoos are lively, intelligent and playful, they are also sociable and affectionate birds. Most Cockatoos will bond quickly with their family and enjoy being cuddled. They tend to get excited at times, or be mischievous or aggressive.

They can attack family members by moving quickly out of fear, or even trying to bite. If they ever try to attack it is usually because of improper socialization which can make them feel stressed.

They are good at mimicking different sounds, including human speech. The ability of the Cockatoos to mimic sounds varies between the different species. Galah are known to be the most talkative Cockatoo breed. Cockatoos are known for being very loud and noisy. Some Cockatoos will regularly scream the words they have learned which can be irritating for their family.

Training Cockatoos

a Cockatoo standing on a persons hand with something in their mouth

These birds should be trained right after they are brought home. Early training will help reduce the likelihood of your bird behaving aggressively when they mature. Developing a bond with your bird will make it easier to train them. The birds need to be handled gently with affection and should be fed treats everyday.

It’s possible to feed them by hand but always move around slowly when you are close to them. Sudden movements can make your birds scared. To minimize distractions during training, train your bird in a room that is away from anything that could distract them. Cockatoos seem to be easily distracted when you want to train them.

Once you see they are responding well to you and your hand feeding, try handling them gently. Let them sit on the perches or on your hand. Open their cage when your bird starts climbing on your hand on their own. You can then carry them around the house. Keep all the doors and windows closed while they are outside their cage to keep them from flying away.

They can be trained to speak a word or small phrases. Keep repeating the word or phrase to them and slowly your bird will learn. Cockatoos have a short attention span and the training sessions need to be kept short. As they learn more you can gradually increase the time of the training sessions. The training sessions should be stopped if your bird gets irritated. Avoid raising your voice or losing patience with your bird during the training. If the birds are afraid of you it will make training them much more difficult while you build their trust again.

Their Compatibility with Children

Cockatoos are not recommended as pets for families with young children. They get excited easily and could end up biting your children. These birds tend to be jealous of small children but will be usually fine with older children. Any time you introduce a new pet to children it’s a good idea to have an adult around to supervise and avoid problems. See how your bird socializes with your children before allowing them to play together. It might keep your children from getting hurt. Cockatoos have long and powerful beaks that can hurt your children if they bite.

Best Habitat for Cockatoos

a Cockatoo climbing a stick with their wings extended

Cockatoos are large heavy birds and need a strong bird cage that is made of stainless steel or wrought iron. Having a cage with horizontal bars will allow your birds to climb and exercise themselves. Smaller species like the Galah Cockatoo can be kept in bird cages that are at least 24”L x 36”W x 36”T.

Larger species like the Moluccan Cockatoos will need larger cages that are at least 24”L x 48”W x 48”T. The larger the cage the better it will be for your bird. The space between the bars on the cage should be 1 inch or less. Any bigger spacing and there is a chance your bird could get their head stuck between them.

Cockatoos like to have perches of different diameters and sizes for them to stand on. Depending upon the size of your bird the perches should range between ½ to 2.5 inches. Wood perches are the best type for them. They have different shapes and can also be chewed by the birds to keep their beaks trimmed. Do not use plastic perches because chewing or swallowing them can be harmful to your bird.

Cockatoos like to chew a lot and they need to be given toys so that they always have something to keep them busy. Softwood toys, rope toys, bells or cardboard are all fun for Cockatoos. Hanging toys are always fun for your birds because they like to play with them. Make sure the toys do not have any sharp ends that can hurt your bird.

For substrate, any type of paper like paper towels, paper bags, or butcher paper works well. They are cheap and will lie flat on the bottom of the cage. Paper also makes it easy for you to check their droppings to monitor your bird’s health. These papers are also non-toxic and completely safe.

Habitat Maintenance

a Cockatoo on a branch with their wings extended for flight

Cockatoos are birds that are mostly active during the day and need 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night. Turning off all the lights in the room will make it easier for your birds to sleep.

Keeping their cage clean is important. The water and feeding dishes should be cleaned daily. Wipe the bars and perches if you find feather dust on them. Replace the paper cage lining twice a week.

A deep cleaning should be done in their cage at least once a month. During deep cleaning remove and replace dirty toys, perches and swings inside the cage. Avoid using chemical solutions to clean the cage because it can be harmful to your birds.

The Attention a Cockatoo Needs

Cockatoos need a lot of attention. Leaving them alone can cause them to become depressed or develop neurotic behaviors. If they feel lonely they may self-mutilate by plucking their feathers or skin if left alone. This destructive behavior is seen more in the Moluccan Cockatoos. 

To give them the attention that they need, spend at least one hour playing with them each day. Letting them outside their cage for 3 to 4 hours will give them play time and exercise and help them stay fit. It will also reduce boredom from being in their cage.

Before buying a Cockatoo, think about the long lifespan they have. Cockatoos can live to be 50 to 60 years old which makes them a lifetime commitment. Their constant attention requirements can make it difficult for new bird keepers care for the birds for so long.

Health Issues

If Cockatoos are fed a healthy diet and they receive the attention they need, they will usually not get sick. It can be difficult to determine when Cockatoos become sick but possible symptoms of illnesses are:

  • Discharge from the beak
  • Slit pupils in place of round
  • Dull or colorless  plumage
  • Ruffled feathers or bare spots
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in stool 
  • Feather plucking

The following diseases are commonly found in the Cockatoos.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)

Beak and Feather Syndrome is caused by a newly identified virus called circovirus psittacus (PsCV). The virus is spread from bird to bird through contact with saliva, feces or feather dust. The virus has also been found in feed, water and cages that are contaminated with infected bird droppings.

Infected birds usually have symptoms of the disease within 6-12 weeks of contact with the virus, and it can take up to a year for all symptoms to manifest.

Symptoms of Beak and Feather Syndrome

Symptoms of Beak and Feather Syndrome include:

  • Feather loss
  • Discoloration of the feathers
  • Deformed beaks
  • Overgrown claws
  • Swollen joints

In more severe cases, beaks can become fused together or a bird may develop difficulty balancing or walking. The virus can also cause weight loss and weakness in infected birds. In extreme cases the disease can lead to death.


a pile of loose bird feathers representing feather plucking disease

Avian bumblefoot (also known as pododermatitis) is a common and sometimes painful condition seen in birds. It occurs when the skin of their feet becomes inflamed, often due to bacterial or fungal infection. Symptoms include swelling, redness, crusting, scales, and skin thickening. In severe cases, lesions or ulcers may form on their feet.

Avian bumblefoot is most commonly seen in pet birds, especially those kept in cages. It can develop when a bird stands on an uneven or rough surface for too long, and it’s often the result of inadequate cage cleaning or unclean water bowls. Other factors that can contribute to the development of bumblefoot include obesity, poor nutrition, trauma, and certain medical conditions.

Feather Plucking and Self Mutilation

Feather Plucking and Mutilation Disease is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental, social, and/or physiological factors. Environmental causes can include overcrowding in cages or aviaries, not enough perching space, inadequate nutrition or diet, inadequate exposure to natural sunlight or other forms of light, and stress due to changes in the bird’s environment. 

Social causes can include trauma caused by excessive handling or physical contact, as well as not enough mental stimulation from toys and activities. Physiological causes can include an underlying medical condition like a vitamin deficiency, hormonal imbalance, infection or parasite infestation.

Fatty Tumors

a cockatoo being checked for Avian Sarcocystosis

Avian fatty tumors, also known as lipomas, are benign growths of fat cells that can occur in birds. They are typically found in their abdomen or chest cavity and can be soft or firm to the touch. While these tumors generally don’t need treatment, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian if they become large or tender. In rare cases, fatty tumors can be malignant, and it’s important to be aware of any changes in the size or texture of the tumor.

Fatty tumors can occur in birds of all ages, but they are most common in older birds. They tend to be more pronounced in larger breeds, like Macaws and Cockatoos. These tumors are usually not painful or bothersome to the bird unless they become large enough to interfere with breathing or other internal organs.

In some cases, fatty tumors can be surgically removed if they become too large or bothersome. If a bird has a tumor that is making it difficult to breathe, it may need to be removed as soon as possible. Surgery carries risks and should only be considered in extreme cases.

It’s important to monitor any changes in the size or texture of a fatty tumor and consult your veterinarian if there are any concerns. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the best course of action for your bird’s health.

Avian Sarcocystosis

Avian Sarcocystis is a type of parasite that affects some birds. It’s caused by protozoan parasites belonging to the genus Sarcocystis. These parasites infect the bird’s muscles, causing sarcocystosis. The most common symptoms of avian sarcocystosis are weight loss, anemia, and muscle weakness.

The birds are usually infected from consuming food or water contaminated with sporulated oocysts (egg-like structures) of the parasite. The oocysts are excreted in the feces of infected birds and can remain infectious in the environment for several weeks.

Once ingested, the parasites invade your bird’s intestines and migrate to their skeletal muscles where they form cysts. These cysts can remain dormant in birds for months or even years before becoming symptomatic.

Bathing and Cleaning

Bathing your bird is important to keep their feathers clean. They produce powdery coating from their feathers which is called powder down. It can make their feathers and their cage dirty. They should be given a bath or shower once a week with lukewarm water. The shower should not be strong and should always be without soap. There are a number of different ways to spray them, with a shower head or a plant sprayer. The feathers of your bird are water resistant but once they become wet it can take up to 2 hours for them to dry. It is important that they be kept somewhere warm after getting wet so that they don’t get sick.

If you have only one Cockatoo then they will need help preening. Scratch gently on their heads, neck and areas where they cannot reach with your hands. Cockatoos housed in pairs can preen each other. Preening helps moisturize and keep their feathers strong.

Feeding Cockatoos

a pile of bird seed

Cockatoos eat a variety of foods in the wild which primarily consists of seeds and nuts. Domesticated Cockatoos need to be given a variety of fresh foods and pellets. Pellets should make up about 50 percent of their diet. The pellets you give to the bird should be well formulated and have a good balance of the nutrients they need. Avoid giving them a seed only diet because seeds are deficient in many nutrients and are high in fat which can make them overweight.

The remaining 40 to 50 percent of the diet should consist of vegetables, fruits and grains. They can occasionally be given cooked grains like oats, brown rice, barley and vegetable pasta. Avoid including a lot of fruit in their diet. Some citrus fruits have high Vitamin C content which can cause Iron Overload Disease in these birds.

Cockatoos tend to gain weight easily and it is important not to overfeed them. Once they mature you’ll want to keep an eye on their weight. Feed them enough to stay active and healthy, but not too much that they gain too much weight. Cockatoos often play with their food, tossing around and chewing their food. Start feeding them by giving more in the beginning and then reducing the portions depending on what they eat. If you know how much they should eat, and they become hungry you may see them looking for food they dropped while playing.

Cockatoos love nuts as an occasional treat.

Related Questions:

Can Two Cockatoos be Kept Together?

Yes, in the wild the Cockatoos like to move around in flocks. Cockatoos are sociable and can live together with other Cockatoos in a bird cage or aviary. Keeping multiple birds together will also keep them from doing things like feather plucking. Two Cockatoos living together will require less attention from their family as they will enjoy playing and communicating with each other. They will still require your daily attention and should not be ignored.

Are Cockatoos Good Climbers?

Yes, like most other parrots Cockatoos also have two toes, one pointing front and the other pointing back. Along with the help of their beaks, Cockatoos can use their toes just like people use their hands. Their toes help them with climbing and even hold things with one toe. In the wild, Cockatoos are known to be great climbers.

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Maryna is an animal expert that has had dozens of animals in her life over the years. She has never found an animal that she didn't love immediately. It seems like every year she finds kittens that have been abandoned by their mom and she nurses them to health and finds homes for them. She contributes her vast knowledge about animals and family pets to our website and we're forever grateful to have her working with us. She's also an amazing graphics designer and has designed all of the social media images that we use across all platforms.