Cockatoos are very popular birds as pets, especially in the United States. This is due to their sociable nature, and their often long lifespans in captivity. The first way you can tell a cockatoo would be a good pet for your family is their social interaction skills. 

They are very good at interacting with people, especially their owners. This means you can teach them tricks and have a conversation with them. They are also very lively and energetic. This means you can play with them and let them run around your house whenever they like, which is important for any pet.  Cockatoos are very intelligent, so you can teach them many things, and they will learn them quickly.

The cockatoo family is a wide and varied bunch, filled with bright and beautiful birds that make wonderful pets for the right people. The most popular cockatoo species is the yellow-crested cockatoo, but there are many other species that are just as lovable, including the lovely Goffin’s cockatoo and the stunningly beautiful blue-eyed cockatoo. If you have enough time to give them the right amount of attention, they could be quite the companion bird for your entire family.

a yellow crested Cockatoo perched on a fence

Information about Cockatoos

  • Average Length: 12 to 24 inches 
  • Colors: Black; White; Red and Gray. 
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • 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.
  • Suitable for First-Time 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 Sarcocytosis and Fatty Tumors.
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 40 to 60 years
a yellow crested Cockatoo looking around

Physical Appearance of Cockatoos

There are 21 different species of the Cockatoos with each having a different personality and physical traits. The different Cockatoo species are identified by the different color of their feathers and crests. Most Cockatoos will have white or black colors with slight variations.

The Moluccan or Salmon-Crested Cockatoo is one of the largest white Cockatoo breeds. These have a plumage of rosy-pink color with a salmon-colored crest. The Moluccans have one of the fullest crests amongst the Cockatoos. Most of the time the crest remains hidden and shows up when the bird gets excited. The beak and feet come in black color but some Moluccans can also have a powder-brown color. The males have black and the females brown-colored eyes.

Black Palm Cockatoo is 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 tend to have darker feathers. They have a long crest with red patches on the cheeks. The interesting thing about their cheeks is that it 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 their sex then a surgical or genetic sexing will have to be performed.

Rose-Breasted or Galah Cockatoo have feathers that look spectacular with vibrant shades of pink and gray. They have an average length of 14 inches. The Galah Cockatoo has a pink color on the chest and the lower face with a pinkish-white crest. The beak is tan with gray feet and tail. 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. Most Cockatoos will bond easily with their owners and also enjoy being cuddled. They also sometimes tend to get excited, mischievous or aggressive. They can attack family members by moving rapidly out of fear or even biting. It is usually because of improper socialization which makes them feel stressed. 

They are good at mimicking different sounds, including words. The ability of the Cockatoos to mimic sounds varies between different species. Galah is known to be the most talkative Cockatoo breed. Cockatoos are known to be very loud and noisy. Some Cockatoos may frequently scream the words they have learned which can be irritating for the owners.

Training Cockatoos

Cockatoos should be trained right from early childhood. It will help to reduce the likelihood of the bird from 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.

Feed them by hand and always move around slowly when you are close to the bird. Sudden movements can make the birds scared. To minimize the distractions during training, train the bird in a room that is away from things the bird could focus on. 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 to handle them gently. Let them sit on the perches or on your hand. Open the cage when the Cockatoo 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 the cage to keep them from flying away. 

You can also train them to speak a word or a small phrase. Keep repeating them and slowly the bird will learn. The Cockatoo has a short attention span and the training sessions need to be short. You can gradually increase the time of the training sessions over the weeks. The training sessions should be stopped if the 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.

two yellow crested Cockatoos on a wooden stump
a large yellow crested Cockatoo on a branch with its wings spread

Their Compatibility with Children

Cockatoos are not recommended as pets for families with young children. They get excited easily and may end up biting your children. Cockatoos 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 is a good idea to have an adult around to avoid any problems.  Check to see how your bird socializes with the children before allowing them to play together. It will prevent the children from getting hurt. Cockatoos have long and powerful beaks that can hurt your children if they bite.

Best Habitat for Cockatoos

Cockatoos are large and heavy birds. They need a strong bird cage that is made of stainless steel or wrought iron. Having a cage with horizontal bars will allow the birds to climb and exercise. Smaller species like the Galah Cockatoo can be kept in bird cages that measure 24”L x 36”W x 36”T . Larger species like the Moluccan Cockatoos will need larger cages that measure at least 24”L x 48”W x 48”T. The larger the cage the better it will be for the bird. The space between the horizontal bars should be 1 inch or less. Any bigger spacing and there is a chance the 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 can range between ½ to 2.5 inches. Wood perches are the best type for Cockatoos. They have different shapes and can also be chewed by the birds. Do not keep plastic perches as chewing or swallowing them can be harmful to the bird.

Cockatoos like to chew a lot and they need to be given toys to take care of their chewing habits. Give them softwood toys, rope toys, bells or cardboard. You can also add hanging toys as they like to play with them. Make sure the toys do not have any sharp ends that can hurt the bird.

For substrate use any type of paper like paper towels, paper bags, or butcher paper. They are cheap and will lie flat on the floor. It also makes it easy for you to check their droppings to monitor their health. These papers are also non-toxic and completely safe. 

Habitat Maintenance

Cockatoos are birds that are mostly active during the day and need 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night. Turning off all the lights in the room will make it easier for them to sleep. Keeping the cage clean is also 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 clean should be performed once every month. During deep cleaning remove and replace dirty toys, perches and swings inside the cage. Avoid using chemical solutions to clean the cage as it can be harmful to the birds.

The Attention a Cockatoo Needs

Cockatoo needs 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 like plucking their feathers or skin if left alone. This destructive behavior is seen more in the Moluccan Cockatoos. 

To take care of their attention needs, spend one hour playing with them. Letting them outside the 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 the cage.

a yellow crested Cockatoo resting on a persons hand
a yellow crested Cockatoo resting

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

Health Issues

If Cockatoos are fed a healthy diet and they receive the attention they need, the Cockatoos 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)

It is a common disease in parrot species. The disease results in complete loss of feathers, usually beginning from the chest and spreading to all over the body. In severe cases it can cause their immune system to become compromised, leading to more problems and even death. Younger Cockatoos infected with PBFD are more likely to die from the disease than older birds.  There is no cure for the disease and it can take 2 weeks for any symptoms to show. The disease can get transmitted by contact with feathers, feces, dust or other parts of the infected parrot’s body.


Bumblefoot is a serious condition that affects the feet of the bird. The disease results in inflammation of the soles of the feet. If treated early it can be resolved quickly but if the treatment is delayed it can become serious and incurable. Unclean perches or cage surfaces can be one of the reasons for getting this disease. It can also result from the bird becoming overweight which puts a lot of pressure on the feet. Cockatoos with weak immune systems are prone to developing Bumblefoot and should be monitored regularly.

Feather Plucking and Self Mutilation

It is a behavioral disease in which the bird will harm themselves. In feather plucking the bird will bite or chew their own feathers that can lead to rapid loss of feathers. Self-mutilation is even more severe in which the Cockatoo will eat their own flesh, mostly of the chest region. In the wild, it is very uncommon to find birds with this disease. In the wild they are mostly engaged in finding food, mating or nesting. This disease seems to be at least partially mental and caused by extreme boredom. Other known causes of this disease are:

  • Allergies
  • Dietary deficiencies
  • Systemic infection 
  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Toxins like heavy metals
  • Reproductive diseases
  • Internal tumors.

It is extremely important to take them to a vet at the first sign of feather plucking or self-mutilation. Your vet can diagnose the cause and cure them early on. 

Fatty Tumors

Cockatoos and some parrots can have tumors. The tumors can affect any of the organs of the Cockatoos. Rose-breasted Cockatoos are more likely to have this disease than other Cockatoo species. There are two types of tumors found in the Cockatoos.

  • Lipomas – those found in the ovary, testicle or kidneys of the bird. It can lead to the lameness of the feet.
  • Fibromas – these happen on the wings and can be surgically removed. Many times amputation of the wing may be required. 
a Cockatoo perched
a baby Cockatoo perched on some wood

Avian Sarcocystosis 

Sarcocytosis is a fatal disease caused in the Cockatoos and other parrot species by parasites. The lungs and airways of the bird get severely affected. The parasite can create cysts in the respiratory tracts, kidneys and muscles. These generally happen to birds who stay outdoors but can also happen to indoor birds. Giving antiprotozoal medicines or injections can help to deal with the primary parasite. To deal with the secondary symptoms of the disease like anemia, listlessness, and regurgitation of water, the vet may give some other medications. Keeping your bird’s cage clean will help keep your Cockatoo from getting Avian Sarcocystosis.

Bathing and Cleaning

Bathing the Cockatoo 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 the cage dirty. They should be given a bath or shower once every week with lukewarm water. The shower should not be strong and should always be without any soap. You can use a plant sprayer to spray the water on them. The feathers of the bird are water resistant but once they become wet it can take up to 2 hours for them to become dry. It is important that they be kept somewhere warm after getting wet to keep them healthy.

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 to moisturize and make the feather strong.

Feeding Cockatoos

Cockatoos feed on a variety of diets 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 to 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 as seeds are deficient in many nutrients and have high-fat content which can make them overweight.

The remaining 40 to 50 percent of the diet should consist of vegetables, fruits and grains. You can occasionally give them cooked grains like oats, brown rice, barley and vegetable pasta. Avoid including high portions 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 I keep two Cockatoos 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. It will also prevent them from doing things like feather plucking. Two Cockatoos living together will require less attention from their owners 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 backward. Along with the help of their beaks, Cockatoos can use their toes just like we use our hands. The toes help them in climbing and even hold things with one toe. In the wild, Cockatoos are known to be great climbers.

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