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What is a Cockatoo?

By Kasey James
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A cockatoo is a large, exotic bird that is native to Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. There are over 40 species of cockatoos in the wild. Some of them are domesticated for house pets. The cockatoo is considered an intelligent bird and can be trained if it has a committed owner.

Cockatoos come from the order Psittaciformes. This is the same order as parrots. Even though the cockatoo has some features that make it similar to a parrot, it has many of its own characteristics as well. For this reason, cockatoos are classified into a separate family called Cacatuidae.

Like parrots, cockatoos have a large, hard beak that helps them break into nuts and seeds. They both have a zygodactyl foot that is extremely flexible. This shared foot has two toes in front and two toes in the back, allowing parrots and cockatoos to grasp on to thick tree branches.

Unlike many parrots, the cockatoo does not have bright and colorful feathers. This bird is usually classified into two groups; the white cockatoos and the black cockatoos. Their colors tend to be more subdued, but their plumage is still full.

A special characteristic of the cockatoo is its large head crest. This is a fan of feathers surrounding the head that will open up when the bird is excited or scared. These birds constantly clean their feathers and can sometimes tear and break their feathers due to over-preening.

The cockatoo ranges in size from about 12 to 27 inches (30 to 70 centimeters). Smaller species live around 40 years, while the larger species average around 80 years. Some species have been known to live up to 120 years.

The cockatoo eats nuts, seeds and fruit in the wild. As a pet, these birds will eat bird pellets bought at a pet store. They also enjoy some table food, including fruits, vegetables and some dairy products.

Many people enjoy having a cockatoo as a household pet. These birds are very social in the wild and often spend time in groups of other birds and desire constant companionship. A human can give them the company they need.

With a patient owner, these birds can learn to talk, do tricks and be very cuddly pets. Cockatoos require lots of interaction and stimulation. If they do not get the stimulation they need, they often display negative behaviors. These behaviors can include loud screeching, biting or harming themselves.

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Discussion Comments
By Grivusangel — On Jan 24, 2014

There is a large community of bird owners who actively discourage owning cockatoos, and after seeing some of their web pages and reading about the issues these birds can have in captivity, I'm inclined to agree with them.

Cockatoos are often given up to rescues and pet stores because they become too much for their owners to handle. Since they frequently do imprint or bond closely with their owners, this can be traumatic for the bird. There are horror stories of how these birds are mistreated, or self-mutilate for no apparent reason.

Some bird species are just better left in the wild, and in my opinion, cockatoos are one of those species.

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