Mon. May 20th, 2024

Fascinating Facts About Cockatoos

Cockatoos are very popular pet birds with personalities as flashy and dynamic as their crest. While these birds may be best known for the fan of feathers that they display on tops of their heads, there are plenty of other fun and fascinating cockatoo facts for bird lovers to focus on.


Breed Overview
COMMON NAME: Cockatoos includes 21 parrot species ranging from bare-eyed cockatoos and black palm cockatoos to citron cockatoos


ADULT SIZE: Up to 24 inches

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Depends on the species, but most cockatoos can live from 25 to 60 years of age

From Down Under

All 21 species of cockatoos are native to Oceania. Specifically, cockatoos are endemic to Australasia, including Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea. They are also found in Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo By Sea Against Sky
 Floriane Mangiarotti/Getty Images

Velcro Birds

When hand-fed as babies and properly tamed, cockatoos tend to form extremely strong bonds with their owners that last a lifetime. They are also known to be one of the most affectionate parrot species and sometimes called “velcro” birds.

These birds crave petting from their owners and prefer to be on or near them at all times. It’s very important that you’re able to devote the time this pet needs. That includes handling and socializing with them for at least two hours each day, if not more.

Some cockatoos can become depressed if they feel like they aren’t getting enough attention. This can lead to side effects such as feather plucking and destructive behavior.

Tame cockatoo on a man with leather jacket
 Tomekbudujedomek/Getty Images

The 3-Way Bite

One of the most distinctive features of a cockatoo’s body (aside from their impressive crests) are the lower mandibles of their beaks.

If you take a close look at a cockatoo’s lower jaw, you’ll notice a prominent “U” shaped region missing from the “bottom lip” area. This scoop-shaped feature allows a cockatoo to have what is known as a “three-way” bite. It gives their beaks extra power when clamping down on foods, branches, and even the fingers of their human caretakers.

Due to this feature, cockatoos have the capacity to deliver bites that are more painful and damaging than other birds of a similar size. It’s something for prospective owners to keep in mind.

Cacatua moluccensis
 huayang/Getty Images

Loud and Vocal

While all parrots can scream, cockatoos are notoriously loud. A cockatoo’s contact call can be heard for up to a mile or more away. This is especially true early in the morning and near sunset when they would naturally call out in the wild.

Because they have extremely boisterous voices, cockatoos are not recommended for people who live in small spaces. Bringing one home to an apartment complex or a townhouse can quickly splinter good relations with your neighbors.

Excited Cockatoo
 aaa/Getty Images


Unlike many birds, most cockatoos are dimorphic, meaning the males and females are nearly identical. This makes knowing the sex of your feathered friend very difficult.

Some cockatoo species have very subtle differences between the sexes. For instance, males may be slightly larger than females or their plumage may be just a little bolder. You would have to have two cockatoos side by side to notice these differences, however.

For most cockatoos, the eyes hold the secret to the bird’s sex. Females generally have light-colored eyes while the irises on males tend to be dark.

The only real way to know your bird’s sex, however, is to get a DNA test. If you’re very curious about it, you’ll need to send a few feathers out to a lab.

The alternative is to simply call your bird whatever you feel he or she is and enjoy your time together. The bird won’t know the difference and will love you just the same.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia
 Jochen Schlenker/Getty Images

Prone to Obesity

Pet cockatoos have a propensity for weight gain and obesity. To prevent this, it’s important to carefully monitor your bird’s diet.

Cockatoo owners are typically encouraged to offer their birds only minimal access to seed. Instead, it’s best to feed your bird a variety of fresh, bird-safe fruits and vegetables. You can also reserve items such as nuts and ​bread for treats and refrain from including them in a bird’s daily meal offerings.

Depending on the body condition of an individual bird, an avian vet might also offer more specific dietary recommendations.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
 Hal Beral/Getty Images

A Naughty Nature

While cockatoos are very loving and devoted pets, they also have a naughty side. They love to chew and will destroy a poorly constructed cage if given the chance.

Quite often, this bad behavior can be kept in check by providing your bird with adequate attention and toys for distraction. It’s important not to overindulge the bird so it requires even more from you and can handle some lone time when you’re away. Set your boundaries early and you should get along fine.

Rotating a variety of toys for your bird to play with will help out tremendously. This will help him stay engaged and burn off some energy tearing apart appropriate things. Some cockatoos will even develop an attachment to objects or begin to exhibit nesting behavior with their toys.

Cheeky Cockatoo Bird Chews Its Escape From Cage
 Jade and Bertrand Maitre/Getty Images

The Crest

The signature crest on top of every cockatoo’s head can tell you a lot about how the bird is feeling. Interpreting its message at the moment, however, is a little tricky.

A raised crest is a very important part of this bird’s body language. It can mean many different things. For instance, it’s part of their natural mating ritual. In captivity, a cockatoo may dance around crest-up to show off for anyone willing to pay attention.

The crest can also be a sign of aggression or warning for many cockatoos. The notable exception is the umbrella cockatoo who will either ruffle all of his feathers or give you a mean glare when he’s on the offensive.

In other instances, a raised crest may be a friendly greeting, a sign of curiosity, or used when the bird is startled. Once you get to know your bird, it will become easier to read the meaning behind this display.

Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) showing yellow crest, head in profile
 Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Limited Vocabulary

Most cockatoos can certainly be taught to speak, though they’re not the most proficient parrots in this area. Also, it’s important to remember that not every bird will talk, so that should not be a primary reason to adopt any bird.

In general, a talkative cockatoo may learn 20 or so words and simple expressions over the years. With training, they will begin to associate certain phrases with specific circumstances as well. Even though they won’t know the meaning of “Good morning,” for instance, a bird can learn that this is said when the sun rises or their person wakes up.

You will also hear them babble incoherently quite often. This chatter is a really fun part of life with a cockatoo, even if he learns no real words.

Hawaii, Kauai, White Cockatoo bird.
 Kicka Witte/Getty Images

Black Feathers Are Rare

While most cockatoos are primarily white, some have a much darker plumage. One of the rarest and arguably most beautiful species is the black palm cockatoo.

While they are referred to as “black,” their plumage is actually a very dark, smokey gray color. The bright pinkish-red patches on their cheeks are a striking accent to their feathers. These features make them one of the most sought-after cockatoos in the pet trade.

Black Cockatoo