ARE COCKATOOS MORE DIFFICULT TO LIVE WITH THAN DOGS AND CATS?
Yes! Dogs and cats are domesticated animals. They have been bred in captivity for several thousand years and have become genetically “programmed” to live with us on our terms. Cockatoos have been breeding readily in captivity for perhaps 20 years and most breeding pairs are adults that were captured in the wild. A baby cockatoo might have been hatched in captivity, but it has exactly the same traits as its wild relatives. Hopefully you wouldn’t buy a cuddly lion cub and expect it to grow up into a big gentle house cat. For the same reason you shouldn’t get a baby cockatoo and expect never to have to deal with adult wild parrot behaviors.
If you intend to live with a pet cockatoo, you have to accept, understand and enjoy the bird’s natural characteristics because it cannot change its basic behavior to please you. Cockatoos have been screaming, destroying wood and throwing food for thousands of years. If you can’t love them as they are, you should choose a more compliant companion animal.
HOW MUCH ATTENTION DO THEY NEED?
Cockatoos in the wild are intensely gregarious animals. The need to be close to their mate and other flock members is very strong. Taking the place of mate and flock in your bird’s life is a huge responsibility. A cockatoo needs to be a part of your daily activities whether you always want it there or not. You can’t turn its need to be included in your life on and off. No matter how exhausted you are when you get home from work, no matter how much you might want peace and quiet and time for yourself - like a small toddler your cockatoo will demand your attention. That is why it is important for your bird to feel that it is being included in your activities – especially when it is in its cage..
Cockatoos do best when their cages and play stands are in the busiest areas of the house – even if that requires more than one cage or playstand. A bird that is kept too far from family activities, even if it is able to see what is going on from a distance, will often feel left out and desperate for a closer form of interaction. A well-raised cockatoo will not need to be ON you if it is usually near enough for a head scratch through the bars of its cage as you move around the room, a bite of your snack, a sheet of newspaper or computer paper to shred that you have finished with, or to have you comment on something clever that it has just done. This sort of attention is even more important than the one on one cuddle sessions and training periods that we humans can’t always make enough time for. If you teach a cockatoo that the only form of interaction with you is to be glued to your chest, you will have done it a tremendous disservice and it will have no choice but to scream for the closeness you have taught it to crave. This is what gives cockatoos their bad reputation and causes so many to lose their homes.
Be honest with yourself about how much time you will have to spend with the bird when the novelty wears off. Cockatoos do not thrive in solitary confinement. If you and your spouse work all day and have no other warm-blooded birds or animals in the house to provide interest and companionship, don’t get a cockatoo. If you travel much or are gone most weekends, don’t get a cockatoo. If your idea of an ideal evening at home is spent locked in your study, computer room, or workshop (unless you can have a cage there too), don’t get a cockatoo. It isn’t enough to share your home. A cockatoo needs to share your life.
WHY DO THEY SCREAM?
Cockatoos are suppose to be noisy. This is the way they demonstrate joy, fear, anger, excitement and a host of other emotions. They often wind up two or three times a day and scream out of sheer energy and because they are happy to be alive. A cockatoo will nearly burst with excitement when you come home from work, at mealtimes, when kids are being loud, when the conversation is animated or when there is an action movie or commercial on TV. The noisier your household is, the noisier your cockatoo is likely to be. This is the normal, exuberant, but usually short- lived screaming that isn’t negotiable! If you yell at your dog because you’ve had a bad day, it will curl up quietly in a corner until your mood improves. A cockatoo will home in on your energy level and shriek back at you! If a family member regularly becomes angry when the cockatoo is noisy while he or she is trying to talk or watch TV, the bird will pick up on the emotions and may develop a perverse enjoyment in pushing that person’s buttons at every opportunity –just to get a reaction. (Parrot behaviorists call this a “drama reward”.) It is imperative that all family members are committed to the cockatoo’s well-being and are willing to work together to prevent unwanted behavior.
If you understand and accept a cockatoo’s need to be part of the flock, you can prevent it from developing the habit of screaming for attention. (See ATTENTION above)
Turn up your speaker volume and click here to experience the real life "I'm happy to be alive" scream of Moluccan cockatoos. Make sure that each member of your family listens to it before you consider getting a cockatoo!
CAN YOU TRAIN THEM NOT TO CHEW?
Don’t even think about it! Cockatoos NEED things to shred and destroy every day. One of the most frustrating comments I hear is, “I don’t buy toys for my cockatoo because he just destroys them in a few days.” Well, would they rather he pulled out feathers or chewed holes in his skin? Would they rather he screamed constantly out of boredom and frustration? This is an intelligent creature that in the wild would be flying many miles every day, searching for food and interacting with flock members. If YOU were expected to spend 8 hours a day locked in a cage by yourself with the same couple of books or tapes that you have seen over and over and over and over and over. . . . . you’d scream and pull your hair too!
A cockatoo must always be watched closely when it is out of its cage because it doesn’t care that Great Grandma’s antique rocking chair is precious to you or that the kitchen cabinets are brand new. Cockatoos have been chewing wood for thousands of years and the need to splinter and shred will always be stronger than the desire to please you. Cockatoos often seek out things to chew that they know are important to you. They don’t do it to make you angry. . .it’s just a wonderful game that guarantees your immediate participation!
MY COCKATOO WILL BE OUT IN THE EVENINGS, SO WHY DOES IT NEED SUCH A BIG CAGE?
A Cockatoo’s curiosity and energy level make it difficult for them to remain in one place for long. They don’t become attached to their cages and play stands like some parrots do, and can be notoriously difficult to train to stay put. Because they are incredibly destructive and can’t be out of their cages unsupervised, even the smallest ‘toos need large cages and lots of toys to keep them mentally and physically healthy. A dome-top style is much better than a cage with a play top because there is more room inside the cage, more light can enter the cage, and because a bird is more comfortable when it can sleep in a high place. (NO parrot should be forced to perch at eye level with large dogs and small children.) Recommended MINIMUM cage sizes for small, medium and large cockatoos are as follows:
The above sizes are for the bird’s primary cage - where it will spend most of its time. Additional cages should be available in other places where you spend time. (These can be somewhat smaller and less expensive.) Play stands are fine in addition to cages but they are usually not good substitutes because most cockatoos will get down and go exploring every chance they get.
I WANT A COCKATOO BECAUSE I HEARD THAT THEY ARE ALWAYS SWEET AND CUDDLY.
You heard wrong! Cockatoos are emotional, excitable, volatile creatures that often react to situations much differently than their owners expect. Often they are as confused by the mixed messages we send as we are by their behavior. Their threshold for frustration is low and they sometimes react to frustration by biting. Because cockatoos truly enjoy being touched and held, we tend to think of them as teddy bears. As they grow up they develop adult feelings and instincts that their owners may be unaware of. Cockatoos that were raised by humans nearly always exhibit sexual attraction toward people and very rarely make good breeding birds.
While a baby cockatoo may view its owner as a parent, this changes as the bird grows up. A mature cockatoo is sexually stimulated by extended petting and cuddling and soon begins to view its owner as a potential mate. Males will attempt to copulate (mate) with a hand or arm, while a female will quiver and pant when her back is stroked. Our behavior is extremely confusing to the bird who doesn’t understand why we don’t follow through with nest building and egg laying. Why do we go away and leave them each day? Why do we show affection for other people and pets?
One on one time with your pet cockatoo should be spent playing games, going new places and learning new tricks. Cuddling is fine, but long, intense petting sessions send the wrong messages. The person who NEEDS a cockatoo because of the closeness and affection it can provide is very often least equipped to deal with the complex emotions of an adult bird - not to mention the confusion and frustration such an intense relationship causes the cockatoo. Needy people generally do much better with a cat or dog.
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