Cockatoos as pets – ups and downs.
It’s no surprise that parrots and exotic birds are a popular choice for many pet owners around the globe. After all, pet birds tend to be highly social and interactive with people. Plus, exotic birds are very agile and intelligent, and can be taught to perform a wide range of tricks, including speech for many species! However, with that intelligence comes a lot of demand on the owner, and a lot of commitment.
I own a sulfur-crested cockatoo named Peaches. She’s belonged to friends of mine for several years, and I have recently become the main caretaker in her life. Peaches has easily been one of the most rewarding pets I’ve ever owned. The affection and attachment that Peaches displays towards me (and to the rest of my friends…her extended flock) is stunning. Plus, she’s intensely inquisitive, and is constantly analyzing her environment and looking for ways to communicate with her “family”. However, I’ve also run into pitfalls while caring for Peaches.
1) COCKATOOS REQUIRE A LOT OF TIME AND ATTENTION. In the wild, cockatoos are constantly interacting with the rest of their flock. They talk, preen, and generally stay close to one another. In a domestic situation, cockatoos expect the same level of attention from their pet owners, generally AT LEAST 2-3 hours of direct interaction per day. Many families, despite their best intentions, cannot commit that daily time, due to distractions such as:
And if you’re thinking about getting a cockatoo for a child, remember: Many children aren’t prepared for that level of commitment for their pet. Also, remember: cockatoos are a LIFETIME commitment. Cockatoos can easily live to be 70 years old.
If you buy a cockatoo, chances are you’ll be spending most of your lives with each other. Without daily interaction, cockatoos can become traumatized and demented, leading to excessive squawking and even feather plucking. This leads to a second point…
2) COCKATOOS ARE NOISY BIRDS. Cockatoos like to screech and squawk, often and loudly. Some of this behavior, such as squawking to beg for food or squawking for attention, can be controlled with proper interaction and training. However, other behavior, such as squawking at sunup and sundown and squawking to “bring in” other members of the flock when alone, is harder to control, as it’s almost completely instinctual and hard to overwrite. If you plan on owning a cockatoo, be prepared for noise
3) IT’S EASY TO TEACH COCKATOOS BAD HABITS. Cockatoos, just like children, can become spoiled. If you spoil your bird and reward bad behavior, cockatoos can become loud and obnoxious, constantly “begging” and even becoming aggressive. I’ve often left Peaches with relatives for a day or two, only to find that she had gotten used to treats every time she squawked. It took months to get her to realize that “birdie junk food” was not on tap anymore. So, while daily interaction is important for your bird, it needs to be DISCIPLINED interaction. Otherwise, your pet becomes unruly.
4) COCKATOOS LOVE TO CHEW. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve come home to find that Peaches’ cage wasn’t locked quite right, and then proceeded to frantically look for the item that she had decided to demolish with her beak. Books, cables, pencils, boxes, cabinets, and cushions have all been taken apart by Peaches at some time or other. Cockatoos love to chew. Giving them proper toys to channel their chewing tendencies can help your bird stay busy.
In short, cockatoos take a lot of time and understanding to raise. If you want a more independent pet, consider picking up a cat, and if you want a pet that you can train to near-ideal behavior, I’d suggest a dog. But, if you’re looking for an intelligent, clever pet that rewards many hours of interaction and training with near-limitless affection, then cockatoos, or similar exotic birds, may be right for you!
(A note: if you decide to take on a large parrot as a pet, PLEASE, PLEASE get your animal from an established bird breeder! The amount of suffering that wild parrots and cockatoos endure from capture is immense…which is why most cannot survive the journey from their homes. Please only buy exotic birds that were born in captivity!)