Bringing Home A Cockatoo, The Good, The Bad and The Loud by Lynda Lewis

Bringing Home A Cockatoo, The Good, The Bad and The Loud
Since I live with two Umbrella Cockatoos (Umbies),Karen asked me to write about living with Cockatoos. When you walk in a pet store and meet an Umbrella or Mollucan Cockatoo, your first impression is it’s a big cuddly ball of soft feathers. They run to you begging to be picked up and cuddled. There is nothing more a Cockatoo wants than your attention and love. In Indonesia they call them Umbies or lap puppies because they love to snuggle in your lap. As babies, they are adorable. But they are also a parrot that is found frequently in rescues. Why? Because they grow up!
When people call the rescue wanting a Cockatoo, the first thing I do is send them I tell them to turn their speakers up and read the whole website while the speakers blare the scream of a Cockatoo. Read every word about the problems Cockatoos can develop. Read every heart breaking letter. If you come away still wanting a Cockatoo and feeling ready to take on the challenge, then you just might be meant to have one. I remind them that a large Cockatoo is a commitment that spans 75 years or more.
When you first bring that Cockatoo home, you want to spend all your time with it. Then your schedule grows busy and you don’t have the time to spend with your bird like you used to. You go from holding and playing with your Cockatoo three hours a day to half an hour, some days not taking it out at all. What is a Cockatoo to think? It goes from being smothered with love to feeling rejected by the people it depends on to survive.
Even if you do spend the same amount of time with the bird you used to, they can still develop many problems. Cockatoos are very intelligent and emotional birds. This can lead to many behavioral problems: including screaming, biting, self mutilation, andfeather plucking. I don’t know many Umbies or Mollucans that have not at some time in their lives started feather plucking. They are also considered phobic birds. Sometimes out of the blue they just become terrified of the owners hands, or a person living in the house. There is no rhyme or reason to why a Cockatoo suddenly develops a phobia.
Until the bird is seven years old, unless you have the bird DNA tested, you have no idea what the sex of your bird is. Male Cockatoos have been known to become very aggressive when they reach maturity. Egg laying females can also become aggressive but not as often as the mature male. Your cuddly baby just out of the blue starts striking out at you. The bite is not the run of the mill parrot bite either. With three points to the top and bottom of the beak, the bites are very damaging. I know many Cockatoo owners who have ended up in the ER getting stitches after a bad bite. If your bird is over excited, the bite can be completely unintentional; but damaging all the same.
Once the bird starts exhibiting phobic behavior, biting, screaming and plucking, the owner suddenly feels a need to find a new home for the bird. They do not stop to think about who in the world would want this bird with all the behavioral problems it now has. Giving the bird to a rescue is not a solution. It is just passing on a problem you helped create. The best thing to do is first consult with an Avian Certified Vet. From there you contact and consult with an Avian Behaviorist and in between you read as much as you can on problem behaviors in Cockatoos. Start with Sally Blanchard’s Cockatoo book.
Not that Cockatoos don’t have their good points, too. There is nothing I love more than snuggling with my Cockatoo, Tyler. She nestles under my chin, panting her Cockatoo breath in my face. I feel my body relax and my mind clear when we are together. We scream together, play with toys, throw things and tear things up. We dance together and sing. I sing words to our favorite songs and she sings her name over and over. I have had Tyler nine years and she has had her problems. She plucks and is very phobic about being around new people. She will sit on the back of a chair and let me clip her toenails, holding her foot out to me as I do each toe and loves a new toy even if it is a toy different from one she has seen before. But she will slam into the cage bars and injure herself when a stranger comes close to her cage. She does not scream at all and she loves my son, hubby and I equally. She is a very sweet, quiet and loving bird. Sure. it would be nice if she was fully feathered, but I always say “fine feathers do not make a fine bird!”

20 thoughts on “Bringing Home A Cockatoo, The Good, The Bad and The Loud by Lynda Lewis

  1. Good summation of the positives and negatives of living with a cockatoo. My wife and I are fosters for a rescue and live with several cockatoos. Most are umbrellas but there are Goffin’s, sulfur cresteds and Moluccans as well. I can say without a doubt that cockatoos are birds that NEED a flock. Throughout the day we watch them intereact with other flock mates in varying degrees. Some are best friends, some are casual acquaintances and some don’t like each other. Really no different than humans. Its these complex social interactions as well as their complex emotional needs that make them a challenging companion in the home environment. However, they also bring a lot of joy into our home and if someone is up to the challenge they will find they are one of the most amazing creatures they have ever met. Just please consider adoption instead of buying a baby. So many great birds are filling up rescues because their first families didn’t know how to properly raise them.

  2. Loved reading this and recommended it to friends! As an owner of 2 goffins, Boo is my lifelong companion since college and Arthur a recently adopted foster, I am in awe of people who have more than 2 cockatoos or bigger species. They are SO attention intensive and can be downright emotionally draining! In many ways it’s like having special needs children.

    Totally feel the pain of anyone with a phobic cockatoo. Went thru that with Boo for a few months last year when he suddenly became scared of my boyfriend for about 4 months (now they’re best friends again).

    I can also totally attest that older adopted cockatoos can make great pets! The benefit of fostering from a good rescue before you adopt is that you can “try out” and make sure your “new” bird is going go be a great fit. Arthur wasn’t getting along in his previous 3 foster homes (screaming issues), but clicked with us and Boo (this also coincided with Boo getting over his phobia of my boyfriend). Arthur is 7, and he is past the baby stage. He’s starting to go thru adolescence, but his personality is settled and he’s ALOT calmer than a baby cockatoo. I think he had “screaming issues” in his last homes because he is a natural sentinel bird, which we’ve adapted his cage placement and playtime to.

  3. I have loved these birds for years. And I am looking to take the next step and adopt a sulphur-crested cockatoo. I have been doing more studying on this bird then I have in my life, and I’m 16. I have been looking at every website and youtube video to find out what I need to do. And this post was a real eye opener. But despite the screaming, plucking, phobias, banging, crashing destroying things and pooping on everything. I still wish to adopt one.
    I the main website I have been reading is

    • I applaud your efforts on doing your homework first. Adopting any bird is an amazing gift for you both! However there are so many changes that will occur in your young life that I hope you do think about this a great deal. Your parents have to be on board for this, due to the cost of caring for these precious ones. A cage large enough for a Too is going to cost hundreds of dollars. Feeding them all their foods is also pricey. They need fresh foods, pellets and only very certain seeds. They need hours and hours of out of cage time and this takes either an aviary or very close supervision as they will destroy anything they can get their little beaks on lol. Which brings up toys, most would go broke if they only purchased toys. Having a Too means providing them with plenty of fresh wood daily to chew on and destroy. Well I digress….you have read the article so you are familiar with most of this by now. My main concern is your age….keep in mind that these precious ones bond for life. You belong to them and if you get married or have children….they may not like these other people around you.

      I do hope you continue reading and studying on Toos though. If you have an avian rescue around you maybe you can volunteer…..all rescues need and appreciate the help. And who knows you may meet your perfect companion there 🙂

  4. Thank you all for sharing all this information. i just got an umbrella cackatoo 2 days ago he is 3 years old and i want to know how treat him and be prepaired for any changes on his behavior. He is not screaming yet and he doesnot want any body to pick him up but he let us scratch his head and his back so if there is something else anybody wants to share with me I would really apreciate it

    thank you

    • Thank you so much for coming here and I hope you will continue reading everything you can here. Your Cockatoo is young and not yet hit hormonal years so there is much to learn so the both of you can get through the years to come prepared. If you want to email me with any questions please do… There is far too much I would love to share with you to even fit in this post, but I am more than happy to do all I can with you through the years. Also if you are on Facebook you can friend me…Deborah Denee. I also have a group on FB that you can join and get a lot of good info there in a group that is very loving and no drama. Please keep me posted!


  5. Hello, I am here to get some advise… I bought a Cockatoo from a petshop 3 weeks ago as it has been in a little cage in the petshop for about 8 months already. He is so tame (I think he is a boy) and I could not bear the thought of him in that little cage any longer… I took him home and bought a nice big cage with loads of toys for him. I also felt that my other parrot (orange winged amazon, Frikkie) will have some companionship when we are at work. I am not sure how old he is… The Cockatoo (Whisky) is very loving and only slightly scared of my husband (who is the alpha in the house hold). He won’t get on his arm to allow him to scratch his head. He would cuddle me and the kids in the mornings and evenings and sing and dance and yell sometimes, but nothing too horrible. We also socialized him with our cats, Great Dane and the Jack Russell. Usually I could pick him up (as he likes to wonder about and run after the dogs) and put him in his cage when the dogs eat, but he recently became obsessed with my Great Dane… He only wants to be near him and makes kissy noises when he is close to him. He actually wants to get under him and just sit there. When I say “pick him up” I mean that I slide my two hands underneath his feathers and lift his body a little and then his toes will automatically get on when he lifts off he floor. As our house is very small and Zorro is very big the dogs live between our stoep and the garage. Especially when Zorro (the dane) eats, I pick Whisky up and put him in his cage inside the house. This weekend Whisky bit almost right trough my hand when I picked him up. I then approached him with one of his cage sticks to see if he will get on (as I am scared that Zorro will eat him with his dinner!!) and then he attacked the stick. Luckily in such a way that I could carry him to his cage. He seemed obsessed with Zorro?? Then I petted him again later the same day and let him out of his cage to roam the house. When Zorro came into the house a few moents later (the dogs sometimes lay on the carpet in the living room), he wanted to attack him… Now this was very weird?? He just seemed in love with Zorro outside and now he wanted to attack him inside the house? This morning he also walked around outside (following Zorro everywhere) and when it was time for us to leave for work I put my arm in front of him (I did not pick him up this time…) so he could get up (something he did all the time!) and he bit my finger…?? I was shocked. My husband (who breeded parrots in his years just after school) managed to get a light grip on him behind his head so that his beak could not bike and carried him with the other hand under his body to his cage. To be honest… I am very scared of Whisky now. I am not sure what to do or why is reacting this way? Just after that he said “koppiekrap” and bent his head over for a scratch.. Can anyone advise on why he can be reacting this way?? I really want things to work out with him, but I have no experience with Cockatoos… I felt so sorry for him in his little cage, but all of a sudden he seems like a spoilt brat – only not knowing what he wants. Unfortunately I did not read up on cockatoos as I already had another bird and though he is not much of a lover, he allows me to scratch his head and will get on my finger and we will talk and whistle. I don’t want to give him away or sell him, but I need to have a plan if I want to keep him. My husband’s children visit on weekends (and they used to also be able to pet him), but I am scared now that he might bite them too. Please help!!! Joyce – Cape Town SA

  6. I’ve always wanted a cockatoo. Since I was a kid. But didn’t have the support needed to care for one over the years. I’ve remarried and my husband has also wanted one. So we’ve researched and decided we are ready to make the commitment whatever comes. And I can see it is a big commitment, every day, to keep a loving and trusting atmosphere around the bird even when she is not feeling loving and trusting. I stay at home and my husband will be retiring in 6yrs. We are a little older but settled in our life. We also have found one that is a sweetheart that seems to enjoy the both of us as well. We are now getting cages and toys and play stands… Huge list and costs thousands. It is not cheap. I can’t imagine trying to raise children and having one of these big birds. It seems they are children themselves. Glad we waited but still somewhat afraid of the unknowns. But we are holding hands and jumping in together. At least if one of us feels exhausted we have the other for support. I think it is a team effort during the trying times from what I’ve read and seen in videos. I’m still reading and researching to have tools to counter any undesired behaviors. If all goes well we will visit getting a rescue when my husband retires. Can’t believe I’m signing myself up for this but the smile on my face is proof it is worth it.

    • First off I want to applaud all your research before jumping in. Far too often a Cockatoo is brought home on an impulse and the end result is sad because all too often the bird is rehomed or left in back rooms alone etc. These precious angels are children and they view us as their home, family and flock. They are children that can never fully grow up or leave the nest, so their long term care needs to really be thought about as well. Please feel free to post any and all questions or email me personally as well. I am here to help as much as I possibly can. I want all our feathered ones to have happy lives with their humans and visa versa. With a lot of love, patience, understanding and choice….it can work out beautifully.

      Please keep us updated as your new journey begins ❤


  7. I have a rehome 4 yr old female cockatoo she love me but doesn’t like anyone in my home I also have a rehome 25 yr male macaw she doesn’t like either if her and I r alone she fine but if anyone enter the home it on screen I have a new born in house not mine but any ways I need some advice and help please & thank u

    • I would keep the birds in different areas of the home if at all possible. If not then only allow one out at a time so there are no issues. As for the newborn, the baby will learn to sleep through anything lol. My children were raised with noisy birds and so is my grandson now and they all can sleep through my birds and I have 11 here. Now open the front door and my grandson will wake right up , but all the birds going off and he sleeps like a log lol.

      It also sounds as if the Too views you as her mate, so you will want to be extra careful and not have the Too out with anyone else in the home. This does happen with parrots and it can be a difficult situation if you are not prepared and careful. If you have other family members around, I would have them offer the Too treats with you far enough away so the Too doesnt react to you being close by and only when the Too is in his/her cage.

      You also need to be careful with the Macaw being in the same air space as the Too. Some macaws have very sensitive respiratory systems and can become very ill due to the dust from a Too or other dusty birds in the house.

      All can be managed, when you are prepared and willing to do what is needed to keep everyone safe. I would also say never have the birds out with the baby around.

      Keep me posted and hope it all goes well, having a new bird in the house is always an adjustment for everyone 🙂


  8. I’m rereading ad much as I can
    Someone going though a divorce had her cockatoo since it was born now Jessie is 21 years old the owner can’t have pets where she can afford to live and the spouse he didn’t want the Bird, yes rescue was called.
    All that WS shared with me, is that Jessie will bite when 1st met you because of being a stranger.
    How can I work with this bird to control biting

    • You have to give the bird time to get to know and trust you. For now keep your interactions with Jessie in his cage. Offer treats, read to him, play lil games with him, dance and sing to him. Everything positive and entertaining for him. Eventually you will most likely gain his trust. Always positive reinforcement! You need to pay into his bank account.

      This section is packed with articles that can help you. I look forward to hearing how your journey goes with Jessie. Keep in mind this poor angel lost his family and does not know why. Birds are flock beings that live together with their families forever, so they do not understand when suddenly this changes in captivity. Also keep in mind that this baby will take a year or longer even to fully unpack his baggage and for you to truly know him. I am here if you need me and very happy to help all that I can.


  9. Yesterday I brought home a 6 year old female cockatoo according to the previous owners. I knew she was not in the best situation which is why I agreed so quickly to take her in. I do have experience with macaws and African greys. Well we get to the home to pick her up and its super filthy tiny and tons of animals with lots of cigarette smoke. the whole way home (2 hour drive) the bird was so sweet in her cage letting me talk to her and pet her wherever I wanted. Once we get her home anytime we leave the room she screams. I have opened up her cage because I knew they have not allowed her any outside cage time in the 6 years they had her, so her whole life. While there are many many issues with her the biggest is she will literally chase you around trying to attack. she will go from letting you touch her to all out attack mode. I have no clue what I need to do. It also scares me a bit that she has not once stretched her wings. I have not seen her even understand she has wings, she uses her beak for balance which also makes it seem like shes always out to bite.

    • It is going to take time to let this little one unpack her baggage and learn to trust you. First things first though she needs time to learn trust. Keep her in her cage for now and spend a lot of time offering treats, singing, talking etc to her. She will also need a vet check, she may have issues with her wings. Being around all that smoke and probably not a healthy diet, a vet can give you some good advice on what she needs. Until then please read my articles on nutrition and also this section will help you with the process and helping her unpack and learn to trust

      Keep all interactions positive….negative with only hurt your relationship

      Please keep me posted on this precious ones new wonderful journey with you 🙂


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