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WHAT THEY REALLY NEED... The Bottom Line On The Large Cockatoos

 In reading the following, you will see what SEEMS to be contradictions on my website.  But as this is a very complicated issue, I hope you make the distinction between the differences in environment.  In other words,  what's best for the bird is not going to be  best for you necessarily.  This may or may not change your opinion about these birds.


"They need to be left alone."  They need stringent laws to protect them in the wild from poachers.  They need their habitat left intact.  In America, (and other countries) they shouldn't be allowed to be bred for the open market.  Only suffering results from this.

In a perfect world, this is how it should be.  But this isn't a perfect world, so....


"Only zoos and those able to afford aviaries should be licensed to own them."

Here is where the contradictions come in. 

Once a large 'Too has been imprinted with a human,  there's a better than average chance that mutilation and self destruction is in it's future.  This usually takes place in just a few years under the worst of conditions... or happens 8 to 10 years down the road under the best of conditions.  As I've stated before, even the absolute BEST of care will not guarantee that the large 'Too will not self destruct at some point. They are much too complicated to fit into some mold or behavior pattern.  That's why there will never be a book written in our lifetime to solve all these problems. 

What we HAVE discovered in the last 10 years or so,  is that depending on where and how the bird is housed, (in other words it's environment) does have a huge bearing on it's outcome.  We know for instance that if left in an aviary environment, with less human interaction,  the birds seem to do much better.  And why shouldn't they? These are wild creatures, no matter what anyone has told you and no matter how "cuddly" they seem.  And wild intelligent creatures need more than a cage to keep from going insane, which is EXACTLY what these birds wind up doing.  So the  BEST all around environment for both you AND your bird is to have an aviary where you can place him for most of day, then take him in during the late evening. Of course this aviary must be safe from thieves AND it must be warm enough to comfortably house him in inclimate weather.  Really now, how many of us can pull this off?

So lets review:

"It is best to leave these birds in the wild.  But if that's not possible, it's best to have an aviary with less human interaction".  Now, what's the problem with this?  The problem is that most people are sold on the "CUDDLY" factor and would not be willing (or be able to afford) to build the proper aviary just so the bird could go  "wild".  They want the bird to stay loving and cuddly all of it's life.  People, I'm here to tell you that the possibility of this happening is just not realistic!  Like a cuddly lion cub that grows up to be a man-eater, so goes the large 'Toos usually.  Except in  their case, they take it out on you AND themselves.  Sometimes just themselves, some times on you both.  But I cant stress enough this point:   You normally cant have it  both ways!  If the bird is imprinted on you big time, that bird will more than likely  pluck sometime down the road.  If on the other hand you allow the bird to be independent, he will be in a much better position for his entire life.  Independence of course means less "cuddles"... less interaction... and a full flight cage (aviary).  This is NOT why you bought the bird in the first place is it?  But here's where things change:

If you have the bird in the house, just the opposite is true.

Wow! isn't that a contradiction??

No it's not and here's why: 


You purchase a cockatoo (probably not properly weaned) and stick it in a cage.  You then try to find out all you can about your new baby.  You have gotten very little information from the breeder or pet store, other than to tell you that it's "cuddly".

Somewhere down the road, all hell breaks loose.  First it's "the terrible twos".  Later its sexual maturity ( a REAL treat).  Then, if it hasn't started already, your cockatoo starts to pluck and even mutilate itself.  Now, you may be asking yourself: But I did everything that I was informed about. I had lots of toys and good foods and made my bird the center of my life!  Why is he plucking?  Why is he biting? Why is he "crazy"?

First let me say this: Most cockatoos are brought home with only the little info that the pet store provided.  These birds do not get their needs met, and so start down that road to self destruction very quickly.  These are the 'Toos that wind up in Rescues.

The cockatoos that are properly bred and weaned,  and who's owners  have done all the research are in a much better position.... but by no means "out of the woods".

Why?  Here's the problem:  When a bird such as this is in close proximity to you, ( in the same house in other words) and you ignore it,  then it becomes frustrated to the point of self destruction. This is why interaction is required.  Interaction will help to stave off the fact that this is STILL a wild animal.  Then the question becomes but for how long?  I get too many letters a week telling me that even with all the care and attention, the bird is starting to slowly self destruct. The only difference in this scenario and the one above, is that this one takes a lot longer.  In other words, instead of the bird plucking in 2 to 4 years, it may wait 8 to 10 years because it was diverted by much better care.  These are the birds that WE suffer over, because we have tried so hard to provide a proper home.  And we just cant understand WHY our "baby" is doing this!

Now... lets back up a minute!  We all know that TOO much attention can spoil the  bird right?  And those results can be just as devastating down the road. For instance: Lets say an old couple own a large 'Too.  The old couple has properly met the birds needs.  Lets say the old couple dies and leaves the bird to someone who doesn't treat it exactly like they did.  The bird, both from stress of losing its owners and the difference in environment, will likely start to self destruct.  So in this case, it was the old couple who provided proper care, of which was then lacking with the new owners.  Now, some might say "But if the bird wasn't so imprinted (spoiled) to begin with, it could have made the transformation easier". 

This is the very complicated part of 'Too ownership.  On one hand, they are right, the bird needs to be as independent as possible to avoid this complication.  But large 'Toos placed in HOMES can never be independent! As long as they see you, or know that you're in the house, they will scream for you when they want you, or quickly start to self destruct if the "proper" amount of attention isn't given.  Let me stress that word again...  "PROPER" amount.  Here's where the real complications begin: Each bird has different needs according to how it was bred, weaned, and raised. How much is enough?  How much is too little?  How much is TOO much?  How can you tell?  What's the meaning of life?  Why are we here?  Why are these birds here?

There are NO easy answers to ANY of the questions above!  But I'll tell you ONE  thing: There are people out there attempting to convince you that they have all the answers...... that they know just exactly how much attention, or lack thereof, should be given to these birds.  This is NOT possible!  Just as your human child is completely different from all other human children, even though they are all STILL human, so it is with these large 'Toos.  Some need more... some need less.... and it's up to you to decide.  But how CAN you??  You're no parrot behaviorist!  You're probably even new to all this.  You have a life to live and food to get on the table!   Now, after you have suffered through ALL of this, and found just the "right" amount of  interaction,  your bird starts to pluck.  You're crushed.  You blame yourself. You look for answers that too many people are willing to give, like: DRUGS.  Thats right. Birdy Prozac....  and Collars and Bitter Sprays and the list goes on.  The really sad thing is that all of these horrible horrible "cures" would never be necessary in the wild!

But back to my point here:   I knew a lady that had 2 Moluccans.  They were side by side in their cages.  Over the years the male reached sexual maturity, while the female had not. (Not that it would have mattered because the lady had no intention of  breeding them)  Now, the male is only inches away from the female, but cant get to her. His natural hormonal instincts demanded that he breed with this female just inches away.  What do you think happened?  If you said "started plucking" you'd be right! He was absolutely fit to be tied!  He was a wild creature attempting to do what he was programmed to do without success.  He started taking it out on himself.  He was SO close but still SO far from her.  Does anyone see where this is going yet......?

The very same thing applies when there is only one bird in the house, and that birds "mate" is YOU!   If he can SEE you or HEAR you and is yet ignored by you, what do you think is going to happen?  You see... this is one of those complicated times that you'd better know when to interact and when not to.  This is also one of those time when you'd better know HOW to interact.  P.S.... For all of you reading this, please don't e-mail me for answers to these questions.  I spend enough time on the  computer as it is trying to help people with less complicated but important problems and I simply don't have the time.  Besides, without actually seeing the bird, all I could offer is guidelines.  And as every birds a little different, my internet answers might be useless anyway.  Find someone in your area that knows about these birds if possible.

This brings us to an interesting point:  By now you've probably heard people say " ignore him when he screams".  Well, yes in some cases and no in others. It really depends on WHY he's screaming.  Is he hormonal?  Is he lonely? Is he spoiled? Is he frustrated with being cooped up in a cage all day?  He has lots of reasons to be cranky, and so would you if you were placed in prison.  Doesn't this suck?

So, like a human baby,  depending on why your bird is screaming has to be determined by you as to whether it demands your attention or if the bird is just spoiled.  If you make the wrong choice too many times, then you will see the consequences of your mistake. 

Here is what we have learned from CAGE  kept 'Toos:  A 'Too in the house in a cage will need much interaction.  Since it cant fly, it will take all of that built up energy and demand your attention more.  If you don't provide it, he will take it out on himself.  If you provide it and then stop... he will take it out on himself.  If you just ignore him, he will take it out on himself.  You just cant seem to win can you???

Many of these problems can be eliminated with an aviary or good flight cage. You're looking at a couple of thousand dollars to provide one.  Everyone seems to be attempting to save a buck by checking out all other "cures" for their birds.

Sorry.  But after all is said and done, an Aviary is the bottom line.  In the meantime, good luck with your self destructing cockatoo. 

What?  You say you don't have a self destructing cockatoo?

Don't worry... just give him time.  Write me in 5 to 10 years.


Authors note: I use the male example in this page,  however everything here applies to both male and female 'Toos.  The females however are normally a little less of everything than the males.    

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I have been rescuing unwanted birds for the last few years and yes, you are right in your observation of the number ratio between toos and other species on my site .I get in triple the amount of toos compaired to other birds. It's heartbreaking.  My lastest is a 1 year old who is already picking her feathers Respectfully Pamela Brown Birdyville Parrot Rescue