Basic Information Sheet: Cockatoo

Cockatoo – Cacatuidae

Moluccan cockatoo

Natural history


Cockatoos originate from the Indonesian Islands, Australia, and New Guinea, depending on the species.  Habitats range from woodlands and open forest to coastal plains. Cockatoos are listed in Appendix I of the CITES list. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction, and commercial trade is prohibited and importation/exportation for scientific research requires special permits.

Taxonomy



Class: Aves

Order: Psittaciformes

Family: Cacatuidae

Cacatua moluccensis – Moluccan or salmon-crested cockatoo (shown above)

Cacatua galerita – Greater sulfur-crested cockatoo

Cacatua suphurea – Lesser sulfur-crested cockatoo


Physical description


There are 18 species of cockatoos in 6 genera. The most common pet cockatoos are the umbrella, sulphur-crested, lesser sulphur-crested, and Moluccan cockatoo.

  • Cockatoos are medium to large-sized parrots with thick, heavy bills that range from 12-28 in (30-70 cm) in length.
  • Cockatoos have an erectile crest that rises when the bird is threatened, excited, angry or ready to play.
  • White is most the common color. Some species may have orange, pink or yellow, while grey or black coloring is more rare.
  • The Umbrella cockatoo has a distinct white crest that rises like an umbrella, which differentiates it from the other white cockatoos.


Sexual dimorphism


The male cockatoo has a black or dark brown iris while the female typically has a light brown or red-brown iris.


Diet


  • Dietary strategies vary among species ranging from omnivore to granivore. The diet of free-ranging birds may include fruits, seeds, insects and insect larvae, and flowers. Unlike most parrots, some cockatoos will eat the outer fleshy part of fruit.
  • The black cockatoo needs more fat in its diet.
  • Since psittacine birds hull seeds before ingestion, they do not require grit. In fact, some individuals will overeat grit when ill putting them at risk for impaction.
  • All-seed diets are deficient in protein, vitamins, and minerals including calcium and vitamin A.


Husbandry


  • Large cockatoos require tall, roomy cages that are strong and securely welded with adequate door and feeder locks.
  • Cage bar spacing should range from 0.5-0.75 in (1.3-1.9 cm) with a perch diameter of 0.75-2 in (1.9-5 cm), depending on species.
  • Provide frequent water baths or showers to maintain normal skin/feather quality and to manage the large amounts of powder dust produced by many cockatoo


Behavior


  • Cockatoos have an erectile crest they will raise when threatened, excited, angry or ready to play.
  • Moluccan cockatoos can be extremely noisy and will scream out seemingly at random.
  • Cockatoos are very social and extremely sensitive. These species are at increased risk for feather destructive behavior and self-mutilation.
  • Foraging is an important part of normal daily parrot activity. Teach and encourage pet birds to play and forage.


Normal physiologic values


Temperature (average)*41.2 C106.2 F
40-50200 g bird = 178
Heart rate (beats/min)Variable500 g bird = 147
1000 g bird = 127
Respiration (breaths/min)15-40
Body weight (g)Greater Sulfur-crested880g
Moluccan700-100 (850g)
Umbrella400-700 (440g)
Citron-crested (Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata)360-425 (350g)
Goffin’s (Cacatua goffini)220-390 (350g)
Mean life spanGeneral30-45 years
MoluccanUp to 70 years
Sexual maturityMedium-sized cockatoos3-4 years
Large cockatoos5-6 years
Mean number of incubation daysGeneral23-30
Moluccan29.3
Rose-breasted21.9
Average number of eggs laid3-4Smaller species may lay up to 7 eggs.
Weaning age (days)Medium-sized cockatoos90-120 – Parent-raised
Large cockatoos120-150 – Parent-raised
Water intakeHigh individual variability
Target environmental temperatureMimic natural environment.Household temperatures of 70-80°F (21-27°C) are generally acceptable, however healthy birds can tolerate hot and cold temperatures.
* Routine avian exam does not include measuring body temperature


Anatomy and physiology


  • Cockatoos often have more fat in their subcutaneous layer than other parrots.
  • The umbrella cockatoo produces a substantial amount of powder down.
  • Powder down feathers are obvious in white cockatoos and can be found in patches underneath the wings compared to the scattered powder down feathers of other parrots.
  • Unlike most parrots, cockatoos have a gall bladder.
  • The male iris is black or dark brown, while females have a light brown or red-brown iris. Immature cockatoos have a pale grey iris.
  • Anatomic traits of Order Psittaciformes include:
    • Communication of the right and left nasal sinus
    • The only avian tongue with intrinsic muscles
    • Simply syrinx
    • Craniofacial hinge of beak is a synovial joint
    • Ceca absent
    • Zygodactyl foot: two toes pointed backward and two pointed forward


Restraint


  • Large cockatoos can be restrained by holding the thumb and forefinger under the mandible and securing the outer wing with the remaining three fingers. Use the opposite hand to hold the feet.
  • Restrain smaller species by holding the head between the index and middle fingers. Support the body with the thumb and little finger.
  • Even brief restraint of a cockatoo, should leave powder down on one’s hands and clothes. Absence of powder down can be an early sign of feather dysplasia seen with clinically significant conditions such as Psittacine beak and feather disease.



Using a 26-gauge needle and 3mL syringe, draw blood from right jugular vein. Up to 1% of body weight is acceptable.


Preventive medicine



Injections


Intramuscular (IM)Reasonably safe, most accurate.Inject middle of muscle mass.Ideal location –Pectoral muscle mass
Subcutaneous (SQ)Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption.Location:  Inguinal or precrural fold
IntravenousEffective, narrow safety range.Right jugular vein or brachial vein is most commonly used.Alternative option: superficial metatarsal vein.


Important medical conditions


Infectious Diseases

  • Herpesvirus
  • Avian bornavirus infection (proventricular dilatation disease)
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD)
  • (Sarcocystis in aviary birds)
Non-Infectious conditions

  • Aggression in breeding pairs
  • Beak malocclusion
  • Feather destructive behavior and self-mutilation

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References