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.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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 C 106.2 F
40-50 200 g bird = 178
Heart rate (beats/min) Variable 500 g bird = 147
1000 g bird = 127
Respiration (breaths/min) 15-40
Body weight (g) Greater Sulfur-crested 880g
Moluccan 700-100 (850g)
Umbrella 400-700 (440g)
Citron-crested (Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata) 360-425 (350g)
Goffin’s (Cacatua goffini) 220-390 (350g)
Mean life span General 30-45 years
Moluccan Up to 70 years
Sexual maturity Medium-sized cockatoos 3-4 years
Large cockatoos 5-6 years
Mean number of incubation days General 23-30
Moluccan 29.3
Rose-breasted 21.9
Average number of eggs laid 3-4 Smaller species may lay up to 7 eggs.
Weaning age (days) Medium-sized cockatoos 90-120 – Parent-raised
Large cockatoos 120-150 – Parent-raised
Water intake High individual variability
Target environmental temperature Mimic 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


  • 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

  • Obtain a complete history and perform a thorough annual physical examination.
  • Establish baseline data with regular clinical testing (complete blood count, protein electrophoresis, and plasma biochemistries.
  • Ensure proper nutrition and husbandry.
  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings: avian polyomavirus, psittacosis.
  • Determine the origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Birds housed in large groups or aviaries are at higher risk of Pacheco’s disease virus and use of the vaccine may be indicated.
  • The avian polyoma virus vaccine is recommended for breeding populations.


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
Intravenous Effective, 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




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To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Cockatoo. January 7, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at