Cockatoos as a family are classifies by their most distinguishing feature - the moveable crest on their head. The largest member of the group, the Palm Cockatoo has a large crest which is made up from elongated, backward curving feathers. The smallest member of the family, the Cockatiel, has a thin slightly narrow crest and is the only Cockatoo to have long tail feathers, the remainder of the group have short tails, compared with the overall body length.
Cockatoos are a very successful group of birds, and in the wild are particularly successful when breading. They can be found on many islands in the Pacific, ranging from the Philippines to the Australian mainland and Tasmania. Some species and sup-species are endemic to small islands, so they are coming under an increasing threat from the human population competing for the same land. Deforestation has accounted for some Cockatoo populations being severely reduced in numbers.
Cockatoos are very good flyers, and in Australia often travel great distances to locate food and watering holes in great flocks. They have proved to have endurance, skill when flying although they are not very fast.
Their beaks are almost as diverse as their crest types. The Black Cockatoo has a rather narrow beak with it uses to tear rotten wood apart in search for their favourite insect larvae. The long billed Corella on the other hand has an extremely long tapered beak (as their name suggests) with which they dig for roots and seeding grasses. Other members of the family have broad beaks not suited for digging, but designed for cracking open the various large hard nuts and seeds that can be found.
There are two basic methods when feeding a proprietary "Parrot Mixture" purchased from a pet centre. This unfortunately means old fashioned seed mixtures, usually made up from lots of sunflower seeds and a few peanuts and a very little nutritional value. If a seed diet is chosen then it should be one of the more modern mixtures that includes seeds such as striped Sunflower, White Sunflower (both limited quantities) Peanuts, Hemp (feed sparingly) Pumpkin Seed, Millet, Oats, Wheat, Corn, Maize, Buckwheat, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Dried fruits and much more.
Some manufacturers even provide the above mixtures with all the seeds "de-hulled". These can prove more economical to use, as the birds, do not have to rummage around in the seed bowl to find their favourite seeds, spilling everything else out onto the sloor. When using these mixtures, less seed is needed to be placed in the bowls.
The other type of diet that is becoming increasingly popular is the pelleted foods. These are being developed mainly by bird nutritionists, and are being developed as complete foods. They are often brightly coloured and smell quite sweetly. Fed as a dry diet with plenty of fresh water available.
No Cockatoos in the wild, eat sunflower seed exclusively. In central Australia they can be found in very dry countryside, feeding on anything edible, even raiding the farmers fields and decimating grain crops. They will even fly into orchards and raid the fruit buds and later the actual crop. Natural forest fires also provide much charred wood, which many birds enjoy sifting through.
Cockatoos will also appreciate soaked millet sprays, soaked sprouted seeds and soaked pulses. All soaked products should be thoroughly cleaned before being fed. Care should be taken to ensure that no dust, fungus or bacteria is on the soaked seed, and that it does not smell sour. Fruit, vegetables and other greenfoods play a major part in the health of all birds. Some form of fruit and vegetable should be available every day. These should included apple, pear, oranges, grapes. Kiwi, sweetcorn, carrot, peas (in the shell) and other seasonal berries. Seeding grasses can also be hung in the flight and with provide hours of valuable entertainment for the birds.
Other foods such as egg-food, rowan berries, dried fruits, rosehips and even budding weeping-willow branches can be given on a regular basis, perhaps once a week. Mineral blocks, grit block and cuttlefish also provide valuable vitamins and minerals and should be available at all times.
Cockatoos as Pets
Cockatoos have been kept as pets for many years, indeed on the islands that they inhabit, the natives often keep them as pets. With their endearing crest, which is raised when they are excited or alarmed, they can charm most humans with their affections. They have a very friendly nature and are very amenable. They also have a reputation for being long lived. When housing a Cockatoo as a pet, an extremely large cage is a must, toys and other activities for the bird to play with and gnaw are also essential. If they become bored and do not have enough human contact and attention , they may resort to feather plucking. If this happens seek specialist advice.