Cockatoos: Think CAREFULLY before buying!

Every month I write an article for Today’s Pet. Every month I tell you how great birds are; and they are! This month however I would like to talk about problem birds and the pet shops that sell them. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t get a call from a future bird owner wanting one of those cuddly Cockatoo’s. Or we want one of those birds like was on Beretta.  Buyers beware.

Owning a bird is a commitment – a huge commitment. It is not like owning a dog. One of the most mentally and emotionally complicated parrots to deal with is a Cockatoo. Some sub species are worse then others. Few people are equipped to provide for the many needs of these special birds. Rescue organizations are full of unwanted Cockatoos. The average Umbrella or Moluccan Cockatoo is in its second home by the time it is 3 years old.  There is much more than meets the eye when considering a parrot such as these.  Many pet stores and breeders only want to sell birds: it helps to pay the rent. However, if they were advised to do their homework, to read and study and are armed with the realities about cockatoos, the potential buyer would probably make a wiser selection such as an Amazon, or Eclectus or any of a wide variety of more socially acceptable bird.

Yes, cockatoos are the cuddlers of the bird family (especially the Umbrella and Moluccan varieties). Yes, cockatoos are smart. Very smart. They can be very entertaining. But, depending on the variety, a cockatoo can cause you more grief, aggravation, and headaches then any ten children. They really can drive you over the edge! That’s why there are so many in Rescue programs. We currently have one in our Rescue program.  He is 4 years old and we are his 3rd placement.

The problem centers around their screaming.  Cockatoos in the wild have periods in the day when they naturally scream: usually in the morning and evening.  They do not necessarily loose this natural instinct just because they become a pet.  And when they scream you can literally hear them as far as a city block.  And when they scream in your home the sound penetrates and resonates unnaturally to the rhythms of your mind.  It’s no one’s fault: it just what they do.  Added to the natural times they scream, they also are a very, very needy bird.  They need constant attention.  They need to know that you are near by most of the time.  That means you absolutely should not have a cockatoo if no one is home or if the bird is left alone during most of the day.  Definitely not good!  That will probably set the bird to picking its feathers; and once that very bad habit begins it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to have the bird stop destructive behavior!  Think of it as leaving your young child in a playpen every day for 8-10 hours alone day after day; month after month without attention!

These very important things are usually not told to the potential buyer.  And after having the cockatoo for a while and the new owner calls and says they cannot live with the birds anti-social behavior they become even more frustrated because the seller won’t take the bird back much less refund their money.  They’re out their big bucks and the cockatoo ends up in a rescue program.  And the bird will live for 55-65 years.  We at Mt Rushmore Birds go to extreme lengths to educate potential cockatoo owners of the possible and probable consequences of owning several varieties of Cockatoos because we feel obligated for them to have sufficient information so they can make an informed and intelligent decision.  As reputable breeders we feel it is our ethical responsibility to do no less.

Back to the scenario of having an umbrella cockatoo. So now you’re gone to work at least 8 hours a day.  Sometimes you don’t come home for dinner or there are the children’s activities at night and after school. Your cockatoo is home alone in his little cage and now he is screaming and picking his feathers out. You bought a cuddly little bird that most likely was under 5 months old and it took him about a year before he started to show all these anti-social traits. I truly believe if you are going to have a happy well adjusted Cockatoo he needs to be out of his cage on play stands or in huge flights most of the day; and don’t be surprised if he gets off the play stand while you are out of the room for just a minute. That is how long it will take your Cockatoo to eat your favorite antique. They are the Houdini’s of the bird family.  They’ll do anything, including screaming, and chewing your favorite furniture simply because they yearn for your continued attention.

We are seeing a lot of ads regarding folks trying to sell their Cockatoos. We are getting a lot of calls. We belong also to the Rocky Mountain Avian Society.  Rescuing cockatoos is a big problem in that area as well.  Think long and hard before you consider a Cockatoo. It could be the mistake of your lifetime and the bird also suffers greatly. Every year many parrots end up in a rescue shelter because people were uninformed or misinformed or found out too late the sacrifices it takes to own one of the several varieties of cockatoos.   The birds suffer even more than the owners because they keep going from owner to owner because of behavioral problems; or even euthanized. There are a lot of wonderful birds out there that make wonderful pets. Cockatoos in all their wonderful cuddliness might not be the bird for you. Never, ever buy a bird on impulse. Spend lots of time and do the homework.  An informed decision will help insure that you and your pet bird will enjoy many years of compatibility, love and mutual bonding.

Barb Paur
Mt Rushmore Birds

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