Cockatoos are parrots that belong to the family Cacatuidae and the genus Cacatua.
There are 21 species of cockatoo in the world.
They inhabit rain forests, pine forests, eucalyptus groves, scrublands and savannahs.
The lifespan is up to 60 years or longer, depending upon the species. The oldest cockatoo in captivity was a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo named “Cookie”, residing at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, which lived to be 83 years old (1933–2016).
Cockatoos are recognisable by the showy crests and curved bills.
Their plumage is generally less colorful than that of other parrots, being mainly white, grey or black and often with colored features in the crest, cheeks or tail.
Cockatoos range in size: the tallest is Red-tailed black cockatoo up to 65 centimeters (26 inches); the shortest are Solomons cockatoo, Philippine cockatoo and cockatiel at 30 centimeters (12 inches); the heaviest is Palm cockatoo at 1 kilogram (35 ounces); the lightest are Tanimbar corella and Philippine cockatoo at 300 grams (10.5 ounces).
Cockatoos have a large bill, which is kept sharp by rasping the two mandibles together when resting. The bill is complemented by a large muscular tongue which helps manipulate seeds inside the bill so that they can be de-husked before eating.
Cockatoos, depending on the species will eat an assortment of seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, blossoms, roots, and vegetation such as leaf buds. Some cockatoos even eat insects and their larva. They are known to raid farmers’ crops, destroy sprouts, mature crops and bagged grain.
Cockatoos are diurnal and require daylight to find their food.
The vocalisations of cockatoos are loud and harsh. They serve a number of functions, including allowing individuals to recognize one another, alerting others of predators, indicating individual moods, maintaining the cohesion of a flock and as warnings when defending nests.
Like all parrots, cockatoos are zygodactyl (having two toes pointing forward and two backward). This, along with the use of their beak, gives them the ability to use their feet much like we use our hands and helps make them terrific climbers! Having the ability to climb is a necessity for birds that live and nest in thick forests.
They generally have long broad wings used in rapid flight, with speeds up to 70 km/h (43 mph) being recorded for galahs.
All species are generally highly social and roost, forage and travel in flocks. Noisy flocks sometimes include two or three different cockatoo species. Flocks can number in the dozens to thousands of birds: one record from the Kimberley noted a flock of 32,000 little corellas.
Cockatoos are monogamous, mating for life. They mate once a year, between December and March. The male cockatoo puts on an elaborate show to attract a female. He opens his wings, spreads his tail, ruffles his feathers and raises his crest while bobbing, bouncing and dancing in front of the female. After the female accepts the male’s advances, the pair will preen each other.
After breeding, the cockatoo pair leaves their group to find a good nesting spot. They make their nest in a large tree hole, 16 to 100 feet (5 to 30 meters) above ground. The female lays one or six eggs, and both parents take turns sitting on them, turning them and keeping them moist during the incubation period. The eggs hatch in about 30 days.
The cockatoo chicks try out their flying abilities when they are about 4 months old. Mom and Dad will continue to feed and supervise them as they build strength in their wings and learn to forage for food. About a month after fledging, the young cockatoos are weaned and independent. Young cockatoos often stay with the flock they were born into. Cockatoos reach sexual maturity when they’re about 3 to 4 years old.
Because they are showy, inventive, and affectionate, many are caged as pets.
Illegal trade in wild-caught birds contributes to the decline of some cockatoo species in the wild.
The cockatiel is the easiest cockatoo species to maintain and is by far the most frequently kept in captivity.
According to the IUCN and BirdLife International, seven species of cockatoo are considered to be vulnerable or worse and one is considered to be near threatened. Of these, two species—the red-vented cockatoo and the yellow-crested cockatoo—are considered to be critically endangered.
The word cockatoo dates from the 17th century and is a derivation from the Malay name for these birds, “kakak tua” (meaning “older sibling”) or from the call of the white cockatoo itself.
In some areas of Australia, local lore has it that the arrival of the red-tailed black cockatoo means that rain is on the way, so the birds are a welcome sight.
Snowball is a male Eleonora cockatoo, noted as being the first non-human animal conclusively demonstrated to be capable of beat induction — perceiving music and synchronizing his body movements to the beat.
A team of scientists from Oxford University, the University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute conducted tests on ten untrained Tanimbar corellas (Cacatua goffini), and found that they were able to solve complex mechanical puzzles.
In the 1973 film Serpico, Al Pacino‘s character had a pet white cockatoo.