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The White Cockatoo

The White Cockatoo (Cacatua alba) is also known as the Umbrella Cockatoo and is a medium sized, nearly completely white member of the cockatoo family. 

The average bird is around 18inches in length and weighs from 400g for smaller females up to 800g for later male bird.  The male is broader across the head and has a larger beak.  The majority of both bird’s feathers are white with the upper and lower surfaces of some of the wing feathers having a yellow tint to them, as well as some of the larger feathers in the tail.  In captivity, they are said to live from 40-60 years.

The White Cockatoo is found in the tropical rainforests on the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, Ternate, Tidore, Kasiruta and Mandioli in the North Maluku area of Indonesia.  They live in lowland forests below 900m as well as mangrove forests, plantations and agricultural land.

In their natural environment, the White Cockatoo is a vulnerable species with declining numbers due to loss of natural habitat as well as capture for the illegal bird trade.  There are restrictions in place about the number of birds which can be exported, but BirdLife International say this is being exceeded by up 18 times the agreed number in some areas.

Keeping White Cockatoos

This particular parrot has an ancient pedigree as a pet bird; they were popular in China during the Tang Dynasty, and when the Fourth Crusade was concluded, a white cockatoo was given from the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II to the Sultan of Babylon in 1229.

White Cockatoos are very affectionate birds and bond strongly with their human.  They love to cuddle and can easily be trained as they are very intelligent birds.  They can learn some basic human speech but are not as proficient at this as some of their cousins.

Cockatoos are amongst the noisiest of the parrot family.  They also have an extremely strong beak which can break walnuts, or fingers, quite easily.  Because they bond very closely to their chosen human, if these behaviours are not understood, problems can develop including feather plucking.

One thing to remember with these birds is that their feathers produce dust which can irritate allergies, so if anyone in the house has any problems of this nature, then these are not the birds for you.

Cage requirements

If you are planning on having a cage for your bird to live in when not out with the family, then a minimum to consider is one 36inches x 24inches x40 inches high but the larger, the better.  Parrots are smart birds and cockatoos are no exception so make sure doors have locking mechanisms, otherwise you could get the pleasure of an unexpected visit or escapee. 

Play-top cages are a good option which allows the bird to come in and out of the cage in their own time and have something instantly accessible to play with.  But toys in the cage are vitally important to avoid boredom and associated behavioural problems.  Just as a human wouldn’t like to be locked in a room all day with nothing to do, a parrot won’t like being in a cage with nothing to occupy it.  Change toys occasionally, to avoid boredom, but introduce new items carefully and allow the birds to view the new items from outside the cage at first, so they realise it is not a threat.   And expected destruction!  With a beak like theirs, cockatoos will destroy toys but this is a good sign as it means they are enjoying them.

Food

In the wild, these cockatoos live on berries, nuts, seeds, fruit and roots.  When they are in breeding condition, they will also consume insects and their larvae.

In captivity, majority of health problems come from poor diet.  Special parrot pellets are needed to balance seed in the diet, as is fresh fruit and vegetables.

Fruit which is suitable for cockatoos includes apples, bananas, berries, grapes, kiwi, mangoes, oranges, pear, plum and pomegranate.  They will enjoy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumber, beans, lake, pumpkin, spinach, sweetcorn and watercress.   Ideally, a cockatoo should receive three different types of vegetables and two fruit each day.

Safe nuts for cockatoos include almonds, brazil nuts, peanuts, walnuts and cedar or pine nuts.  If these nuts are in their shells, a small crack may be needed to allow the bird to shell them.  Do not give them palm nuts, as they have been commercially introduced to their environment and is not a natural food for them.

Other foods which can be eaten by cockatoos include hard cheese, cooked chicken, boiled eggs, cooked pasta and cooked rice.  They will need access to cuttlefish and an iodine block for vitamins and minerals and to maintain beak condition.

Breeding

Typical of all cockatoos, the White nest in tree hollows.  They lay two eggs and both birds incubate for around 28 days.  The larger chick tends to take dominance over, the smaller which may not survive.  Chicks fledge at 84 days of age and are independent at around 15-18 weeks.  These birds reach sexual maturity around the age of 3-4 years.

Breeding in captivity is not to be undertaken lightly and may not be easily accomplished.  They will need a nest box at least five feet off the ground and should be layered with around 4 inches of wood chips in the bottom as the birds do not build nests in the manner of smaller birds.

White cockatoos mate for life but the male can be overly aggressive with the female, so sometimes it is necessary to separate the pair. 

Conclusion

This stunning big bird is the most cuddly of the parrot species, highly intelligent but very noisy.  It is not a beginners bird but if you are looking for a new species and have the time and space to accommodate a cockatoo, they are endlessly affectionate and entertaining.  Just remember, if anyone in the house has allergies, these birds’ feathers give off dust which may aggravate them.


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