Sunday, September 21, 2014

Those Cuddly Cockatoos

I love Cockatoos!  I have met and interacted with many Cockatoos including Umbrellas, Rose Breasted, Black Palm, Lesser Sulphur Crested, Goffins, Slender Billed and probably others that I am forgetting about and of them my favorite is the Moluccan Cockatoo.  Despite all the really great things about these birds, I would personally never have one.  Why wouldn't I have a bird that is one of my favorite species?  Well, there are several reasons why and I will go through them here.

Why I COULD have a Cockatoo
The snuggle factor.  The picture above is of me and a sweet Moluccan I know named Mo. Mo is a favorite at our local Farmer's Market and during Spring and Summer I rarely miss visiting the Farmer's Market each week mainly so that I can see Mo.  I hold him and snuggle him.  Little kids hold him and even my husband who is fearful of large birds has held him.  He is the dream least during the time we see him when everyone is gathered around cooing him, holding him and being entertained by him.  But, I realize that this isn't all there is to him.

The sweet and loving nature of a well adjusted, outgoing and social Cockatoo is amazing and frankly, pretty hard to beat.  And, if this was all there was to them, if they were all easy all the time, it would be a no brainer, but there are other things that keep me from having one.

Not a One Sided Bird
There are great things about a Cockatoo, their sweetness and cuddly nature, their intelligence, their learning ability, their ability to entertain and keep you laughing.  On the flip side, some of these things are also what makes them so challenging.

While it seems like it would be amazing to have a bird as intelligent as a Cockatoo that is sometimes more challenging that one may realize.  Cockatoos are extremely intelligent, so much so that they can be difficult to keep entertained, enriched, exercised and happy.  There are many cases of Cockatoos that have learned how to not only open their cage, but in some cases dismantle it!  They are extremely intelligent, to be sure.  Lara Joseph of the Animal Behavior Center in Ohio, highly respected lecturer and expert on parrot training and enrichment and the owner of two Cockatoos, a Moluccan and an Umbrella says, "I think enriching a healthy Cockatoo can be much more challenging to a caregiver than many other species of parrots. They tend to like to manipulate objects, take them apart and often times I see them putting them back together again so they can take them apart again."  She also says, "I tend to see them get bored easily and when they do, well, that gives opportunities for them to practice other behaviors we probably won't like such as screaming, plucking and other behaviors that can develop into abnormal repetitive behaviors."  In addition to their ability to take things apart and put them together, they will find creative ways to do so and have even been known to manufacture tools.  Check out this video of a Cockatoo creating and using a tool  

One of the biggest challenges in keeping a well adjusted and happy Cockatoo is being able to provide enough enrichment and mental stimulation.  Because they are so good at problem solving they tend to figure things out, which means that the same toys, enrichment and foraging will not do day in and day out, you will have to continue to be creative and find new ways to keep them thinking, working and burning energy.  Lara tells me, "I pay close attention to any of the birds, especially the Cockatoos when they are stationary for too long or preening more than 15% to 20% of their day.  If they are healthy and I mean interacting and actively engaged with their environment, it can be tough to keep up with them.  Most often a Cockatoo's favorite toy is the hardware used to hang the toy on the side of the cage, not all the colored parts attached to it that we, the humans think is cool."

Another important factor in keeping a Cockatoo is making sure that you have adequate space, not only for their enclosure or cage but also for them to fly.  Lara says, "One of the several reasons, beside it being a natural behavior, flighted is the way I prefer to keep all of the birds in my care.  A few, quick flights for a Cockatoo can release so much energy, SO MUCH. In my opinion, if you keep a healthy and flighted Cockatoo they only fly for a short period of time, a minor percentage of their day.  In my observation, a healthy Cockatoo spends the majority of their day engaging with objects in their environment such as manipulating objects and working on tasks."

I would be remiss if I didn't address the other challenges that Cockatoo owners face and must be able to cope with.  

Cockatoos can be EXTREMELY loud.  When I say EXTREMELY, in all caps loud, I mean really loud.  Most people say that they can cope with the noise and that they aren't worried about the noise, but the fact is, very few people can deal with a frustrated Cockatoos vocalizations.  That said, many can deal with a normal, well adjusted Cockatoos vocalizations which are still very loud, but not constant or ongoing.  They usually sound off a couple of times a day, usually in the morning and afternoon and a Cockatoo owner needs to be okay with this.  Some vocalizing is normal for birds, constant screaming is not.  If a bird is vocalizing non-stop there is something else going on, many times lack of mental stimulation, exercise and enrichment.  Sometimes they have been reinforced for screaming by being attention.  These issues can be modified but it does take time and commitment on the part of the owner.  This is the biggie for me as my husband's only request in the birds I keep is that they aren't "too loud".  A Cockatoo of any species, would indeed be "too loud" for him.

Cockatoos are busy birds and again, if not given enough to do and enough enrichment, they will find ways to entertain themselves and this can be through destruction of walls, furniture and other things. A lot of Cockatoos love wood and go through a lot of in.  Toys will need to be replaced often as they will usually be destroyed/used in a short amount of time.  If plenty of chewing and enrichment opportunities are not offered, a Cockatoo may chew on walls, ceiling and furniture.  

Cockatoos are dusty birds.  If you have allergies they may not be a good choice for you or you will have to figure out ways to keep the dust manageable.  Air purifiers and keeping things cleaned and vacuumed can help a lot, but not completely.  Many people have had to rehome their Cockatoos for health reasons because of the dust and their bodies inability to deal with it.

Baby Birds Grow Up
Cockatoos are probably the most common bird in rescue for all of the reasons that I have mentioned. Frequently people buy an adorable baby, that they can snuggle and do anything with expecting the bird to remain that way for their entire lives.  If you raise a Cockatoo the right way and teach him or her to be independent, teach him the skill to play on his own, offer plenty of training and enrichment your bird will probably grow up well adjusted, but he is still going to grow up.  He is going to go through adolescence which can be challenging.  He will likely go through periods in his life when he is not as "easy" and needs some patience, understanding and training.  People need to be prepared to deal with this and willing to instead of giving up on the bird at the first sign of difficulty.  Most of the Cockatoos that end up in rescue do so just as they are maturing and become adult birds and stop being the easy peasy babies that their owners are used to.  This is incredibly important to consider and be prepared for.

The Good
This brings me back to Mo, our Farmer's Market bird.  He is the sweetest bird.  A lot of the Cockatoos I have met, especially the Moluccans are incredibly lovable, adorable and charming. When I see people falling all over Mo I sometimes worry that they will think that this is all there is to him, this sweet, adorable marshmallow of a bird and go out and get one without knowing more about them.  I don't want to scare people away from Cockatoos, nor do I want people to think that I am against keeping them as companions, I just want them to understand that these birds are not easy in the sense that they can't just be stuck in a cage and fed and taken out and interacted with when you feel like it.  They need a lot of attention, interaction, patience, skill and enrichment to be the fabulous birds that they can be.  

Mo and I

Rick and Mo