Body length: shortest—Solomon corella Cacatua ducorpsii and Philippine cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia, 12 inches (30 centimeters); tallest—red-tailed black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii, 20 to 26 inches (50 to 65 centimeters)
Weight: lightest—cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus, 2.8 to 3.5 ounces (80 to 100 grams); heaviest—palm cockatoo Probosciger aterrimus, 19.4 to 35.3 ounces (550 to 1,000 grams)
Life span: 40 to 60 years or more, depending on species. Some cockatoos in zoos have been estimated to be over 100 years old!
Incubation: 19 to 33 days, depending on species; up to 3 months to fledge
Age of maturity: 3 to 4 years, depending on species
Conservation status: Philippine cockatoo and lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo Cacatua suphurea are at critical risk.
• King Tut, the Zoo's official greeter for almost 40 years (from
1951 to 1989), was a salmon-crested, or Moluccan, cockatoo Cacatua moluccensis.
A bronze statue of him was placed in his favorite perching spot near the flamingo exhibit!
• A triton cockatoo Cacatua galerita triton named Lalah played the role of Fred in the TV series Baretta in the 1970s. For the series, Lalah had a bird stunt double named Weird Harold used for flying sequences.
• Palm cockatoos can crack Brazil nuts with their beak!
• Most cockatoos eat nuts, seeds, and fruit, but short-billed black-cockatoos Calyptorhynchus latirostris and yellow-tailed black-cockatoos Calyptorhynchus funereus feed on wood-boring beetle larvae!
• In some areas of Australia, local lore has it that the arrival of the red-tailed black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii means that rain is on the way, so the birds are a welcome sight.
Animal Bytes: Cockatoo
Range: Australia, New Guinea,
Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and Philippines
Getting to know you
With their perky crests and natural curiosity, cockatoos are among the most well-known and loved members of the parrot family. They are found in Australia and the smaller island countries to the north and west, and they live in forested areas of all types, from eucalyptus groves to pine forests to rain forests. They gather in large, noisy flocks—which sometimes include two or three different types of cockatoos—to feed on berries, seeds, nuts, and roots. It is not uncommon to find cockatoos eating the seeds of grasses and cultivated crops; farmers consider them pests in some areas.
At the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, our cockatoos are offered a commercial pellet made for parrots, and fruits and veggies such as apples, papayas, carrots, and yams. They are also fed a variety of seeds and nuts such as peanuts, walnuts, and pecans-all with shells still on so the birds can crack them open, just like they would in the wild.
Some cockatoo species form long-lasting pair bonds. Pairs nest in tree hollows; in many cases, both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the chicks. Cockatoos often stay with the flock they were raised in.
Like all parrots, cockatoos are zygodactyl. This 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. That's because it's hard to fly through dense, leafy branches, and even tougher to get to the fruit or nuts that are their primary foods. Because they can climb through tree branches so well, they can easily get to the treats that they want. They are also able to hold their food in one foot while balancing on the other!
In black and white
Cockatoos differ from other parrots not only because of their crests but also because they are mostly black or white (with a few notable exceptions, such as the gray and pink galah Eolophus roseicapillus). This is caused by the lack of a special texture in their feathers. In other parrots the presence of this texture produces color by the way it reflects light. Cockatoos also do not have oil glands, but they do produce a fine powder that is the result of the breakdown of special downy feathers. The powder helps to protect their feathers and keep them clean.
Cockatoos are LOUD and noisy! They are arguably the loudest of all the parrots and scream to communicate with one another or just for the sheer joy of making noise. Their loud voices are great adaptations for living in thick, dark forests, helping them communicate with one another over long distances even though they are out of sight.
One of the benefits of living in a large, noisy flock is that there is always another bird close by to watch your back! When feeding, cockatoos depend on fellow cockatoo "sentinels" that sit close to the feeding flock and keep an eye open for potential danger. Should a predator or some sort of threat arise, the sentinel bird sends out a loud alarm call and the entire flock takes flight, squawking and screaming.
Too smart for their own good
Cockatoos are admired for their intelligence, but being smart can sometimes get them into trouble. They learn quickly to take handouts from humans and love to raid bird feeders. If their food sources dry up, they can and will destroy wood decking and paneling on houses. They became popular pets in the 1970s, due in part to a triton cockatoo Cacatua galerita triton having a role in the TV show Baretta, which led to a sudden and dramatic decrease in their numbers in the wild. In fact, certain species of Indonesian cockatoos are thought to be extinct in the wild because of trapping for the pet trade.