Cockatoo - Parrot Blog

Q & A For Your Pet Bird

Here's a question for our Cockatoo parrot blog:

Can a person own a citron crested cockatoo if they work all day,and theres no other people or birds in the house,just a Shih-zhu dog? Will that cause behaviour problems for the bird? Are the citrons independant birds?

Thanks.

Shelly.

Shelly: Being the proud owner of a citron-crested cockatoo myself, I will try to answer your question based on my experience and from information that I have read about them. In the end, the ultimate decision is yours and it is a long term one, as cockatoos can live 50 or more years. My cockatoo is in a bird room with my other birds and she does enjoy their company, which is especially apparent when I let all my parrots out, as she gets along with everyone. She loves to go into my blue and gold macaw's big cage just to see if her toys are more interesting. My African grey also does this and they both get along very well, playing together in the macaw's cage. My macaw is very tolerant and she never minds the intrusion. She just goes up on the roof of the cage and looks down in on them and I am sure she is wondering why they would rather be in the cage playing with toys when the door is wide open and they are free to be out! I will talk about the importance of toys shortly.

If I walk in the room, my cockatoo will immediately stop what she is doing, climb down from the cage and walk over to me. She likes to be picked up and cuddled, like most cockatoos. I limit this to a few minutes and sometimes I just pick her up and put her back up on her cage. This way, she does not expect to be held everytime and she thinks it is a treat when I do and not a given. Many people mistakenly dote on their cockatoo when they first get it and then when the novelty wears off they spend less time with it and the cockatoo sometimes develops behavior problems which might have been avoided , such as screaming or plucking. A cockatoo has to learn more than cuddling and should be conditioned to interact with people to keep it social, but not overly dependent. The step-up command is important to teach early so that the bird learns to step up on your hand and then step up back to it's perch. After each successful step up you should give your cockatoo praise. Cockatoos are very intelligent and they usually learn very quickly.

My cockatoo was a fully weaned baby which is very important in cockatoos because they can be difficult to wean and that could interfere with your ability to make your bird independent. You did not mention how old the citron-crested cockatoo you are considering, is. A young bird will be more flexible in getting to know your routine than an older bird which may be set in his ways. An older bird that had someone home all day would find it more difficult to understand why you were not there during times when you are working. They may eventually get used to the change, but it will take longer and again they may develop behavior problems which would need to be addressed. Birds like routines and a young bird should be able to adjust to your schedule easier. I have read that cockatoos do very well in a house where there is only one bird. If you spend some time with it before work and when you get home and are consistent, the cockatoo should quickly learn your schedule and it will learn to entertain itself when you are not home.

Your cockatoo must be given toys to play with when you are at work to keep it from getting bored. There are many interesting bird toys available. My citron-crested cockatoo likes toys that she has to solve, such as one where she has to get different shapes out of a toy cube. Cockatoos like to chew. Be wary of furniture, especially antiques, which can be whittled away in short order. Provide wooden bird toys to satisfy their need to chew. Most cockatoos also like a swing. The more bird toys the better, when you are at work, as cockatoos have a lot of energy and like to be busy. They need daily contact, but given enough to do, they will not be as demanding.

Two final thoughts for you, Shelly, are first, all cockatoos have the ability to scream and will on occasion, even with the best of care, as it's in their nature. You did not mention if you live in a house or apartment. If you live in an apartment, hopefully you have friendly neighbors, because their screams can be loud. However, my cockatoo is much quieter than my two macaws. She is starting to speak a few words and most cockatoos are capable of learning to talk, which is always fun. Second, you mention your dog, which like most dogs, is capable of injuring your cockatoo if it was out of the cage. Sometimes you can train a dog to behave around the bird and not bother it, but more often than not, they act on instinct when they attack the bird and it is no fault of the dog. If the dog has been an only pet, it might become jealous of the cockatoo, because you are now dividing your attention. Cockatoos are escape artists, so be sure to securely lock the cage when you are at work, so it can not escape and perhaps have to confront your dog. Also, be careful that the dog's paws can not get in the cage, as the cockatoo will likely defend itself and bite the dog's paws.

These are some things to consider and please feel free to ask others, so that you can put all your information together to enable you to feel confident in your final decision. Thank you for sending me your questions on the parrot blog,

Jill


We have a lesser sulpher crested cockatoo named Alex(we don't know the sex) that has developed a biting habit with men? is there any cure? We found a kitten outside and the bird and cat tolerate each other but the bird is Not out of the cage(he flies).

What would you suggest?

Victor

Victor: Hello. I will give you some thoughts on what could possibly be causing aggressive behavior in your cockatoo and then you can determine if they apply to your situation. I personally have a young citron cockatoo, which is a subspecies of the lesser crested sulfur cockatoo that you own. They are similar in size, but the crest is different with the citron having an orange crest and the lesser having a yellow crest. My citron is less than a year old and I was told she is a female. You do not know the sex of your bird, but it may be important in determining the cause of the biting. The best way to determine the sex of a bird is by DNA analysis at a veterinarian's office. They take a sample of blood from a clipped toenail and send it out to a lab and you usually get results back within two weeks. My vet charges $30.00 for the test and you get a certificate with the bird's name and results on it. Costs obviously would vary depending on the vet. There is another way to determine sex in sulphur-crested cockatoos, though of course it is not 100%, but most females have an iris eye color that is brown, chestnut-brown , or red-brown in color. A mature male sulphur-crested cockatoo has an iris that is dark brown to black.

I will now give you some information based on my research and it will be general in nature, as I do not have all the facts regarding your bird, such as age, how many people are in your family or how many interact with your cockatoo. I do not know if he bites all men or just you. You seem to suggest women are exempt from this behavior, but I do not know who tends to the bird. Cage size is important, the bigger the better, if a cockatoo is caged all the time. Minimum recommended cage size for cockatoos is a floor service area of 27 x 27 inches and a height of 39 inches (70 x 70 x 100cm). Cage height is another factor, as a bird that is in a cage higher than us, enabling them to look down on us, often allows the bird to feel they are dominant over us and it may react with aggression by biting to let you know they are "boss". Sometimes simply lowering the cage to eye level will help. Lastly, I do not know how long you have had the kitten and if the cockatoo was biting you before the kitten arrived.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are highly intelligent birds and can develop behavior problems if they do not have enough toys to play with, as they get bored easily and they also like to be able to play outside their cage, on top or on a playstand. I understand that your cockatoo's wings are not clipped, however, I personally do not believe in clipping bird's wings and all my birds are free flying. They still remain tame when I let them out, which I do everyday and they usually stay on their own cages or if they do go onto another's cage, they usually climb down and walk to it. Many people prefer to trim wings to keep their bird tame or safe and this is understandable. Many untrimmed birds have escaped outdoors, never to be seen again. When a bird's wings are not trimmed, precautions must be taken so that they do not get outside and escape, but they should still be allowed time outside their cage in a safe room or area. My birds are all in a bird room together and I do not worry about them escaping outside. Perhaps you have a room where you can put your cockatoo's cage, and allow him some time out of his cage to exercise and play.

Many cockatoos that spend all their time in their cage become very territorial and will defend it from even their favorite person, because they perceive it as their home and they will attack any person that attempts to interact with them in their space. If you allow your bird out on a playstand, it might be easier to approach. If he attempts to bite your hand, try using a stick or perch to take it out of it's cage using the term "step up" whenever you want your bird to get on or off stick. Use the same command when using your hand. Always praise your bird when it follows directions. Never allow a cockatoo on your shoulder, as this can be a dangerous practice, even in a bird that is not biting regularly.

Watch a bird's body language in the cage, as they often indicate when they are about to bite. They might spread their tail, firmly plant their feet on the perch or make lunging movements. Talk cheerfully and friendly to it until the bird calms down. If the bird still attempts to or bites you, never yell or get angry at your cockatoo because this only fuels it's aggression towards you. Never hit a bird or thump it's beak, as most bird's have amazing memories and can hold a grudge for a long time. It is best to walk out of the room and calm down before you talk to the bird. Do not let the bird see you react to it's biting. This can be difficult, believe me I know, but both anger on your part or laughter from an observer will only reinforce the cockatoo's bad behavior.

Cockatoos, like all parrots and birds, are not domesticated like dogs and cats. They are still instinctively like their wild relatives. They react like cockatoos flying free in Australia, where territory is fiercely protected from rivals. Their cage is their territory and it may be biting you because it feels you are trespassing. Another instinct which is very strong in cockatoos is male dominance. This is why I mentioned the importance of knowing whether your cockatoo was a male or female. Many male cockatoos can become unpredictable biters when they reach sexual maturity at around 8 years old. Their hormones run wild and again their instinctive avian nature kicks in and they may not be handleable during their breeding season, but can be handled the rest of the year. Male cockatoos in the wild have to survive and breed in order to carry on the species and a tame cockatoo, even if it has been hand raised, will often start to interact with your family and you, as they would in the wild with their flock, and start confronting life with more independence and confidence.

Many cockatoos, particularly males, will as they approach sexual maturity, suddenly have a change in who they prefer as their favorite person, be they male or female. This often happen in households where the cockatoo originally went to both men and women and then, almost overnight, decides it only likes one gender. In the wild, this is the result of the mature cockatoo having to leave the security of it's family and it has to choose a new mate and start a new family. As people, we may find this amusing, that a bird may suddenly decide to choose our better half as their "mate". Then again, they have no control over their instincts and cockatoos are flock animals and they assume we are part of the flock. This is where biting can be a problem, because once they have chosen a favorite person, they will often defend them. If your cockatoo perceives you or one of your male friends as a rival, it will attack, perhaps by lunging or if given contact, actually biting. A cockatoo bite can be extremely painful as a cockatoo has a beak with two points on the lower mandible and one point on the upper mandible.

As your cockatoo matures, it may mellow with age, as the instinct to dominate and breed becomes less over it's lifetime. Of course, the exact timeframe is unpredictable, as many cockatoos live 50 years or more. Some cockatoos have months that they are more aggressive than others, and you might be able to chart these, so you can predict future periods of aggression. Many cockatoos that reach sexual maturity are given away or put into a breeding program, because they are no longer considered pet quality. WIth patience and understanding, your cockatoo can still be a good pet. Some birds even switch loyalties to the opposite gender after a number of years and this can continue over the course of the bird's lifetime. For a few years, they like only women and then suddenly they switch and only like men for a few years and this continues back and forth for many years.

Victor, these are just a few ideas to consider concerning your cockatoo's biting habit. Lastly, I will mention the kitten. Some birds become very jealous at the addition of a new member of the family, be it a human baby or an animal. Your cockatoo may feel your attention is divided and may take out it's jealousy and anger on you by biting. Be careful that the kitten does not get too close to your cockatoo, as it is capable of hurting a small cat. If your cat sticks it's paw in the cage, it could be severely hurt. When the cat grows up, I would be wary of it interacting with your cockatoo, because the cat's instinctive nature would be to hunt and it would not be it's fault if it attacked your bird. Even the smallest scratch by a cat can be deadly to a bird, because a cat has bacteria on it's claws that often causes a fatal infection.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are active, outgoing, intelligent parrots, with many learning to talk. They are sensitive and often high strung, but they can be wonderful pets, as many cockatoo owners would agree. Goodluck with Alex. Thank you for sending us your questions on the parrot blog.

Jill



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