Umbrella Cockatoo

     Umbrella Cockatoo (Cacatua alba) are also known as White Cockatoos. They are native to the lowlands and rainforests of Indonesia and Australia. There are 21 types of Cockatoos, the smallest being Cockatiels. Unfortunately, Umbrellas are subject to wild captures for the caged bird trade and are considered to be vulnerable to becoming extinct in the wild.

Girl or boy?

     With some exotic bird species, the only way to tell if it’s a girl or boy, is to have a genetic test done. With Cocka toos it’s much easier. Males are larger than females and have black eyes. The females have reddish-brown eyes. The two here are a Jack and Alice. Jack is about 10 years old and Alice is over 20. They came to us from friends of the nursery, Steve and Clare, who had rescued them from bad situations, which is very common. Umbrellas can be pluckers, to the point of self-mutilation. Alice was naked from her head down when they got her. With loving care, she has grown most of them back over the last 3 years.

The friend of a life time

     The true life span of these magnificent birds has been reported to be 40 to 60 years with some saying as long as 90 years. This probably contributes to the fact that Umbrellas are one of the most highly abandoned birds in our country. They become very attached to their person and can develop behavioral issues if something happens to their person. Regardless of losing their caretaker, Umbrellas are high maintenance, expensive pets. They need very large cages with lots of toys and opportunity to get out of the cage every day. They are messy and create a lot of dust which can wreak havoc with allergies. Feeding Cockatoos is an expensive proposition. They need a fruit and nut based diet with things like sunflower seeds only as a treat.

     Umbrellas typically don’t make good pets since they can be prima donnas and need to be the center of attention. The first few years of their lives are considered the honeymoon period, when they are gentle, loving and cuddly. Umbrellas are very social and intelligent and can learn to mimic speech and do tricks. They are loyal and can be possessive of their primary care giver. Umbrellas also can be very male/female oriented, preferring a male care giver over a female…or the reverse. Alice basically hates women and is very aggressive towards them, Jack prefers women. They are known as trouble makers when not trained and cared for properly by a consistent owner. As they become sexually mature, at 3 to 4 years old, their temperament changes and their true nature begins to develop. This is when Umbrellas can develop and show seriously bad habits. A bored, lonely, frustrated Umbrella can be a very naughty bird. When left alone for extended periods of time, Umbrellas can exhibit their frustration by a number of destructive behaviors. They will scream for attention, which can be heard up to 3 miles away. They can also enjoy chewing on things. Without plenty of toys and other outlets, they will chew your furniture or walls.  Never trust an Umbrella. They can turn around and bite the person they love the most, without warning. Their beaks are strong enough to crack walnuts and break fingers. NEVER allow children to be unsupervised near a Cockatoo or large parrot, the risk is too great and can be traumatic for the child. 

     Jack and Alice have been with us since November of 2012. Our large cages gave them the space they needed. It took about 6 months for Alice to stop pacing incessantly. She seems to have stopped plucking herself and both of them scream much less, than when they 1st arrived. Raising their crests and making the feathers around their faces puffy (called making mutton chops), are signs of happiness and contentment. If you have been into the nursery over the last few weeks, you might have noticed Ryan and some of the crew working on a new cage (not exactly new but refurbished). Jack and Alice were doing their best to tear up the other cage. We also felt that a larger cage for them would be better, to help meet their needs and make handling them easier and safer. Javier found some huge grape vines up at the farm and cut some big stems for the new cage. My kids and I made “birdy toys” from tons of dollar store items. If you have birds and want to make cheap toys, we can show you what to do. If you want to build your own aviary, talk to Ryan for advice or about custom work.

To adopt birds and other pets, please visit the Houston SPCA.