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Choosing a Bare-Eyed Cockatoo

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Bare-eyed cockatoos – also known as little corellas or short-billed corellas – are sometimes confused with the smaller Goffin's cockatoo. These are medium-sized white birds (14 to 17 inches long) with short white recumbent crests, blue eye rings and a small pink patch between the eyes and nares. The undersides of their flight feathers are yellow.

The birds, which go by the Latin name Cacatua sanguinea, are common and found in large flocks throughout much of northern and central Australia, where they inhabit riverine woodlands near grasslands and agricultural areas. They also invade cultivated areas and damage crops; during non-breeding season they may gather in huge flocks of 20,000 or more birds and range widely through grasslands in search of food and are often killed as crop pests.

In the wild, they feed in trees and on the ground, mostly on seeds, crops, fruits, berries, buds, flowers and nuts and insect larvae. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon.

Although they are largely underrated and often passed over because of their relatively homely appearance, bare-eyeds are intelligent birds with exceptional personalities. They are gentle, playful and affectionate – and they make very good pets. They don't often speak well, but they are not as loud, demanding or possessive as the larger white cockatoos.

These birds are inquisitive and love to chew objects, but are not as destructive as other cockatoos. They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches. Companion cockatoos should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. Young birds should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations, such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of new situations. They also need space for exercise.

Bare-eyed cockatoos probably live up to 50 years, but precise data on their life span is poorly documented. Many succumb to disease or injury before living out their potential life span.

Feeding

In general, cockatoos should be fed a pelleted or extruded diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety. Feed approximately 1/3 cup of formulated diet and 1/3 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Monitor food intake: Overfeeding leads to pickiness, selective feeding and wasteful food throwing. Bare-eyes are somewhat predisposed to obesity.

Adult and juvenile bare-eyed cockatoos use calories efficiently and are picky eaters. Try to make sure that the food that they eat is nutritious and avoid feeding large quantities of high-fat seeds such as sunflower and safflower. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds on a formulated diet.

Birds on an all-seed diet need a vitamin/mineral supplement added to a soft food rather than in water, as water with vitamins and their accompanying sweeteners are a good growth medium for bacteria and can lead to bacterial disease. Vitamins and minerals which are added to seeds are often lost when the bird shells the seeds.

Grooming

Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun or can be gently dried with a blow dryer. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively, as cockatoos often fall and injure themselves. Clip only the primary flight feathers and only enough so the bird will glide to the floor. Bare-eyeds are better flyers than Moluccans and umbrellas and a few more feathers should be removed.

Housing

Bare-eyed cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Ideally, the cage should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not as critical with bare-eyes as with larger cockatoos as they are not such strong chewers, but many are adept at opening cage latches, so locks or escape proof latches may be necessary. The cage must allow at least enough room for the bird to fully spread his wings. If possible, the bird should also have an outdoor cage to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

Breeding

Bare-eyed cockatoos breed readily in captivity. While breeding age can be as young as three years, it is more typically 4 to 6 years. Breeding life span is not precisely known.

Bare-eyed cockatoos can be difficult to breed in captivity. In North America, bare-eyeds breed predominantly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically two to three eggs. A suggested size is 6 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor.

Double-entrance boxes are often used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Grandfather-style wooden boxes can be used and bare-eyes often like a deep, narrow nest. Size should be approximately 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches or 12 inches by 12 inches by 36 inches.

Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks usually fledge at approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age. Bare-eyed cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear, and most hand-rearing formulas can be used successfully.

Male cockatoos frequently become aggressive toward their mates, so cage construction and management should take into consideration techniques to reduce aggression. Clipping the males' wings prior to breeding season will help the female to escape in case of aggression.

When breeding any cockatoos, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered. If housed outdoors cockatoos often call at night, especially during a full moon. In southern states outdoor caging must be protected from opossums to prevent exposure to the parasite Sarcocystis falcatula which can result in a fatal lung infection.

Common Diseases and Disorders

The bare-eyed cockatoo is a relatively healthy bird. The following diseases have been reported in this species:

  • Psittacine beak and feather disease (common in the wild)
  • Feather-picking
  • Psittacosis
  • Mate aggression
  • Poor eating habits
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Sarcocystis
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals

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