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Choosing a Citron-Crested Cockatoo

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Citron-crested cockatoos – a subspecies of the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo – are small white cockatoos with an orange crest. Although uncommon in the United States, they make better pets than other cockatoos because they are less destructive. However, they are inquisitive and love to chew.

They can be distinguished from the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo by their distinctive crest as well as by their size (citrons are slightly larger, about 14 to 15 inches). In addition, citrons have yellow underside flight feathers.

The birds are found on Sumba Island, in Indonesia, where they inhabit forest edge, woodland and cultivated areas. They feed in trees and on the ground, on seeds, crops, fruits, berries, buds, flowers and nuts, including immature coconuts. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon and are usually found in pairs or in small flocks. While the wild population is relatively stable (although vulnerable to loss of habitat), citron-cresteds are fairly uncommon in the U.S. market.

Citron-crested cockatoos can live up to 40 years, although many die of disease or injury long before they reach that age. These are active, high-energy birds that are both gentle and playful.

They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew. Young cockatoos 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 novel situations. They need to have some space for exercise. While they are not as demanding and possessive as the larger white cockatoos, they don't usually speak well.

Feeding

Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/4 cup of formulated diet and 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Monitor food intake. Overfeeding leads to pickiness, selective feeding and wasteful throwing of food.

Adult and juvenile citron-crested cockatoos are picky eaters. Try to ensure 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 eating a formulated diet.

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 they can be gently dried with a blow drier. 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. Since citron-cresteds are better flyers than Moluccans and umbrellas, a few more feathers should be removed.

Housing

Citron-crested cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Ideally, they should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not critical as citron-cresteds are not such strong chewers as the larger cockatoos. Many are adept at opening cage latches, however, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary. Cages should be as large as possible and must allow at least enough room for the bird to fully spread his wings. Where possible, the bird should also have an outdoor cage to allow playtime in the fresh air and sunlight.

Breeding

Citron-crested cockatoos breed fairly well in captivity but are not bred as frequently as Moluccans and umbrellas. Breeding age can be as young as 2 years but is usually 5 to 6 years. Breeding life span is not precisely known but is possibly up to 25 years or more. In North America these birds breed mostly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically two to three eggs. A suggested cage size is 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall by 6 feet long 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. 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 8 to 10 weeks of age. Citron-crested cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear and most hand-rearing formulas can be used successfully.

Male cockatoos frequently become aggressive toward their mates. Clipping the wings of the male prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive. Aggressive behavior may occur in compatible breeding pairs.

When breeding 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

Cockatoos are relatively healthy birds but are susceptible to the following:

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

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