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Choosing a Greater Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are very large white cockatoos found in the high rainfall coastal belt of eastern and northern Australia. They inhabit forests, especially mature canopy forests from the lowlands. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. In the winter when food is in short supply they often enter cities in search of food.

Greater sulphur-cresteds and other cockatoo species can be very long lived, and a few individuals in zoos have lived up to 50 to 60 years. Precise data on life span of the average greater sulphur-crested cockatoo is poorly documented. Unfortunately, they often succumb to disease or injury and don't live for their potential life span.

Appearance and Personality

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita galerita) are white with recurved yellow crests. The crest feathers lie flat on the top of the head with the tips curling upward. The only other color is yellow on the insides of the wings. The crest feathers spread out and up when the crest is erect. They have white eye-rings and a longer, narrower beak than Tritons or medium sulphur-crested cockatoos and a small head, which looks too small for their body. The crest feathers are also longer and narrower than other subspecies.

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are affectionate, playful and highly intelligent birds. They are excellent companion birds for those who want a charming, loving bird but not quite as docile as Moluccans and umbrellas. Greater sulphur-cresteds tend to be very demanding of attention. If they are deprived of attention can become very noisy and destructive or turn to plucking or self-mutilation behavior. Imprinted cockatoos may become possessive of their owners. This possessive behavior can lead to unpredictable or aggressive behavior towards other people especially as the bird reaches sexual maturity.

Greater sulphur-cresteds often speak better than most cockatoos. One famous talking greater sulphur-crested was "Fred" from the TV show "Baretta." They are very vocal and many birds lose their homes due to loud screaming. This behavior is often learned when young birds hear the morning or afternoon screaming of another cockatoo.

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are playful and inquisitive and they love to chew objects in their surroundings. They are very destructive if allowed to perch on furniture. They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew. In order to ensure safety, companion cockatoos should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. 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.

Feeding

Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet as a basis for good nutrition. The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of formulated diet and 1/3 to 1/2 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. If the bird consumes all of it's food, give additional food as desired. Overfeeding leads to pickiness, wastage and throwing food. Treats such as seeds, nuts and table foods maybe given in small amounts especially as rewards for good behavior. The weight of mature greater sulphur crested cockatoos should be monitored frequently as they have a tendency to become obese.

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are very efficient in using calories. Juvenile cockatoos are notoriously picky eaters and don't seem to need much food to maintain while adults easily gain too much weight. Try to ensure that the food that they eat is nutritious and avoid high fat seeds such as sunflower and safflower. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are 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 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.

Housing

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are prone to obesity and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Durable cage construction is very important because greater sulphur-cresteds are very strong chewers and can easily break welds on poorly constructed cages. Many are also adept at opening cage latches. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages. The cage should be as large as possible but must allow at least enough room to fully spread the wings. Ideally the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

Breeding

Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos breed well in captivity but are not as prolific or bred as commonly as Moluccan and umbrella cockatoos. In North America, greater sulphur-crested cockatoos breed predominantly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically 2 to 3 eggs. The breeding cage should be large enough to allow flight between perches to help prevent obesity. One-inch by one-inch 12 gauge welded wire is a good choice for cage construction. A suggested size is 5 feet wide by 5 feet tall by 10 feet long suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor.

Double entrance nest boxes are often used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Large wooden boxes approximately 18 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches can be used. Metal barrels, plastic pickle barrels and garbage cans can be used however the act of chewing a wooden nest box may stimulate reproductive behavior.

Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 12 to 14 weeks of age. Greater sulphur-crested cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. Most handrearing formulas can be used successfully, however if you are using a formula that is relatively high in fat, care must be taken not to overfeed the chick as obesity and fatty liver syndrome can occur and may be fatal.

Male cockatoos frequently become aggressive toward their mates. Fatal attacks may occur in which the male bird severely bites the face, wings, and legs of the female. Cage construction and management must take into consideration techniques to reduce mate aggression. 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
  • Psittacosis
  • Feather-picking
  • Mate aggression
  • Self mutilation
  • Juvenile chewing of flight feathers and tail
  • Poor eating habits - picky eaters
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Sarcocystis
  • Cloacal prolapse
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals
  • Obesity, fatty liver syndrome
  • Lipomas (fatty tumors)

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