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Choosing a Medium Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos, also known as Eleanora cockatoos, are affectionate, playful and highly intelligent birds. They are excellent companions for those who want a charming, loving bird that likes to cuddle. Medium sulphur-cresteds tend to be demanding of attention and if they are deprived of attention can become noisy and destructive or turn to plucking or self-mutilation behavior.

Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita eleanora) are found on the Aru and Kai Islands in the northern Maluku province of Indonesia. They inhabit lowland forests, especially mature canopy forests along rivers. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. Wild cockatoos feed on nuts, seeds, berries and insects.

While medium sulphur-cresteds will occasionally speak, they are not known for their ability to mimic. They are however quite vocal and many birds lose their home due to loud screaming. This behavior is often learned when young birds hear the morning or afternoon screaming of another cockatoo.

Medium 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.

Appearance and Personality

Medium sulphur-cresteds are large white cockatoos with recurved yellow crests and the tips that curl 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 blue-eye rings and a smaller beak than the triton.

Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos are playful and inquisitive and they love to chew objects in their surroundings. 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, and wing and nail clips to avoid fear of novel situations.

Feeding

Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet as a basis for good nutrition. High protein pelleted diet is an excellent staple diet for cockatoos or a weaning food can also be fed. The diet should be 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. If the bird consumes all of his 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.

Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos are efficient in utilization of calories, and juvenile cockatoos are notoriously picky eaters and don't seem to need much food to maintain themselves. Try to ensure that the food that they do eat is nutritious. 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

Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Durable cage construction is very important because medium 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

Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos breed well in captivity but are not as prolific or bred as commonly as Moluccans and umbrellas. In North America, medium sulphur-crested cockatoos breed predominantly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically two to three eggs. The breeding cage should be large enough to allow some limited flight between perches. One inch by one inch by 12 gauge-welded wire is a good choice for cage construction. A suggested size is four feet wide by four feet tall by eight feet long suspended four 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 can be used. Size should be approximately 18 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches. 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. Medium sulphur-crested cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. Most hand rearing formulas can be used successfully; however, if you are using a formula, which is relatively high in fat, care must be taken not to overfeed the chick.

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 (Common in wild population)
  • Feather-picking
  • Psittacosis
  • 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 metal

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