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Choosing a Rose-Breasted Cockatoo

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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Rose-breasted cockatoos are small, beautiful, medium-sized pink cockatoos that are relatively uncommon in the United States. When they are available they can command several thousand dollars for a young bird.

The rose-breasted cockatoo, Eolophus roseicapillus, is also known as the Galah or roseate cockatoo. They are active, high-energy birds, that are gentle and playful – but shy and easily traumatized if handled roughly. These birds don't often speak; in fact, they, along with gang-gangs, are the quietest of the cockatoos. They can be unpredictable when mature. Since they are extremely fragile, they make good pets for young adults or retirees – people without young children.

Males frequently become aggressive toward their mates, however. While fatal attacks are not as common among rose-breasted birds as they are among white cockatoos, they do occur. Clipping the wings of the male prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive.

Rose-breasted cockatoos are widespread and abundant throughout Australia. They prefer open, arid lands and have increased in numbers due to the proliferation of artificial drinking pools and abundant food crops. They occur in a variety of habitats, including woodland, scrubland, urban areas and pastures; they feed primarily on the seeds of grasses and weeds – but they inflict considerable damage on crops and are considered pests in many areas.

Very social creatures, they are often found in flocks up to 100 birds, and they frequently co-exist and occasionally hybridize with Major Mitchell's cockatoos, and bare-eyeds. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon.

Rose-breasted cockatoos can live up to 40 years. Although precise data on their average life spans is poorly documented, many succumb to dietary problems, especially obesity.

Appearance and Personality

In general the birds are pretty to look at, with their short, pale pink crests, gray backs and wings and rose pink under feathers. There are three subspecies, which have slight variations in appearance:

  • E. r. roseicapillus ranges throughout northern Australia; they have dark pink-red eye rings and white crests. These birds have a tendency to become obese and their diets should be monitored.

  • E. r. albiceps ranges throughout eastern Australia; they have warty red eye rings and whitish crests.

  • E. r. assimilis ranges throughout western Australia; they have gray-white eye rings and pink crests.

    Rose-breasted cockatoos are inquisitive and love to chew on objects, but they are not as destructive as some other cockatoos. They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew on. Young cockatoos should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations. They need to have some space for exercise.

    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. Rose-breasted are excellent flyers. Heavy bids should have minimal wing clips.

    Feeding

    Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet. High protein formulas make an excellent staple diet for cockatoos. Weaning food can also be fed. The pink eye-ring subspecies should be fed a restricted diet to prevent obesity.

    The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Feed approximately 1/4 cup of formulated diet and 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Monitor food intake and weight in order to prevent obesity. Overfeeding leads to obesity, pickiness, wastage and throwing food. Low fat seeds, such as millet, especially spray millet is a good treat food. High fat seeds should not be fed.

    Special requirements: Rose-breasted cockatoos are efficient in utilization of calories. Juvenile cockatoos are notoriously picky eaters and don't seem to need much food to maintain themselves 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.

    Housing

    Rose-breasted cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. At a minimum, it must allow enough room for the bird to fully spread her wings. Ideally the cage should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not critical as rose-breasteds are not such strong chewers. Many are adept at opening cage latches, though, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary. If possible, the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

    Breeding

    Rose-breasted breed well in dry climates such as California but are more difficult to breed in the eastern United States. Breeding age can be as young as 2 years (usually 3 to 5). Breeding life span is not precisely known but is possibly up to 25-plus years. Wild pairs supposedly mate for life.

    In North America, rose-breasted 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 flight between perches to help prevent obesity. A good choice for cage construction is 1-inch-by-1-inch 12-gauge welded wire. A suggested size is 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall by 10 feet long suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor or a large flight cage.

    Double entrance nest boxes are often used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Wooden boxes can be used. Size should be approximately 10 inches by 10 inches by 24 inches.

    The incubation period is approximately 19 to 23 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 8 to 10 weeks of age. Rose-breasted cockatoos can be difficult to hand-rear. They grow rapidly and must be fed frequently. Most hand-rearing formulas can be used successfully.

    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
  • Mate aggression
  • Psittacosis
  • Feather-picking
  • Poor eating habits
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Sarcocystis (intestinal parasites)
  • Obesity
  • Fatty liver syndrome
  • Lipomas (fatty tumors)
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals
  • Fearful behavior

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