The Major Mitchell’s cockatoo is a strikingly beautiful species. Sometimes called the Leadbeater’s cockatoo or the pink cockatoo, their crest feathers are striped with yellow and salmon. Wings and back are white, and most of the chest, underwings and undertail are pink.
For all their beauty, these birds don’t make the best pets because they tend to be aloof – and they often bite. They are also noisy; they rarely speak, but they are loud screamers. If you have your heart set on one, though, choose a female; she’ll be more docile, although not as common in the market as males.
These birds, whose formal name is Cacatua leadbeateri, are inquisitive and love to chew objects, so they should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches. Don’t permit them unsupervised run of the house. They can be very destructive if allowed to perch on furniture.
While Major Mitchell’s are uncommon and expensive in the U.S. market commanding $4,000 to $10,000 for a young bird. They are found in central Australia, especially in the south central areas around Adelaide, inhabiting eucalyptus forests along rivers. They are frequently found co-existing with rose-breasted cockatoos on savannahs and grasslands, where they feed on seeds, herbs and crops of wheat and corn. They also eat native figs, pinecones and eucalyptus seeds, wild bitter melons, insect larvae, nuts and flowers. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. Aggressively territorial, they are usually found in pairs or small groups.
Like other cockatoo species, Major Mitchell’s can be very long lived. A few individuals in zoos have lived up to 60 years. Precise data on the life span of the average bird is poorly documented; however, most of them don’t live as long as they might, often succumbing to disease or injury.
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 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. Major Mitchell’s are better flyers than Moluccans and umbrellas and a few more feathers should be removed.
High protein pelleted diet is an excellent staple diet for cockatoos. It should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety. 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, add small amounts as desired. Note, though, that overfeeding leads to pickiness, wastage and throwing food. Treats such as seeds, nuts and table foods may be given in small amounts especially as rewards for good behavior.
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are efficient calorie utilizers. When young, cockatoos in general are notoriously picky eaters and don’t seem to need much food to maintain themselves. As they age, however, they have a tendency to put on weight. Try to ensure that the food your bird eats is nutritious and avoid large amounts of high-fat sunflower and safflower seeds. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds eating a pelleted diet.
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows – at the very least, the cage must allow room for the bird to spread his wings fully. These birds are moderately strong chewers and can break welds on poorly constructed cages. Many are also adept at opening cage latches, so locks or escape proof latches may be necessary. Ideally, the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.
Male cockatoos, especially Major Mitchell’s, 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. Clipping a male’s wings prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive. While aggressive behavior may occur in compatible breeding pairs, they should be the same age and paired when they are young. Older males should not be paired with young females.
Breeding age can be as young as three years. Breeding life span is not precisely known, but is possibly up to 25-plus years.
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos breed well in captivity but are not as prolific or bred as commonly as Moluccan and umbrella cockatoos. In North America, Major Mitchell’s cockatoos breed predominantly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically 2 to 3 eggs.
Breeding cages 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 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. 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.
Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks usually fledge at approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age. Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. 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.