Slender-billed cockatoos – also known as long-billed corellas – are largely underrated as pets. Relatively homely birds, they are often passed over in favor of the more beautiful Moluccans or umbrellas, but the slender-bills have exceptional personalities. They are gentle, playful and affectionate, as well as intelligent and inquisitive. Better mimics than most cockatoos, they are neither as loud nor as demanding as their more popular cousins.
The birds are large white cockatoos, known for their slim elongated upper beak. They have short white recumbent crests, and blue eye rings that extend below the eye revealing a blue bulge. There is a small pink patch between the eyes and nares. The subspecies found in eastern Australia has a pink band across the upper breast just below the neck, but the western subspecies (considered a full species, C pastinator by many authors) is distinguished by the lack of the breast band.
Slender-billed cockatoos are common and found in large flocks throughout much of northern and central Australia, inhabiting woodlands and eucalyptus forests near grasslands and agricultural areas. They also invade cultivated areas and damage crops. In the non-breeding season they may gather in large flocks of 2,000 or more birds and range widely through grasslands in search for food. They feed in trees and on the ground, and use their elongated bills as a plough, digging in the soil for roots, bulbs and insects. They also feed on seeds, crops, fruits, berries, buds, flowers and nuts and insect larvae. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon.
Slender-billed cockatoos can live up to 50 years. Precise data on the life span of these birds is poorly documented because many die of disease or injury before living out their natural lives. Breeding age can be as young as 3 years but is more typically 4 to 5 years. Breeding life span is not precisely known.
These birds love to chew and are very destructive. They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches and they need space for exercise. While they are relatively common in their native Australia, they are not easily found in U.S markets.
Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded) diet. 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 1/3 cup of formulated diet and 1/3 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Overfeeding leads to pickiness, selective feeding and wasteful throwing of food. Slender-billed cockatoos are predisposed to obesity.
Adult and juvenile birds 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 on a formulated diet.
Slender-billed cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Ideally, the cage should provide room for flight. Durable cage construction is not as critical as it is for other large cockatoos as these birds are not strong chewers. Many are adept at opening cage latches, however, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary. The cage should be as large as possible and must allow at least enough room for the bird to fully spread his wings. Ideally the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.
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.
Slender-billed cockatoos can be difficult to breed in captivity. In North America, they breed mostly in the winter and spring, and clutch size is typically two to three eggs. A suggested size is 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall by 6 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 (males frequently become aggressive toward their mates; clipping a male’s wings prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape). Wooden boxes can be used and size should be approximately 12 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches or 12 inches by 12 inches by 36 inches or deeper.
Incubation period is approximately 24 to 26 days. Chicks usually fledge at approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age. Slender-billed cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. Most hand rearing formulas can be used successfully.
Slender-billed cockatoos are not as noisy as the larger cockatoos. However, when breeding them, 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: