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Meet The Small Cockatoos

The slender-billed cockatoo, the Goffin’s cockatoo and the bare-eyed cockatoo might be smaller cockatoos, but as pet birds, they are as great as the larger cockatoos.

By Sally Blanchard

Subscribe to BIRD TALK MagazineWhen I first started working with pet birds and parrots more than 30 years ago, a cockatoo was a cockatoo. It seemed that many people thought of all of the cockatoo species as being essentially the same bird. Umbrella cockatoos and Moluccan cockatoos were easily confused and usually assigned the same traits. Imported Goffin’s cockatoos were readily available, but many people thought of them as being mini umbrella cockatoos or Moluccan cockatoos.

After working with various species of cockatoos, it became quite evident that the smaller cockatoos, which are now usually referred to as corellas, have very different personalities than the larger cockatoos.

Bare-Eyed Cockatoo
The bare-eyed cockatoo is native to Australia.

The Goffin’s cockatoo and the bare-eyed cockatoo (or little corella) are the two most familiar pet cockatoos in the United States. Others include the Ducorp’s cockatoo, the endangered Philippine red–vent cockatoo and the slender-billed cockatoo, which is the largest corellas. On the other hand, the rose-breasted cockatoo shares many of the personality traits of the small cockatoos but is not classified as one. While lesser-sulphur cockatoos and citron-crested cockatoos are not much larger than the than the other small cockatoos, they generally share many of the personality traits of the larger cockatoos.

Small Cockatoos: More Than Just A Size Difference
If I recall correctly, I have never worked with an overly fearful Goffin’s cockatoo or bare-eyed cockatoo. I have met several Goffin’s cockatoo that pluck their feathers, but I can’t remember meeting a feather picking bare-eyed cockatoo. 

Before the importation of parrots stopped, I tamed dozens of wild-caught cockatoos, and it was usually easier to make progress with the larger ones.

The Moluccan cockatoos, umbrella cockatoos and various sulphur-crested cockatoos usually responded quickly to my calm energy and easily went from one step to another as I worked to build their trust. Wild-caught Goffin’s cockatoos, on the other hand, were usually more difficult to tame.

I have heard people say that the smaller cockatoos are not as smart and, therefore, do not learn as well as the larger ones. I believe that they are quite intelligent, but they have a different way of being smart than the larger cockatoos.

After working with a good number of smaller cockatoos, the aspect of their personality that became most obvious to me is their shorter attention span. The various sulphur-crested cockatoos, the Moluccan cockatoos and the umbrella cockatoos might spend a great deal of time on one task.

For example, Skippy, a rescued lesser-sulphur crested cockatoo that lived with me for a few years, loved to manipulate a stainless -steel bolt and wing nut. It became very easy for him to unscrew the wing nut and then screw it back on the bolt. He liked to complicate things and would often put a piece of fabric over the bolt, which made it far more difficult for him to reattach the bolt. He always accomplished the task even though he had to spend some time working on it.

Although such a pet bird may exist, I have never known of a slender-billed corella or rose-breasted cockatoo that had the patience and dedication to stay with a task that long. This is not to say that they do not play. These smaller cockatoos love to play, but they prefer their own level of multi-tasking; they like to go from one high-energy task to another fairly quickly. The key to keeping these birds happy is lots of toys that have different purposes including those with motion and are fun to bang around, those that make noise and/or those that can be quickly chewed; corellas love a lot of stimulation!

Small Cockatoos Will Not Work For Food ...
While the little cockatoos can be trained to do a number of tricks, I rarely see them in bird shows. This is most likely because of their short attention span, but it is also true because they are not likely to work for food treats. On the other hand, consistent nurturing and handling will pattern them to perform many fun behaviors. They thrive on a lot of playful attention from the people in their lives.

A few years back, I did a seminar for Ronie’s For the Love of Birds, a bird shop in Sandy, Utah. I fell in love with Ronie Wheelwright's bare-eyed cockatoo, Roo. I remember that Roo was in her early 20s and full of energy. Her favorite game was baseball, and she would bat a gently pitched foam ball back at the pitcher with her beak. Then she would hop around until another ball was pitched to her. I had so much fun playing with her that I had to avoid the temptation to smuggle her out in my suitcase and bring her home with me.

Roo is primarily responsible for the fact that I fell in love with a 21-year -old bare-eyed cockatoo on consignment at Feathered Follies in Lafayette, California. She is the most affectionate and quietest bird I have ever known. Instead of screaming for attention like some cockatoos learn to do, Roxi-anne says “Hello” over and over in an incredibly sweet voice. Although I have known smaller cockatoos that are screamers, they do not seem to develop this problem as much as the larger cockatoos.

I have noticed with the bare-eyed cockatoos and the Goffin’s cockatoos. I would call it “bounce-back ability.” They don’t hold grudges. Recently I visited my friend, Barbara Bailey, who is one of the prime movers of the Indonesian Parrot Project. This group is working to maintain the wild populations of the Moluccan cockatoo on the island of Seram in Indonesia. Bailey has more practical experience with both wild and pet cockatoos than anyone I know.

Bailey lives with a dozen or more cockatoos and also houses many rescued cockatoos for TARA (Tucson Avian Rescue and Adoption). At any given time Bailey and her husband, Bruce, may be caring for up to 20 cockatoos of several species. Ear plugs are a must, especially at meal time. A lot of my experience with these fascinating and often misunderstood birds comes from my many visits to the Bailey’s home.

During my last visit, an unusual altercation with another cockatoo left Romey, her male Goffin’s cockatoo, with a serious rip on the inside of his beak. We rushed him to their avian veterinarian and Romey went through some pretty invasive handling. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Blake Harrington put such delicate sutures in the rip between Romey’s upper and lower mandibles. The Goffin’s cockatoo also had a rip on the roof of his mouth, and it took some concentrated effort to stop that area from bleeding. Romey was pretty miserable for a few days but recovered with no emotional baggage or change in his personality.

Romey is a good example of a mature male Goffin’s cockatoo. He seems to fancy himself quite a ladies’ man, although his strut is not just performed for Bailey’s female Goffin’s cockatoo, Jordy. Bailey relates that Romey’s hormonal periods are similar to those of her larger male cockatoos with the exception that he usually seems more mischievous than aggressive.

The cockatoos in the corella group can become skilled flyers with great maneuverability. Romey is fully flighted, and part of his flight plan often involves trying to knock other birds off of their perches. During my visits, he has buzzed my head. I can just about feel his toenails combing my hair and, if he is looking for a reaction, he certainly gets one no matter how hard I try not to respond.

Small Cockatoo Wild Behaviors
In the wild, bare-eyed cockatoos live in large flocks and therefore are very social birds. Pet bare-eyed cockatoos enjoy a lot of interaction but also like to be where the action is so they can keep their eye on everything. I have met several that are excellent talkers although my own bird, Roxi-anne, mumbles a great deal of what she says, but I can understand most of it. Roxi also loves to fly, and her favorite game when she spends the day at my Laughing Parrot Gallery is to fly up to the loft in the front of the store.

Sometimes she will come down to me when I call her, but often she waits until I go get the ladder. Once I put it in place to climb up to get her, she flies down. She is clearly aware of the rules she has made for me to play this game with her.

I have watched several of these high-energy cockatoos perform all sorts of gyrations to get attention from the people in their lives. Most bare-eyed and Goffin’s cockatoos love to spend time on the floor, but their sense of curiosity is such that they should be supervised at all times. These birds can glean all sorts of dangerous items in searching through the carpet and around the room.

In my experience bare-eyed cockatoos have one of the sharpest beaks of any parrot family bird. Roxi is definitely not a biter but, because she only has one leg, she uses her beak for balance. Even though I warn people who want to hold her that she might touch her beak to their hands as she steps on to it, many still pull away. In her attempt to get her balance, she will often scratch a person’s hand as they move it away.

With Small Cockatoos, Comparisons Stop At Size
Bailey believes one of the major differences between bare-eyed and Goffin’s cockatoos is in the way that they bond to their human flock. She believes that the bare-eyed cockatoos are more in sync with the people in their lives, while the Goffin’s are a bit more self-absorbed.

I think that parrot family birds rarely provide their caregivers with unconditional love. We have to continually provide parrots with the proper care and nurturing to maintain a positive bond. My bared-eyed cockatoo, Roxi-anne, comes the closest I have ever known in regards to a parrot providing unconditional love. Goffin’s do form a bond with their caregivers but seem to require more diligence from the people in their lives to maintain the bond.

Small Cockatoo Bird Cage Considerations
Goffin’s cockatoos and bare-eyed cockatoos also need lots of cage room to dance and perform their acrobatics. Because of their high energy and sense of curiosity, the smaller cockatoos need a cage just as big as the larger cockatoos. At least part of this is true because they need a great number of toys and chewing opportunities to keep them happy.

I believe they prefer a cage that is wider than it is tall so that they can spend time playing on the bottom of the cage. A cage without a grate is preferable but keep the floor of the cage clean.

One of Joseph Forshaw’s “Land of Parrots” videos shows a bare-eyed cockatoo rolling around on its back while waving a branch in its foot. It is obvious the bird is playing with great delight. The little companion cockatoos love to play with foot toys and roll around on the cage with them in their feet. They also have fun with toys that hang from their bottom perches. I recommend using a stainless-steel screw eye and hanging a toy that almost reaches the floor of the cage.

Over the years, I have talked with dozens of people who are smitten with the delightful personalities of their Goffin’s cockatoo and bare-eyed cockatoo. They are unbeatable when it comes to high-energy playfulness and curiosity. The more playful interaction they have with the people in their lives, the more playful they become. Although these smaller cockatoos are not necessarily “perfect” pet birds, they are less likely to have some of the behaviors that create problems in the larger cockatoos. Most of all, these social parrots are generally willing and able to forgive us for our inconsistencies as their caregiver.

A Bare-Eyed Cockatoo Story
My bare-eyed cockatoo, Roxi, was not on a good diet in the two decades before I met her. Her diet conversion was going slow. One night, after she lived with me for a few months, I heard a blood-curdling scream. I rushed downstairs and found Roxi hanging off the side of her cage. Her right leg was backwards. It was 5 am and I rushed her to the local emergency vet clinic. They no longer had an avian specialist, so I held her for what seemed like forever until my avian veterinarian’s office opened. She had a stifle luxation; her upper and lower leg bones were no longer connected, and all of her tendons and ligaments were out of place.

At my vet’s recommendation, I took Roxi to the Veterinary School at the University of California at Davis. I had given a program there for vet students so I knew some of the staff.  Because of the extensive damage, Dr. Lisa Tell told me that the leg would have to be pinned so that everything was in proper alignment again. Even with a successful surgery, the leg would probably remain stiff. With her history of malnutrition, there was concern about the bone being able to handle the pin. This proved to be true when the upper leg bone fractured. From that point on it was touch and go. Roxi developed an infection and at one point her veterinarians were not sure that she would survive all of her medical problems. Malnutrition had also compromised her immune system. The veterinarians decided that her leg would have to be amputated.

The owners of another bare-eyed cockatoo were gracious enough to allow me to take their bird, Bogus, up to UC Davis so he could donate blood for Roxi. He was a trooper and had no adverse emotional reaction to the two-hour round trip or to giving blood. Roxi spent over two weeks at UC Davis. It seemed that no matter what was done to her, Roxi kept her friendly personality and had sweet “Hellos” for everyone she met at the vet school. Once home, I was amazed at how quickly Roxi adapted to having only one leg. She never lost her sweet trusting personality for a moment.

For monlthy information about pet birds and parrots, subscribe to BIRD TALK Magazine by clicking here.


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Meet The Small Cockatoos

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Reader Comments
If you're considering getting a cockatoo, please read this site LINK .. it pinpoints exactly what it's like to own a cockatoo.. they're NOT easy trust me, i have one. and after your read mytoos.com & still want a cockatoo, consider adoption... there are too many unwanted cockatoos that need a forever home.. thank you! (:
Heather, elkton, MD
Posted: 8/2/2014 3:29:07 PM
Even cockatoos of the same species have diffrent personalities. Smart birds = individuals!!!
Vince, wpg, MB
Posted: 5/10/2010 3:36:53 PM
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