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Meet The Umbrella Cockatoo

Learn all about the most popular pet cockatoo, the umbrella cockatoo, and how to care of it.

By Sandee Molenda

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The umbrella cockatoo is undoubtedly the most popular pet cockatoo kept in aviculture. Its beautiful snow white plumage, incredible gentleness and amazing intelligence all combine to help make the umbrella one of the most sought-after pet parrots. Its successful breeding habits in aviculture make the umbrella readily available and at a moderate price. Many people do not realize this ’too hails from Indonesia rather than Australia where many other cockatoos make their home.

umbrella cockatoo
The umbrella cockatoo is native to Indonesia. 

Sweet and cuddly, these birds are often described as “teddy bears.” They enjoy being held and petted. This sweetness comes with a sour side, too. You can’t always detach them from you, hence the second nickname, “Velcro™ birds.” Some aviculturists believe that the umbrella’s strong bonding instinct leads it to regard its owners as mates. This can lead to difficulties in the relationship, particularly because these birds are so smart and can sometimes learn to “train” their owners instead of the other way around.

Umbrellas have a very loud voice making them unsuitable for apartment or other living situations where neighbors are close by. They possess strong beaks and an almost insatiable desire to chew, so a constant supply of toys and perches will be necessary. They can be extremely destructive to household furnishings if left unsupervised out of their cages. A friend of mine had to make a quick trip to the chiropractor after falling through a chair that his umbrella cockatoo had “refurbished.”

Many people count talking as another one of the umbrella’s talents. Owners often report that their cockatoos have a vocabulary of 50 words or more. This, of course, depends on both the bird’s individual ability and the owner’s diligence in training. Most umbrellas’ vocabularies are not that extensive but even birds that only know a few words, will often say them in appropriate settings. There are no guarantees, however, that any parrot will learn to speak, so compatibility is a much more important factor when considering an umbrella cockatoo.

Because of their natural trick ability, umbrellas often feature prominently in bird shows at theme parks and zoos. I have seen umbrella cockatoos roller skate, raise a flag, play tabletop basketball, place various-shaped plastic toys in their appropriate holders and even ride a parrot-sized bike. They love to be the center of attention, and the teaching/learning time often helps to develop an even stronger bond with their owners.

Sometimes, however, umbrellas are too tricky. An umbrella that was taught to answer a plastic phone found the trick so entertaining, she picked up the real telephone and hit the 911 speed dial. “Hello, hello,” she said into the phone. When the officers arrived at the door, my friend had quite a time convincing the officers that it was the cockatoo that made the call, rather than her playing a prank!

Understand The Umbrella
As with all cockatoos, umbrellas tend to give off a lot of powder from the feathers. This can cause allergic reactions or even trigger asthma attacks in some people. Umbrellas need to be showered or bathed regularly, and this will help control the dust. Many enjoy a daily bath. You might also want to invest in an air purifier.

Due to their inquisitive natures, umbrella’s need a well-made, strong, roomy bird cage that can stand up to their strong beaks. This is one bird that you might want to splurge on that high-quality stainless-steel cage. A minimum cage size of 48 by 36 by 48 inches is recommended by experts, but bigger is always better.

The cage should also be escape resistant, because umbrellas are very intelligent and often learn to open doors. Some even manage to open locks, so owners must be vigilant to keep their would-be Houdini’s safely in their cage. They’re also known for unscrewing exposed bolts. Strong welds, safe metals and appropriate bar spacing are also vital components of a safe cage for umbrellas. Due to the cockatoo’s naturally social behavior, the cage should be placed in a room that has a lot of family activity.

Bird breeder Gail Worth of Aves International recommends “a play area where the cockatoo can get lots of exercise and stimulation. A bored cockatoo is an unhappy cockatoo, and the umbrella needs a lot of attention.” Indeed, many behaviorists and breeders describe the affectionate nature of the umbrella as a double-edged sword.

There is a tendency to overindulge cockatoos with affection and attention, especially when the bird first arrives in the home. As time goes on and the pressures of work and family take effect, the owner might spend less and less time with the cockatoo, which could cause the bird to act out with screaming and feather destruction. Establish a routine that the bird will live with right from the beginning in order to avoid setting your relationship up for failure in the future.

Besides offering lots of wooden chew toys, you’ll want to provide umbrellas with puzzle and foraging toys to keep them busy and engaged. They methodically try various beak manipulations to obtain treats, untie knots and even open locks. Umbrellas must have healthy outlets for their creative and active brains so they do not develop undesirable behaviors.

An umbrella cockatoo’s diet should consist of a basic pellet or seed mix designed for large hookbills as well as a large variety of fresh foods. Sprouted seeds, fruits, vegetables and greens, legumes, cooked grains, cooked white and sweet potatoes and whole-grain breads should be fed daily. Occasional treats of nuts, cooked chicken, hard-boiled eggs, bits of cheese and tofu can provide protein.

Cockatoos demolish mineral blocks and lava blocks at an astonishing rate. Vitamins and minerals should not be necessary if you feed a varied, nutritionally-balanced diet except in times of change, stress or during a molt.


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Meet The Umbrella Cockatoo

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Reader Comments
Well stated and all true, especially about screaming. It was an eye opening, ear popping, blood curdling experience the first time J. J. felt ignored. I have yet to use a decibel meter to see just how intense his screeches are. As far as his intelligence goes, he knows how to get attention, although we try not to acknowledge unwanted behavior, he starts out softly and over the next few minutes increases the volume of his screech until one has to go to him, but not directly. Still, he knows. I also have the master of lock pickers in J. It's gotten to be a game between he and I how long it takes to master a new fastener, me, in making one, and him solving it. He will even go as far as using tools to defeat the fastener, using chips of wood to place between his beak and the hard metal. Simply amazing and hours of fun. No video game comes close to this live action puzzle solver. I could go on forever about this delightful and loving bird, but to y'all's relief, I won't. I will close with this, don't get one of these birds unless you are prepared to take sacred vows; companionship with these birds is as every bit as challenging as any marriage could be, you can bet on that. Thanks for reading, Ray G. Dallas, Texas.
Ray, Seagoville, TX
Posted: 8/20/2014 7:12:11 PM
Very well written article!! I'm currently owned by two umbrella cockatoo's!! :-) :-)
cynthia, Fairborn, OH
Posted: 3/31/2013 9:37:24 PM
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