Avian Species Menu

Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoo

Greater Sulfur Crested Cockatoo

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Species Organizations

National Audubon Society
Website: www.audubon.org
Cornell Lab of Orinthology
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu
The Avian Web
Website: www.avianweb.com

Classification
Order Psittaciformes, Family Psittacidae
Scientific Name
Cacatua Galerita
Other Common Names
N/A
Species Description
Length: 50 cm (20in). White; long sulphur crest, pale yellow on underwings and tail and around the ears. Eyes, beak, and legs blackish. Female's iris is red-brown.

Typically these birds will weigh around 800 grams. In most cases, male birds can be distinguished from females with their almost black eyes, whereas the female has a more red/brown colored eye. Their distinctive raucous call can be very loud; it is meant to travel through the forest environments in which they live, including tropical and subtropical rainforests. These birds are naturally curious creatures, as well as very intelligent. They have adapted very well to European settlement in Australia and live in many urban areas. These birds are very long lived, and can live upwards of 70 years in captivity, although they only live to about 20-40 years in the wild. They have been known to engage in geophagy, the process of eating clay to detoxify their food. These birds also emit a very fine powder to waterproof themselves instead of oil as other creatures.


Habitat
Savannah, scrub, mallee and woodland, close to water and farmland; in pairs during the breeding season, and in (sometimes large) flocks during the rest of the year.

Distribution
Northern and eastern Australia; Papua New Guinea, Aru Islands, and introduced to New Zealand, the Palau Islands and Ceramlaut and Goramlaut (Indonesia).

Captivity
Hardy, intelligent birds. Partners that are kept together for some years will come to brood. The femal lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both parents; during the night by the female, during the day by the male. Young leave the nest after about 2 1/2 months.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos may no longer be imported into the United States as a result of the Wild Bird Conservation Act. However, they have been bred in captivity. The potential owner should be aware of the bird's needs, as well as how loud these birds can be and their natural desire to chew.


Summary
Fairly noisy cockatoo with pleasant character; especially noisy when excited, but also during early morning and late afternoon; initially shy; wild-caught birds often extremely nervous; will then often only leave nestbox to feed; however young birds quickly become confiding; very hard chewers; regular supply of wood necessary; rotten wood and planks quickly chewed; colony system only possible in very large flight; trouble-free and not susceptible when acclimatised. Like other parrots, they have short tarsi but strong claws, and walk with a slow waddle, often using their strong bill as a third limb when climbing branches. They generally have long narrow wings used in rapid flight, with speeds of 70 km/h being recorded for some species. The black cockatoos, however, along with the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, have shorted more rounded wings and a more leisurely flight.

The cockatoos have large bills which are kept sharp by rasping the two mandibles together when resting. The huge bills are complemented by large muscular tongues which help manipulate seeds inside the bills so that they can be de-husked before eating. During the de-husking the lower mandible applies the pressure, the tongue holds the seed in place and the upper mandible acts as an anvil.

The plumage of the cockatoos is less brightly colored than that of the other parrots, with species generally being either black, grey or white. Many species have smaller areas of color on their plumage, often yellow, pink and red, and usually on the crest or tail. A few species, like the Galah, have larger areas of color. In addition to their plumage many species have brightly colored bare areas around the eye and face, with the Palm Cockatoo having a large red patch of bare skin across the face. A few species exhibit sexual dimorphism in the plumage, with this being most pronounced in the Gang-gang Cockatoo and the Cockateil. Sexual differences in plumage are more common in the black cockatoos, but many cockatoos vary slightly in overall size and weight, with the males being on average larger. The iris color is often brown in adult females and differs from the black irises often seen in adult males, but this may not be totally reliable to identify the gender of a cockatoo.

Behavior: Cockatoos are diurnal, requiring daylight to find their food. They are not early risers, instead waiting until the sun has warmed their roosting sites before feeding. The 21 species are generally highly social and will roost, forage and travel together, often in large flocks. All species require roosting sites that are sometimes located near drinking sites, but many species may travel great distances between the roosting sites and feeding sites.

Cockatoos have several characteristic methods of bathing; they may hang upside down or fly about in the rain, or flutter in wet leaves in the canopy.

Calls and Communication: The vocalisations of cockatoos are loud and harsh. They serve a number of functions, including allowing individuals to recognize one another, warning others of predators, indicating individual moods, maintaining the cohesion of a flock and as warnings when defending nests. The use of calls and number of specific calls varies by species, some like the Short-billed Black Cockatoo have as many as 15 different calls, whereas others like the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo have far fewer. Some species, like the Gang-gang Cockatoo are comparatively quiet, but do have softer growling calls when feeding. In addition to vocalisations, the Palm Cockatoos communicate over large distances by drumming a dead branch with a stick. Cockatoo species also make a characteristic hissing sound when threatened.

Diet and Feeding: The cockatoos are versatile feeders and consume a range of food items. Seeds form a large part of the diet of all species; these are opened with their large and powerful bills. Cockatoos may feed either individually or in flocks that range in size from small to quite immense. The Galahs, corellas and some of the black cockatoos feed primarily on the ground, others feed mostly in trees. The ground feeding species tend to feed in flocks, which can wither feed in tight, squabbling groups where seeds are concentrated, or in more dispersed lines where the seeds are less concentrated and more widely distributed.

While some cockatoos are generalists taking a wide range of seeds, others are specialists. The Glossy Black Cockatoo specializes in the cones of Allocasuarina, often a single species, which it holds in its food and shreds with its powerful bill before removing the seeds with its tongue. Some species take large numbers of insects, particularly when breeding. The large bill is used in order to extract grubs and larvae from rotting wood. The amount of time cockatoos have to spend foraging varies with the season. During times of plenty, they may only need to feed for a few hours in the day, in the morning and evening, and spend the rest of the day loafing, but during the winter most of the day may be spent foraging. During hard times the cockatoos also display versatility in their diet, travelling widely in order to find food, feeding on more green plant material and in some species using their large bills to dig up corms.

Breeding: Cockatoos are monogamous breeders, with pair bonds that can last many years. They may also display site fidelity, returning to the same nesting sites in consecutive years. Courtship is generally simple, particularly for established pairs, with the black cockatoos alone engaging in courtship feeding. Established pairs do engage in allopreening, but all forms of courtship drop off after incubation begins, possibly due to the strength of the pair-bond. Like most parrots the cockatoos are cavity nesters, nesting in holes in trees. In many places these holes are scarce and the source of competition, both with other members of the same species and with other species and types of animal. This competition is particularly intense amongst larger species.

The nesting hollows are lined with sticks, wood chips and branches with leaves. The eggs of cockatoos are oval and initially white, although they become discoloured over the course of incubation. They range in size from 55*40 mm in the Palm Cockatoo to 26*18 mm in the Cockateil. Clutch size varies amongst the family, with the Palm Cockatoo and some other larger cockatoos laying only a single egg, and the smaller species laying anywhere between two to eight eggs. Amongst the cockatoos incubation and brooding responsibilities may either be undertaken by the female alone in the case of the black cockatoos or shared amongst the sexes as happens in the other species. In the case of the black cockatoos the female is provisioned by the male several times a day.

Aviculture: Cockatoos are very popular as pets, not only for their appearance but also for their intelligence and engaging personalities. Well-socialized cockatoos are often affectionate not only to their owner but to strangers as well. In spite of their attractiveness as pets there are drawbacks; they are potentially destructive, with the larger cockatoos in particular prone to destructive behavior. Cockatoos may show aggression during the breeding season; cockatoos are capable of very strong and painful bites.

They also require attention, although experts warn against "spoiling" young birds with too much attention as it make make the bird dependent on the owner, leading to problems later in life. Another drawback as a pet is the fact that most cockatoo species are very loud birds, though they naturally only vocalize for short periods of time twice a day. They can be expensive pets, with a cost which typically ranges from $500-$2000 for the more commonly available species. In addition to the actual cost, cockatoos require a very large cage for their size.

Cockatoos also require an out of cage gym or perch and a steady supply of toys, branches, cardboard boxes, or other chewable items, which prevents future self destructive behavior such as feather plucking. Cockatoos are capable of living up to 30-70 years depending upon species (around 20 years for the smaller Cockateils) and as such they require a long term commitment from their owners. Their longevity is also considered a positive trait as it reduces instances of the loss of a pet.

Cockatoos are popular for use in trained bird shows, and they can also be trained as pets. Cockatoos are generally less food motivated than other birds; some birds may be more motivated by a reward of petting or praise than of food. Cockatoos can often be trained to accept a parrot harness, enabling their owners to take them outdoors. Cockatoos have been used in animal-assisted therapy, generally in nursing homes.

In general, the smaller cockatoo species such as Galahs and Goffin's Cockatoos are considered to be much easier to keep as pets than large cockatoos such as Moluccans. In Australia, where Galah cockatoos are extremely abundant and inexpensive, they are often considered to be good first birds. The smallest species of cockatoo, the Cockatiel is a non-destructive and less demanding alternative making them extremely popular as pets, and among the species most often recommended to new bird owners.


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