Cockatoos are dangerous.
I’m here to try and convince you not to buy one. Or buy any parrot, that is.
I wish everyone could go to an avian rescue and see the inhabitants there. I wish also that everyone could see the Island Parrot Sanctuary and meet parrots who cannot live with people, through no fault of their own. And no, it’s not even (always) the fault of the owners. The problem is that humans try to make a pet out of a beautiful animal that isn’t suited to caged living. We’re fighting against the base nature of a wild animal. Not all of the IPS birds come from devastating circumstances; many have been surrendered by people who couldn’t meet their ultra-demanding needs. The IPS is filled with birds of all sizes, not just large macaws and cockatoos and the like. They have senegals, conures, and a little lutino Indian Ringneck. I think that a place like the IPS most clearly tells the story of why birds should be left to the wild, breeding should be stopped where possible, and the adoption of existing animals by understanding and educated owners encouraged.
Now, I am a dedicated, passionate bird owner who blogs with the hope of influencing someone, somewhere, that parrots are not good pets – and discouraging the breeding and buying of them. That mission might seem strange coming from someone who keeps four of them under my roof, but I hold the stance that adoption and education are the ways forward. Most parrots are terrible pets! They’re messy, noisy, destructive and demanding, often hormonal, yet I still love my flock. The truth is that it takes a special personality to work with avians. You can’t be offended when they bite you, or ignore you, choose your sibling as their favourite person, or chew something you love to bits. It’s a lifestyle change, and you have to dedicate yourself.
I’m not saying that no one should own birds. I’m saying that people need to examine the reasons why they want one, and the amount of time and work they’re willing to dedicate to it. My goal is to discourage casual buyers, and to promote adoption. The only thing that sets me apart from your average person on the street is my willingness to do anything for my flock – but I am just like most other parrot owners out there. If you decide that you can provide a good life for a bird, I encourage you to do it! But I can’t encourage buying or breeding.
When it comes to the dreaded biting, I think it’s important to note that the honeymoon period right after you bring a bird home means it’s very likely that you won’t see much bad behaviour from your pet. Or if your bird is a baby, you have until it reaches sexual maturity before the dangerous and uncontrollable behaviour emerges.
Just like with people, birds often act cautiously as they get to know you. So during the honeymoon stage, you probably won’t see any tantrums. It’s all too easy to judge from a few encounters that they’re like any other pet.
And this can be a dangerous mistake.
Adult cockatoos’ honeymoon phases are quite different from other birds’. Cockatoos come out fighting. Where many parrots are quite friendly in their first few weeks with you, a ‘too will bite before anything else. They are a punchy, wonderful species. They are not like other parrots.
Baby cockatoos are the sweetest, most adorable birds. You can trust them with anyone. They love to cuddle and socialise. But once sexual maturity strikes, everything will change forever. Gone is your pliant baby, replaced with a creature that is driven by instinct to mate with you – and when you can’t provide that, it will attack. These attacks commonly leave owners in need of an emergency trip to hospital. Mix cockatoos and children…
They are certainly a challenge, our parrots, and whilst they’re also a rewarding pet in many ways, they’re not a relaxing one at all. Thankfully, an out-of-control parrotlet or senegal is absolutely nothing compared to even a mildly aggressive ‘too.
Large birds are more dangerous in their hormonal moments, but small birds are affected too. The difference is that a raging cockatiel won’t kill or maim you.
Yes, some birds do adapt very well to life with humans. And others don’t.
The ones who don’t end up passed from home to home. When a bird can easily live up to 60+ years, that’s a lot of homes. Many end up in sanctuaries or rescues.
I am one of those people who chose to surrender one of my flock, although it wasn’t under quite the usual circumstances. A few weeks prior, we had adopted Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo from someone else who already had a large flock and couldn’t take him on permanently. Before being rescued, he lived for at least two years in a greenhouse. The owner of the Sanctuary thinks that Bobo was used prior to that as a breeder bird, which would explain his completely unstable hormones. He is a large, volatile, dangerous animal who can’t live with people. He has – since we left him – take a chunk out of someone’s neck. But he has also begun to heal. I called this afternoon to check in, and received the wonderful news that Bobo has progressed towards being a bird. He’s been playing, socialising, even eating with the others in his new flock. He has stopped showing signs of aggression towards the flock-mates, and is – perhaps for the first time in his 15 years – truly happy.
It was the best decision I could have made for him.
I didn’t give him up to the IPS because I was afraid of him, although the task of caring for him safely did feel overwhelming. I was willing to carry on. But when I realised that he’d get what all birds deserve, a flock and an aviary and the best diet possible, I knew it had to be.
I’ve come to realise that that is part of good ownership: knowing when it’s best to do something for the animal. Not your sense of pride or anything else.
All birds deserve wonderful lives with committed owners. It doesn’t matter if your budgie or cockatiel only cost £10, £20, £50… They’re not lesser creatures because of a price tag.
Hormones also affect every bird, cockatoo or not. Paying a higher price doesn’t guarantee a more handleable bird, unfortunately. It seems almost the opposite. Admittedly, hormones don’t always have the same enormous impact they do on Bobo, but then again… it’s not uncommon.
The spring season is dreaded by every parrot owner. Your sweet bird turns moody and unpredictable. Bites ensue. The animal literally screams because no one is listening. It may also begin to pluck. It’s frustrated because – as its genetic programming drives it to choose a mate and make babies – it cannot fulfil this most basic instinct. It’s not a matter of pining for love, or any kind of human emotion like that. A bird’s only thought at this time is to reproduce.
This manifests itself in different ways for different individuals, but the end result is too often the same. Owners begin to seek new homes for their seemingly crazed pets. As a reference, the IPS turns away 3-4 cockatoos alone per week.
Cockatoos are dangerous, as are all large parrots. Any bird’s bite is painful, but cockatoos can and will go for your jugular. Or it might bite through your lips, destroy your nose, snip off an ear, gouge an eye, leave gashes on your arms, or scars on your legs. More likely all of the above. They are incredibly intuitive birds, and will match the energy in the room. If your house is noisy or energetic, a cockatoo can go straight from play to attack without warning. Bobo did. It was as easy as that. He would be happily walking on the floor, we’d laugh, and suddenly there was this bird ready to attack.
It is frankly terrifying.
Imagine a bird playing a game with you – fetch, say. You roll the ball, the bird brings it back, you roll again – and the next time, on the return, your ‘too attacks. Bam. It can happen that suddenly.
Or think about those hilarious videos where the cockatoo dances and sings to a song. That’s pure sex for a cockatoo. And the situation can easily escalate from that fun moment to an attack.
Worst of all, think of the infamous cockatoo cuddles – one of the main reasons people buy these birds. Cockatoo cuddles are forceful. You have no control when this enormous bird pushes itself into your lap. And guess what the cuddling actually is? The equivalent of ‘making out’ with you. Cockatoos crave these cuddles because they crave having a mate.
So when your ‘too snuggles into your lap, try not to think of it as bonding (which, in a way, it is – mate-bonding), think of it as your bird wanting to mate with you and making the first move.
Remember the pattern: sexual frustration leads to attacks.
You can’t pet any parrot outside of its head/neck and feet once it’s mature, or it will begin to see you as its mate. So, once again, wanting a cuddly pet is a terrible reason to buy a bird. Frustrate the animal, get bitten. The bigger the bird, the more dangerous the bite.
And, of course, it must be said that little birds have it a bit worse. People not only underestimate them (how bad could that beak be, really?) and fail to respect them, but also look at them as disposable. Why take it to the vet when it’s £20 to replace?
Once again, that’s unfair.
Large or small, parrots are equally messy, noisy, and destructive. The bigger birds can obviously deliver bigger disruptions to your life, yet smaller birds are no less deserving of anything you have to offer.
To conclude, we can strive to domesticate them through generations of breeding for what we consider tameness or sweetness or beauty, but one of the things that I personally love about parrots (and the thing that makes them least suited as pets) is their intelligence and free-thinking capabilities. They have minds of their own. Domesticating them would eradicate this. And that’s a loss.
So if you’re considering bringing an avian into your house, please don’t do it lightly. It’s also a good idea to look into adoption, because rescues are overflowing with animals that desperately need homes. If you decide that you’re determined to get a parrot, I would highly recommend volunteering at a rescue first. It’ll give you the best picture of life with a bird.
The plight of the parrot isn’t widely known. The impact of the early knowledge of parrot care – seed diet and small, round cages, anyone? – remains.
And that is why I will continue to write.