A little guide to cockatoo behaviour

How do cockatoos live together in nature?

Quite a bit is known about the way of life and the behaviour of cockatoos in their natural habitat, which is in contrast to most of the other parrot species. Cockatoos live together in flocks apart from during the brooding period. Such flocks consist of single animals, pairs, and families that gather at common eating, drinking, and sleeping places.

While searching for food, cockatoos, particularly those of the plains and desert habitats, congregate in large groups. Often one will encounter groups of several thousand birds at favourite spots. In contrast, groups of those species that are found in the tropical rainforests outside the Australian continent are much smaller and contain only eight to ten birds.

Why do cockatoos gather in groups?

Gathering into groups functions primarily to ensure that the cockatoos will find food. Meeting social needs cannot be assumed to be an important function because the birds in the group don't usually enter into any closer social bonds except for the choice of mate. Rather, the communal life can be characterized as a kind of open association in which the individual animals don't necessarily know each other and in which there is no firmly defined order of dominance.

The advantage of grouping together is that feeding places can be better scouted and can be secured against rival feeders. Of course, there are also frequent quarrels within the cockatoo association about the best feeding places, sleeping places, and nest holes.

What happens during the cockatoos breeding season?

Among cockatoos the urge to breed is dependent on the environmental conditions. This means that the birds will be impelled to breed when the plant growth has reached its height and also when the weather conditions are best. Pairs that are ready to breed separate from the group and go searching for nest holes.

Rotted-out tree trunks or abandoned woodpecker holes serve as nesting holes. Usually the holes are enlarged with the cockatoo's strong beak. The shavings that fall into the hole as a result of this process are used by the cockatoos as a bed for their eggs. As a rule, they don't bring in additional nest material.

Breeding behaviour varies on the environment. For example, the cockatoos of the tropical rain forests of the Indonesian islands set about breeding after the rainy season and try to occupy the same nest holes every year. Whereas, Cockatoo species that inhabit the arid areas of the Australian interior lead a nomadic or partially nomadic life, so they breed yearly based on the food supply and climatic conditions.

How many eggs do cockatoos lay?

Egg laying, clutch size, and brooding time vary from species to species. After the young hatch, the parent cockatoos are busy raising them for many weeks. Afterwards, the parents and their young join as a family group with other cockatoos in a close flock, which remains in existence until the next breeding season.

How do cockatoos eat and drink?

The cockatoo removes the hulls from seeds in its beak with its tongue. It reduces fruit and green feed with its beak. Like most large parrots, the cockatoo uses its foot like a hand, to hold morsels of food and lift food to its beak. To drink, the bird scoops up water with its lower beak and tips its head back to swallow.

How do cockatoos sleep?

Healthy birds rest and sleep on one leg; the other leg is drawn up into the feathers. The body plumage is fluffed slightly, the head is usually turned back and tucked into the back feathers to the base of the beak. The eyes may be either closed completely or partially.

Example of Cockatoos movements and behaviour

Running: Cockatoos, especially those of the dry plains and grasslands of interior Australia, are "good on their feet," for they find their food predominantly on the ground. Birds of these species also can be observed frequently running in the aviary or cage. The cockatoo's body is held erect as it runs with long, stiff-gaited steps.

Scratching: Some cockatoo species love to scratch. This behaviour pattern has developed be- cause they find their food mainly on the ground. The most noticeable adaptation to this form of food seeking is seen in the slender-billed cockatoo, which has an elongated upper beak suitable for digging.

Climbing: Most cockatoo species possess excellent climbing ability. Therefore, you should offer your cockatoo plenty of things to climb in the cage and in the aviary.

Flying: In their natural habitat, many cockatoo species often cover long distances in their search for feeding places. They are excellent fliers. In captivity, a cockatoo especially enjoys the chance to fly in the apartment and also in the outdoor aviary or bird room. In free flight it becomes clear what nimble fliers these parrots are.

Preening: A cockatoo preens its plumage several times daily by drawing individual feathers through its beak. The bird usually begins with the smaller feathers, then polishes the primaries and secondaries and the tail feathers. Finally, by means of rubbing movements with the head and beak, the bird distributes the feather dust over its plumage.

Head Scratching: Also as part of plumage care, the bird lifts its foot to its head and scratches while turning and twisting its head. Some cockatoos occasionally use little branches to help scratch. An unusual behaviour is the slow, hesitant, almost slow- motion head scratching, that rather looks like someone swimming the crawl.

Beak Care: The cockatoo removes dirt and food particles from its beak by rubbing it on a hard surface, such as the perch.

Showering: All cockatoos love to take shower baths when they get used to the procedure. They spread their wings slightly and fan their tails. During the shower they twist and turn their whole body and flap their wings so that the feathers get damp all over.

Stretching: Stretching movements, often accompanied by yawns, frequently are observable after rest periods. The wing and leg on the same side of the body will be stretched to the rear/down, while at the same time the corresponding side of the tail will be spread. Sometimes you will also see the bird lifting both wings over its back and spreading them.

Yawning: By yawning, cockatoos stretch the beak parts, though this serves primarily to supply the body with oxygen.

Courting display behaviour: Display behaviour is a kind of forerunner of true courtship. The male shows off his body to the chosen female. With spread tail, opened wings, ruffled feathers, and sometimes erected crest, whose colours also serve as a warning signal to rivals, the male makes himself noticeable.

The display is accompanied by choppy, "angular" movements, and a backward lifting and sinking of the body on the perch. This striking behaviour besides wooing the female is supposed to frighten off rival males and keep them away from the female. Display therefore serves partly as threatening behaviour. At first, the female repulses the male's attempts to approach and avoids mating. In time, however, she permits the male in her vicinity.

Mutual Preening: During the courtship period the mutual scratching that is termed mutual preening has a calming, aggression-checking function. It allows the birds to get used to increasingly intensive contact, until finally copulation occurs.

Threatening Behaviour: Threatening behaviour is very similar to display behaviour. In general, threat and aggression toward presumed enemies or rivals increases with growing breeding urge.

 

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