Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

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Is the Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Sulphur-crested Cockatoo; Fitzroy Cockatoo (C. g. fitzroyi); Triton Cockatoo (C. g. triton); Eleonora Cockatoo (C. g. eleonora)

Scientific name: Cacatua galerita

The basics:
There are five subspecies of the huge, rowdy, intelligent Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, a striking white 'too with a prominent yellow crest. This famous bird is desired for both its beauty and its personality. The Triton Cockatoo is the subspecies that rose to television fame in the 1970s for its role in the classic Robert Blake detective series "Baretta". But at least two others, the nominate or Greater ( C. g. galerita) and the medium or Eleonora (C. g. eleonora) are also highly coveted pets.

A warning: Whatever the subspecies, Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos don't stay babies forever, and most people should not consider them as a pet until they have received hands-on training from an expert. A tiger is beautiful, but you would not consider bringing a baby tiger home unless you'd had a very strong grounding in handling unpredictable wild animals. Develop your best parrot handling skills, and then you can think about acquiring one of these beautiful birds.

A further warning: Cockatoos are powder down birds, and you should not obtain an Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo if anyone in the home suffers from allergies or asthma. Most of them are capable of extremely loud contact calls, or early morning “wake-up calls,” and it is also strongly recommended against choosing any large cockatoo if you live in an apartment or have nearby neighbors.

The five subspecies of the diverse Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo are found in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. They have even been introduced to new areas such as Palau and Micronesia. They are an abundant, adaptable group that has sometimes been persecuted as a crop pest in Australia, thanks to its own success in adapting to agricultural habitat. If you decide to breed your bird, consult with an expert to make sure that you match the proper subspecies together, instead of creating confusing hybrids that should probably be removed from the gene pool.

It can be challenging to mate the birds properly, because of the hybrids already out there. Keep in mind that it is an abundant species in the wild and a difficult species to place in captivity, so there is no need to rush into breeding if you have any difficulty finding the right mate.

An impressive white cockatoo with a showy yellow crest. Here are a few clues to guide you through the four subspecies that you might see being held in captivity. C. g. galerita, the nominate or Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, is a huge bird with a white eye ring. By comparison, C. . Fitzroyi has minimal yellow ear coverts and a pale blue eye ring. C. g. triton has a bright blue eye ring. C. g. eleonora also has a bright blue eye ring, but its bill is smaller than the Triton's Confused? Check with an expert just to be clear.

815 - 975 grams (29 - 34 oz.)

Average size:
50 centimeters (20 in.)

65+ years

Behavior / temperament:
The Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is sharp as a tack. Although the role of “Fred” in the Baretta TV series was played by multiple birds, the leading lady who usually played the part was a female imported Triton who was reported to be completely untamed when she originally came out of quarantine. Yet she learned to be a talented star. If you are skilled in parrot psychology, or work with a good parrot trainer, you can accomplish amazing things. However, be aware that these birds can be a challenge. “Fred” herself was known to occasionally bite her trainer.

Cockatoos are probably more often given up for rescue or rehoming than any other bird. A big problem is that these cuddly birds love to be hugged, petted, and attached to you by the hour when they are babies, and unfortunately they continue to expect this intensive cuddling when they are older. Get training before you get the bird, and continue the training after you get the bird. An objective behaviorist can tell you how much cuddling is appropriate and when you're letting yourself be manipulated. Serious behavioral problems may include incessant screaming, feather-plucking, and territorial biting, so you would be wise to learn the best techniques to prevent these issues.

One tip: At the first hint of any trouble with feather plucking, see an avian vet for the proper tests. Don't assume that your Greater Sulfur-crested Cockatoo is neurotic. There are some serious feather issues that can affect cockatoos, and you need to have the bird examined and treated for any underlying physical disease before you assume that the plucking is a psychological problem.

Some people recommend a walk-in aviary for the Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo – excellent advice if you're a zoo, a breeder, or an aviary owner with a well-trained staff. If you're really just an individual bird owner, try the largest flight or aviary you can buy that still allows for the food and water dishes to be serviced from outside, especially if you have an older male rescue bird. You may be an expert at handling the 'too on his home territory, but what about when you're called out of town, and a pet sitter or a family member has to take over the job? They may need a way to help out without necessarily stepping into the aviary.

The Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo loves to chew. You will want to place sturdy manzanita perches in areas where you don't want to change the perches a lot. You will also want to be able to remove and add toys, chew items, and bird-safe tree trimmings to give your pet plenty of opportunity to exercise that busy beak. The cage itself should be a powder-coated metal cage of at least 60” wide by 42” deep by 60 “tall with a bar spacing of around 1-1/2 inches. Caution: These 'toos are one of the species that can pick locks, turn keys, and even remove screws. Use strong padlocks, and do not leave the keys in the locks.

Some people have a small sleep cage in a quiet area, which can be a great idea, if it gives your pet a dark, quiet place to get 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Teach your 'too to step on an arm or hand-held perch on command, so that you can easily bring the Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo to a play gym. Have more toys and chew items in the play space. It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but a highly intelligent cockatoo does not always understand what a toy is for, until you demonstrate by playing with the toy yourself. Remember, the more intelligent the pet, the more it learns from being taught, rather than just going by instinct.

Domestic-bred Greater Sulfur-crested Cockatoos are known to become obese, so you need to provide a varied diet that isn't too high in fat, carbs, or simple sugars. You may offer some small seed mix – 10% or less of the diet -but limit access to higher fat larger seeds such as sunflower. The core of the diet should be a good cockatoo pellet or a high quality commercial or homemade “soak and cook” mix that contains well-cooked beans, grains, and vegetables, as well as well-sprouted seed. Learn how to make a chopped salad containing lots of vegetables and greens, as well as some fruit.

If you suspect that your Greater Sulfur-crested Cockatoo is a little too hyper and getting too much sugar, then you can hold back the fruit for trick training, foraging games, or to offer by hand as part of a bonding exercise. Nuts and sunflower seed should be restricted to use for trick training or foraging exercise if the bird is overweight. It is best to consult with an avian vet, from the very beginning, to get an expert's opinion of your pet's proper weight.

Never feed avocado or chocolate to any cockatoo. These foods are toxic to all parrots.

Written by Elaine Radford


characteristic yellow crest, friendly bird, beautiful bird, advanced bird species


LOUD, dusty birds, sexual maturity, constant squawking, nasty bite, feather abusive behaviour


wild sulphurs, sensitive psyches, short attention span

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