Major Mitchell Cockatoo

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Is the Major Mitchell Cockatoo right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Leadbeater's Cockatoo; Pink Cockatoo

Scientific name: Cacatua leadbeateri

The basics:
The Major Mitchell's Cockatoo is a knock-your-socks-off pink and white cockatoo with a multi-colored crest. As with the other Australian endemics, legal export was closed decades ago. This beautiful but temperamental bird became rare in captivity outside of its native country because of two huge drawbacks – a high price to buy breeding pairs and the tendency of the male to sometimes kill the female. Most people recommend this intelligent but independent bird to the experts only. Get some experience and consult with a parrot behaviorist to make sure you don't spoil an exquisite bird.

Warning: Cockatoos are powder down birds, and you should not obtain a Major Mitchell's 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 strongly recommended against choosing any cockatoo if you live in an apartment or have nearby neighbors.

The Major Mitchell's Cockatoo is native to the dryer, inland regions of Australia. It is considered to be a specialist of the eucalyptus woodland, although it can use some other habitats. Some people believe that the loss of its favorite habitat could lead to a decline in its population. Because of its famously aloof nature, it is shy and tends to avoid disturbed areas, so it can't tolerate as much human activity on its territory as some other cockatoo species. It may have also been harmed by collecting for the pet trade, although legal trade for export ended in the 1960s.

This pink and white cockatoo is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful parrots. There are two subspecies, the nominate, L. l. leadbeateri, with broad red and yellow zones in the white crest, and L. l. mollis, where the zone of yellow is much thinner, so that the color zone gives the impression of being mostly red. They are easier to sex than many cockatoos, since you don't have to gaze into their eyes to determine iris color. The adult females of both subspecies will have a white belly, while males have a salmon-pink belly.

340 - 425 grams (12 - 15 in.)

Average size:
35 centimeters (14 in.)

80+ years

Behavior / temperament:
The Major Mitchell's Cockatoo has a mixed reputation. Some people, many of them gifted experts with lots of experience managing parrots, have reported wonderful relationships with their pets. Although everyone acknowledges that these birds are somewhat independent and dislike cuddling, they can learn to talk and love to spend time with their favorite person. However, if you haven't received good training in how to handle a large, hormonal parrot, all bets are off, because the males in particular can be very aggressive and territorial once they get old enough to breed.

Yes, it can be an amazing experience to have such a beautiful animal choose you as its “mate,” but please be aware that the male of this species sometimes kills his mate if he doesn't get his way. This beautiful bird is for people who have excellent parrot behavior skills or who are willing to spare no time and expense to get those skills. The usual advice is to get a female, but it's often impractical advice, since there are more males available. There's no substitute for knowing what you're doing before you take on this precious gem of the cockatoo family.

The lovely Major Mitchell's Cockatoo is an enthusiastic chewer, so this bird demands a sturdy powder-coated metal cage of at least 36” wide by 24” deep by 36” high with no more than 1” bar spacing. Please keep the cage well-supplied with disposable toys that can be chewed to destruction. Have sturdy manzanita perches in areas where you don't want to have to change the perches frequently, but also supply plenty of natural, bird-safe wood perches from unsprayed trees that your pet can chew to its heart's content.

Like many other cockatoos, the Major Mitchell's has a reputation as an escape artist who can use that big birdbrain to figure out how to open their own cage doors, so they are only humoring you by staying inside unless you use padlocks to secure the doors and windows. You have been warned.

Teach your Major Mitchell's Cockatoo to step on a hand-held perch on command, so that you can easily bring the bird 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.

If you have an older, aggressive male, it is particularly important to keep the play gym and cage at waist height. Don't allow problem behaviors to develop by giving this moody cockatoo the “top dog” spot. You must manage this somewhat sensitive bird with kindness and respect, and the best way to fix a problem is to prevent it from developing in the first place.

As a bird of the arid Australian countryside, the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo has an efficient metabolism and a tendency to gain weight on a rich, higher fat diet. You may offer a small seed mix, but limit access to high 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 bird 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.

Something to ponder: The oldest known Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, the famous “Cookie” who turned 82 at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in June 2015, ate a seed-only diet for the first 40 years of his life. This isn't to say that a seed-only diet is good, because we can see that the other Major Mitchell's collected in the 1930s passed away long ago. But it does suggest that we shouldn't go to the other extreme and provide a diet that is too rich for this desert species. Green, sprouted sunflower seed is fine. Dry sunflower seed is probably too high in fat. When making the salad, think vegetables and greens, which are low in natural sugar, and be more cautious with fruit, which is high in natural sugar.

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

Written by Elaine Radford


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