Umbrella Cockatoo

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Is the Umbrella Cockatoo right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: White Cockatoo; White-crested Cockatoo; U2

Scientific name: Cacatua alba

The basics:
The beautiful white Umbrella Cockatoo with its huge white crest is one of the most highly coveted parrots. They are intelligent and can be trained to open their wings to flash you the yellow underneath the wings and tail. With brains and beauty in the package, along with a desire to be cuddled or petted all over, this cockatoo is hard to resist, especially as a sweet love bug of a baby.

However, they don't stay babies forever, and most people should not consider the Umbrella Cockatoo 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 Umbrella 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 Umbrella Cockatoo is found in the northern Moluccas, an archipelago within the nation of Indonesia. Like their counterpart in the southern Moluccas, the Moluccan Cockatoo, they have faced over-collecting for the pet trade and heavy deforestation. Like the Moluccan, they are ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as a vulnerable species. However, observers point out that the Umbrella Cockatoo is more tolerant of disturbed areas, so this adaptable bird may beat the odds against its survival.

A large white cockatoo with an impressive white crest.

550 grams (19 oz.)

Average size:
46 centimeters (18 in.)

50 - 65 years

Behavior / temperament:
Cockatoos are probably more often given up for rescue or rehoming than any other bird. Alas, even the beautiful Umbrella Cockatoo plays a role in adding to that sorry statistic. 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. You need to establish limits early, so that the bird does not expect you to carry it everywhere by the hour forever.

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 Umbrella 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.

That said, there are many behavioral problems that can occur with the Umbrella Cockatoo, including incessant screaming, feather-plucking, and angry, territorial biting. Don't just read a parrot book or two, and call the job done. Get hands-on lessons from a good trainer or behaviorist who can work with you. Some owners describe their U2s incredibly sweet. But they didn't get that way by accident. Spare no expense for the best experts, the best food, and the best equipment for your Umbrella Cockatoo.

Some people recommend a walk-in aviary for the Umbrella 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 Umbrella 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: U2s 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.

Have play gyms with plenty of chew items and foraging or puzzle toys. Have plenty of perches. However, consider the height of the perches. Don't place the Umbrella Cockatoo in a position of dominance and then expect the bird to remain sweet. 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 Umbrella 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.

Domestic-bred Umbrella Cockatoos are known to sometimes get too fat or to develop fatty liver disease, 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 Umbrella 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


sweet disposition, insatiably curious minds, gorgeous crest, comedic antics, devoted companion


screaming, feather picking, loud bird, hormonal changes, neurotic behavior, eviction machine


constant stimulation, large habitat, longlived birds, excellent dancers

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