Origin: New Guinea and Queensland, Australia
Order: Psittaciformes (parrots)
Family: Cacatuidae (Indonesian parrots)
Species: P. Aterrimus
Weight: 910 – 1,200g
Height: 22 – 24in / 55 – 60cm
Wingspan: 14 – 15.9in / 35.5 – 40.5cm
Appearance: Palm Cockatoos are large-sized parrots, coloured in smoky-grey or black, with prominent red cheeks, the colour of which becomes more intense when the parrot is excited or alarmed. The beak is black, stronger and larger than those of most parrots they can not only eat extremely hard nuts and seeds, but can also break off thick sticks from trees. Palm Cockatoos also have a very large and impressive crest, coloured in the body’s pigmentation.
Procreation: Palm Cockatoos have a very low breeding success rate compared to other parrot species. The female lays only one egg every two years. In the wild, Palm Cockatoos build their nest in a tree hollow. Both male and female take care for the young parrot. Compared to other cockatoo species, Palm Cockatoos are not known to flock together.
Temperament: Palm Cockatoos are loving and affectionate, and require a lot of time and attention. They need their owners to spend at least 2 hours a day with them, without lots of interaction they are highly prone to behavioural problems. Palm Cockatoos are known as one of the few bird species that can use tools they break off large tree sticks to drum with them and create a loud noise that can be heard up to 100m away. Although the reason for this is still a mystery, some scientists believe that males use the drumming sound to mark their territory.
Talkativeness: Palm Cockatoos have a large and complicated vocal repertoire, they can whistle and use human sounds and even words and phrases. Most of them can learn to talk, but few will actually do it. In human company, most Palm Cockatoos just prefer to cuddle.
Environment: The natural environment of the Palm Cockatoo is in the rainforests and woodlands of Indonesia and Australia. Today they are very rare in the wild, mostly on account of their low breeding rate. As pets Palm Cockatoos are very adaptable and will live happily with people. Because they are extremely loud and need a lot of space and physical exercise, Palm Cockatoos are most suited to larger homes.
Preferred Food: Grain products, vegetables and fruits, dairy and meat, seed and nuts. Most preferred are peanuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, oranges, apples, grapes, pomegranates, bananas, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, broccoli and kale. Palm cockatoos often prefer to feed early in the day.
Relationship with People: Palm Cockatoos are very needy. It takes much to keep them healthy and happy. As pets they require 24/7 attention and human presence. Without their owners attention Palm Cockatoos can become depressed and very loud. Screaming is the first sign of this condition.
Common Health Problems: Psittacine beak and feather disease, featherpicking, self mutilation, juvenile chewing of flight feathers and tail, poor eating habits, obesity. Lipomas, bacterial and fungal infections, carcocystis, cloacal prolapse, male aggression, toxicity, ingestion of metals. A good diet is the way to avoid many health issues.
Lifespan: 40 to 90 years in a zoo, but there is no information about how long the Palm Cockatoo lives in the wild.
A Palm cockatoo can be an amiable companion. They are smart, learn tricks easily and can be quite the performers and escape artists, learning how to open locks and even take apart a poorly assembled cage. These social birds establish good bonds with their owners but can become needy of attention and manipulative. Their behaviour can be quite unpredictable and they tend to display mood swings, much in the same way people would. They can be obedient and contemplative at one moment, then turn aggressive the next for no apparent reason. They require a lot of attention and make great pets provided they’ve been properly tamed and trained to avoid dominant or destructive behaviour.
Make your Cockatoo feel well by providing the basics: nutritious well-balanced diet, roomy cage, plenty of exercise space outside the cage, a variety and abundance of toys, perches and things to chew on. Spend at least two hours a day with it, playing and showing affections.
Before training, the cockatoo needs to be tamed first. Taming has to start with the bird in its cage until it gets used to you. Be patient and gentle and carry out the training session in a room with no noises or visual distractions. Hand-feed the cockatoo some treats and talk in a low calming voice. Don’t make sharp movements. The first taming sessions should be short, with the duration gradually increasing.
Once the cockatoo feels comfortable being around you, you can start hand taming. Offer some treats to get it out of the cage and climb on your hand, so you can carry it around. Don’t encourage it perching on your shoulder – this is a display of dominant behaviour. As your cockatoo becomes comfortable with taking treats from your hand, you can reach into the cage with the treat. Once you’ve earned its trust, your cockatoo will begin climbing on your hand and allowing you to pet him.
The main thing in cockatoo training is consistency. It is best that you choose one member of the family to conduct the primary training; it has to be someone with enough time and patience. Other people may reinforce the training but the main sessions should be conducted by the same person to avoid confusion in the bird. The space you set for the sessions has to be uncluttered and quiet. No other people or animals should be present. Remove distractions and anything that moves and makes a noise. Host training sessions at the same room and the same time of the day. Cockatoos have a limited attention span, so you need to keep training sessions short. Start teaching your bird one word or phrase at a time. Repeat it numerous times and offer periodic treats when it says it. If you notice the bird losing interest or becoming impatient or anxious, stop the session.
Stick to the same word or phrase until the bird learns it. Reward it immediately when it says it. You can reinforce the training outside practice hours by repeating the word or phrase every time you approach the cage. This should be done by all members of the family. Reward with a treat when the cockatoo pronounces the word not on cue. Don’t raise your voice at a cockatoo. It will by no means help with the training; it will only make the bird afraid of you and less responsive to training and affection.
Use the same methods for teaching a cockatoo to perform tricks or display certain behaviour. If you notice your bird displaying behaviour you’d like to train, use the “capturing” method. Instead of breaking the training into steps, set the environment to resemble the one when the behaviour was first noticed, and wait for the behaviour to occur. When this happens, give the bird a treat, a scratch on the head or anything else it enjoys and will find encouraging. One of the unique things palm cockatoos do is “drumming“– hitting a hollow log with a stick to claim territory. Cockatoos can learn a variety of tricks and dances but due to their individual character, it is best you consult a professional bird trainer.
The Palm Cockatoo originates from New Guinea and Cape York Peninsula Queensland, Australia. It is not a flock feeder bird and usually lives in pairs or small groups of up to five or seven individuals in the tropical forests. It is unknown if these small groups are made up of related or unrelated individuals. Palm cockatoos have a long life expectancy and retain a steady population in nature, despite the slow reproductive rate of one egg per two years. Unlike most cockatoo species which inhabit dry climates, the palm cockatoo is adapted to tropical rainforest habitats. They have evolved in wetter, warmer climates and have developed many physical, social, and behavioural traits to fit into the rainforest environment.
Palm cockatoos measure 49-68 cm in length from the top of the head to the tip of the tail and are relatively lightweight for their size. They are considered to be the largest species among the cockatoos and the largest parrots in Australia. Palm cockatoos’ black plumage appears greyish due to the powder down which also dulls the glossy beak. With their unique in size and structure beaks, Palm Cockatoos can eat very hard nuts and seeds and snap thick sticks from trees for drumming displays during territorial demonstrations. Pairs of Palm Cockatoos maintain territories that include several potential nest trees, which they visit regularly throughout the year with increasing frequency during the breeding season.
The most distinctive feature of the Palm Cockatoos are the large, naked cheek patches of a reddish colour which deepens when an emotional reaction such as confusion, alertness, or excitement is triggered. Palm cockatoos have a complex system of calls, displays, and other behaviours unique to the species. They warn each other of a danger with a short harsh, screech and give out a drawn out, wailing cry for feeding. A deep monosyllabic whistle, repeated three or four times signals returning home, and the disyllabic growl which has been described to resemble the pronunciation of “Hello” is actually a threat display, accompanied by foot stomping in nature.
Palm Cockatoos are affectionate and affable as pets but require a lot of interaction and care. They are not suitable for first-time bird owners or people living in flats. They are very vocal, need a lot of space and constant attention. Before you decide to buy or adopt a Palm Cockatoo, consider:
- Do you have a good avian vet near you?
- Can you provide the cage and exercise space necessary for such a large bird?
- Can you/your family/neighbours tolerate the distinct, extremely loud calls Cockatoos make?
- These birds live long and can be a life-time pet – are you ready for the commitment?
Palm Cockatoos are best suited for living in a house, and not so much a flat due to the loud noises they make. In order to provide your parrot with a comfortable environment, get an X-large bird cage (36x24x36″ with a bar spacing of 3/4″ – 1.5″) and ensure there is enough living space for the cockatoo when it’s let outside the cage. Change the cage’s lining every day, clean the cage with apple cider vinegar and water at least once a week, and once a month take everything out, scrub it and wash it thoroughly. When it’s all well dried, rearrange the perches and bowls and add some new toys. Give the cockatoos regular showers or baths to remove accumulated feather dust – you can simply mist them and let them dry in a warm room, under direct sunlight or dry them with a blow drier. Take Cockatoos to the vet for regular annual check-ups.
The right diet is essential for the parrot’s health and longevity. Provide variety and monitor fat intake, as Palm cockatoos are prone to gaining weight. Include grain products – they should make up about 50% of the diet, fruit and vegetables – 45% , dairy and meat — 5% and seeds and nuts.
Your Cockatoo needs a lot of exercise in order to be healthy and happy. Lack of interaction and attention can lead to behavioural problems, such as screaming and feather plucking. Allow a minimum of 3-4 hours a day when it can be outside its cage to exercise and stretch its muscles and always supervise to prevent accidents. Provide many toys and things to chew on – natural wood perches are great for chewing and calcium ones supply minerals; rearrange the toys and perches in the cage regularly to keep your Cockatoo interested. Spend at least two hours a day bonding with your pet Palm Cockatoo.