Pet Cockatoo Guide: What You Need to Know

Written by A-Z Animals Staff
Updated: May 27, 2024
© Gabriela Beres/Shutterstock.com

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Before Buying a Cockatoo

If you’ve ever heard a bird talking, screeching, and squawking in a pet shop, there’s a good chance it was a cockatoo. This bird is easily recognizable by its loud voice and its bright white feathers. A cockatoo is a very social, affectionate bird that forms a strong bond with its owner. Cockatoos require more maintenance and attention than smaller pet birds like parakeets and finches.

They need at least three hours outside the cage to stretch their wings and interact with family. In terms of expense, the initial price of a cockatoo ranges from several hundred dollars into the thousands. They need a large cage as well as a stand-alone perch.

One important point to remember is these birds can live up to seventy years. So, this is a pet requiring an owner who’s willing to make a long-term commitment.

How much does a cockatoo cost?

There are 21 species of cockatoo. An umbrella cockatoo is the most recognizable species. It has bright white feathers along with a large crest on its head. When it raises its crest, it looks like an umbrella. Generally, the price range goes from $500 to $4,000, but some species of cockatoo are priced in the tens of thousands.

A cockatoo is a large bird measuring 18 to 24 inches long. So, not surprisingly, it needs a large cage. The cage should be 72 inches tall, 48 inches long and have a width of 36 inches. Its sturdy cage bars should no more than one inch wide and free of toxic paint. The price range for cockatoo cages is $400 to $3,000. Of course, you can find specially designed cages that are more than $3,000.

A travel cage is another item to purchase. This makes it easy and safe for your bird to travel to the vet when it needs a checkup. Travel cages range in price from $150 to $250.

Along with housing, cockatoos need perches to sit on. Most cages are sold with a basic, smooth wooden perch, but your new pet needs a few perches constructed in different materials. A rope perch is something a cockatoo can chew on, swing from and grasp as it plays. A perch made of coffee wood gives a cockatoo a textured surface to grip when it’s at rest. The cost of two additional perches for inside the cage is $40 to $50.

A freestanding perch is necessary for when your cockatoo is outside the cage. This is so it doesn’t have to sit on top of its cage. Stand-alone perches are priced between $70 and $100.

Of course, your pet cockatoo needs a food and water bowl. Fortunately, many cages are sold with a stainless-steel food and water bowl included. But, if you have to buy a sturdy food and water bowl they cost between $10 and $15. They are often sold in pairs.

As mentioned above, cockatoos are active birds. So, they need at least two toys in their cage. A string of hanging wooden blocks, a plastic globe with a bell in it, colorful vine balls and a rope swing are just a few of the toys cockatoos enjoy. Trying different types of toys in your cockatoo’s cage is the best way to determine which types are its favorites. The total cost of two toys for this bird is from $20-$40.

The proper diet of a cockatoo includes pellets along with fresh fruits and vegetables. Pick up a food pellet for a cockatoo and you’re holding a collection of nuts, seeds, vitamins and minerals ground up and put into pellet form. A three-pound bag of cockatoo pellets ranges from $20 to $30. This bird needs a half cup of pellets each day, so a bag of pellets is a monthly expense.

Chances are, you already buy fresh fruits and vegetables for your household. Your cockatoo can eat oranges, bananas, and apples as well as carrots, lettuce, and celery. Be sure your fruits and vegetables are cut up and manageable for your cockatoo to eat.

These large birds need a yearly checkup at an avian veterinarian to ensure they are getting the proper nutrition and are otherwise healthy. A yearly check up at the vet ranges from $100 to $250.

Breaking down the minimum costs for a cockatoo:

Initial Costs

  • Cockatoo-$500
  • Cage-$400
  • Travel cage-$150
  • 2 Perches $40
  • Freestanding perch $70
  • Food and water bowls-$10
  • 2 Toys-$20
  • 3lb bag of pellet food-$20

Total initial cost: $1,210

Ongoing Costs

  • Food (monthly)-$20
  • Yearly vet checkup-$100

Yearly cost of ownership: $340

Cost of ownership over 70 years (including initial costs): $25,010

The lifespan of a cockatoo is 30 to 70 years. So, this total assumes your bird will live to a ripe old age!

New Owner Shopping List: What to Buy

It’s best to set up your bird’s cage and all of its supplies before you get your cockatoo. That way, your bird can start settling into its new home without delay.

  • Cage – A cockatoo’s cage provides it with a safe place to rest and sleep while it’s not out interacting with you.
  • Travel cage – Though you probably won’t use your cockatoo’s travel cage very often, having it on hand is important so you have a way to get it to the vet if an emergency arises.
  • Perches – Perches attach securely to the inside of the cage. A rope perch, a perch made of smooth wood and a textured wood perch are all necessary to give your cockatoo’s feet different surfaces to rest on.
  • Stand-alone perch – This type of perch sits near your cockatoo’s cage, so it has a place to rest while visiting with you.
  • Food and water bowls – These are attached to a wall inside the cage. Stainless steel bowls are easy to clean and durable.
  • Toys – Making sure your bird’s toys are clean and ready to use can help your cockatoo feel more at home.
  • Food – Fill the food bowl in your cockatoo’s cage with pellets and have fruit and vegetable pieces available to eat as well.

Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care for Your Pet

A supply of cockatoo pellets as well as fruits and vegetables are ongoing needs of this pet bird. Keep in mind that most cockatoos live for decades so the ongoing costs of owning one should certainly factor into your final decision on whether to add one to your family.

  • Cockatoo food-Cockatoo pellets are a necessary part of this bird’s diet. There are nuts, seeds, vitamins, and minerals in each pellet. This allows a cockatoo to get the nutrients it needs in a form that’s easy to digest.
  • Fruits and vegetables-These are another necessary part of a cockatoo’s diet. If you already buy fruits and vegetables for your family, it’s easy to put some aside for your feathered pet.

Exercise and Ongoing Care

Cockatoos need both mental and physical exercise. These birds become very unhappy if left in their cage for days at a time.

Cockatoos need grooming help as well. Their feathers develop a powdery substance that builds up over a few days. This dusty debris consists of dead feathers and particles of dirt. These birds need a mist bath every three days to get rid of this dusty debris. Their nails also need to be trimmed as part of a complete grooming routine.

Cleaning your cockatoo’s cage should be done weekly to get rid of the waste on the bottom of their cage and on their perches.

Exercise Each Day

Exercise for a cockatoo means allowing it to spread its wings and move around on its standalone perch outside its cage. Talking and singing to it as well as holding and petting the cockatoo all provide this pet with mental stimulation. It should be outside the cage at least three hours each day.

Grooming

Grooming a cockatoo involves misting its feathers with warm water. Fill a clean spray bottle with warm water and spray a mist all over your cockatoo. Most of these birds like the sensation of a light mist on their body. Your cockatoo may lower its head and spread its wings to let you know it likes being sprayed. After misting the bird, allow it a few minutes to shake its feathers to remove the dusty debris. Misting should be done two or three times each week.

Trimming your cockatoo’s nails is important so they don’t grow too long and start to curl under their feet. This can be done once a month with human nail clippers. It’s only necessary to clip the end of each nail and use a file to smooth the edge. If you clip too much of the nail you risk cutting the quick within the nail making it bleed. If you feel unsure about the process you can ask your veterinarian to give you a demonstration.

Cleaning the Cage

First, put your cockatoo on its stand-alone perch. A cockatoo’s cage is designed with a removable tray in the floor. Remove the tray along with the newspaper lining inside it. The newspaper lining absorbs liquid and holds the bird’s waste. Wash the tray using a sponge, warm water, and mild soap. Place a fresh newspaper lining in the tray.

Spray a soft cloth with a white vinegar and water mixture to clean the perches in your cockatoo’s cage. Wipe the bars of the cage and the bird’s toys as well. Wash its bowls with hot water and mild soap.

Vacuum the area around your cockatoo’s cage to clean up any loose feathers.

Feeding Your Cockatoo

A cockatoo’s diet should consist of both pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables. Spinach, celery, lettuce, and carrots are just a few of the vegetables you can feed your cockatoo. One vegetable to avoid is avocadoes. Oranges, melon, apples, and bananas are all appropriate types of fruit for this bird.

Feed your cockatoo about a half cup of pellets once a day. It should have at least one vegetable and one fruit each day as well. For instance, after putting pellets in your bird’s food bowl, you could put a few orange and apple slices in its cage along with three or four leaves of spinach.

Refresh the pellets, the fruit, and vegetables each day. Also, give your bird a fresh bowl of water daily.

How Long Will Your Cockatoo Live?

The lifespan of a cockatoo is 30 to 70 years. This long lifespan is typical for larger birds. African gray parrots have a lifespan of 40 to 60 years. Amazon parrots can live from 25 to 75 years.

As long as a cockatoo maintains a nutritious diet and gets the mental and physical stimulation it needs, it likely to live a good long time.

This article about the lifespan of cockatoos has more great information.

Consider Pet Insurance

Because cockatoos have such a long lifespan, it’s a good idea to consider pet insurance. Having insurance can cover some tests and treatment costs that may arise in the course of your bird’s long life.

Common Health Issues for Cockatoo

Pet birds of any size are especially vulnerable to respiratory illness. Cockatoos are prone to developing aspergillosis. This is a fungus that causes a lung infection.
Some symptoms of aspergillosis include weight loss, listlessness, and tail-bobbing. A cockatoo struggling to breathe properly moves its body in a way that makes its tail bob back and forth. This is an illness that needs the attention of a veterinarian for proper treatment.

Where to Buy Your Cockatoo

The two best ways to buy a cockatoo are to visit a cockatoo breeder or adopt one from a bird rescue organization.

A cockatoo breeder is knowledgeable, experienced, and responsible about breeding birds. Also, the breeder takes great care with the health of cockatoo babies and socializes them early. You can have all of your questions answered by an expert.

Adopting a cockatoo from a bird rescue organization is another good option. The people operating the rescue organization can share background information on a cockatoo and guide you in how to care for its special needs.

Though some pet shops sell cockatoos, the staff is not likely to be as knowledgeable as a bird breeder or the head of a bird rescue organization. Plus, the health of a pet shop cockatoo may not be monitored as closely as one raised by a breeder.

Whether you buy a cockatoo from a breeder or adopt, bring along your travel cage so you have a safe way to transport it.

Special Considerations with a Cockatoo

There are some special considerations to keep in mind when adding a cockatoo to your family. One thing to remember is these birds have a sensitive nature and are very protective of their owner.

Cockatoos and Kids

Cockatoos and small children are not always a good combination. These birds can get stressed out when small kids are running around and playing. Plus, they’ve been known to bite small fingers as a reaction to stress.

So, think about your other family members and the atmosphere in your household before choosing a cockatoo for a pet.

Choosing a Location for the Cage

Cockatoos and other birds are very sensitive to drafts of cold air. Putting this bird’s cage near a drafty window can cause it to become ill. It’s best to choose a location for your cockatoo with some natural light and no chilly drafts.

About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Cockatoo Guide: What You Need to Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I go about buying a cockatoo?

Visit a bird breeder online to research the cockatoos they have available or visit a local bird rescue to look at the cockatoos there. Be sure to ask a lot of questions about the health, personality, and history of any cockatoo you’re interested in.

What is a good price for a cockatoo?

The least expensive cockatoo is $500, but if you adopt one from a rescue organization, the adoption fee may be less.

What is the safest way to buy a cockatoo?

Ask questions about the cockatoo and look for reviews from people who have bought from a particular bird breeder or adopted a cockatoo from a specific bird rescue organization.

Are cockatoos hard to take care of?

As long as you understand these birds require daily attention, then they are not hard to take care of.

Can cockatoos talk?

Yes! Cockatoos can talk, mimic voices and even echo sounds in a household.

Are cockatoos native to Australia?

Yes. Some species live in Indonesia and the Phillippines as well.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.