White cockatoo

The white cockatoo (Cacatua alba), also known as the umbrella cockatoo, is a medium-sized all white cockatoo endemic to tropical rainforest on islands of Indonesia. When surprised, it extends a large and striking head crest, which has a semicircular shape (similar to an umbrella, hence the alternative name). The undersides of the wings and tail have a pale yellow or lemon color which flashes when they fly. It is similar to other species of white cockatoo such as yellow-crested cockatoo, sulphur-crested cockatoo, and salmon-crested cockatoo, all of which have yellow, orange or pink crest feathers instead of white.

The white cockatoo is around 46 cm (18 in) long, and weighs about 400 g (14 oz) for small females and up to 800 g (28 oz) for big males. The male white cockatoo usually has a broader head and a bigger beak than the female. They have brown or black eyes and a dark grey beak. When mature some female white cockatoos can have reddish/brown irises, while the irises of the adult male are dark brown or black. The feathers of the white cockatoo are mostly white. However, both upper and lower surfaces of the inner half of the trailing edge of the large wing feathers are a yellow color. The yellow color on the underside of the wings is most notable because the yellow portion of the upper surface of the feather is covered by the white of the feather immediately medial (nearer to the body) and above. Similarly, areas of larger tail feathers that are covered by other tail feathers – and the innermost covered areas of the larger crest feathers – are yellow. Short white feathers grow from and closely cover the upper legs. The feathers of this species and others create a powder similar to talcum powder that easily transfers to clothing. In common with other cockatoos and parrots, the white cockatoo has zygodactyl feet with two toes facing forward and two facing backward, which enable it to grasp objects with one foot while standing on the other, for feeding and manipulation.

Whilst the maximum lifespan of the white cockatoo is poorly documented; a few zoos report that they live 40–60 years in captivity. Anecdotal reports suggest it can live longer. Lifespan in the wild is unknown, but believed to be as much as ten years less.

Like all cockatoos, the white cockatoo nests in hollows of large trees. Its eggs are white and there are usually two in a clutch. During the incubation period – about 28 days – both the female and male incubate the eggs. The larger chick becomes dominant over the smaller chick and takes more of the food. The chicks leave the nest about 84 days after hatching and are independent in 15–18 weeks. Juveniles reach sexual maturity in 3–4 years. As part of the courtship behavior, the male ruffles his feathers, spreads his tail feathers, extends his wings, and erects his crest. He then bounces about. Initially, the female ignores or avoids him, but – provided he meets her approval – will eventually allow him to approach her. If his efforts are successful and he is accepted, the pair will be seen preening each other’s head and scratching each other around the tail. These actions serve to strengthen their pair bond. Eventually, the male mounts the female and performs the actual act of mating by joining of the cloacae. For bonded pairs, this mating ritual is much shorter and the female may even approach the male. Once they are ready for nesting, breeding pairs separate from their groups and search for a suitable nest cavity (usually in trees).

White cockatoos are kept as pets because they can be very affectionate, bond closely with people and are valued for their beauty. They are often called “velcro birds” because they like to cuddle with people, especially their owners, or primary care-taker. Anyone not used to cockatoo behavior may find this cuddling behavior odd, as most parrots do not cuddle like the umbrella cockatoo. Although capable of imitating basic human speech, they are not considered the most able speakers among parrots. They are often used in live animal acts in zoos and amusement parks because they are naturally acrobatic and easily trained, because of their highly social nature and high level of intelligence. Cockatoos are also noisier than many parrots. They can become very bonded (or dependent) on human companion and this combined with their long life and often misunderstood behaviors can lead to behavior issues.. They have very strong beaks, and umbrellas are capable of breaking walnuts and fingers if very scared. They have a “fight or flight” flock mentality, and general prefer to fly away from danger. In a cage, with no escape path, they can be subjected to stress which often leads to feather picking (as with many pet birds). Pet white cockatoos may raise their crests upon training, or when something catches their interest such as a new toy or person.

Captive birds are usually provided a parrot mix containing various seeds, nuts and dried fruits and vegetables. Additionally, they need to be offered lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and branches (with leaves) for chewing and entertainment.