Last Updated on: 30th October 2023, 12:39 pm
Cockatoos are among the most long-lived Psittaciformes. Many members of the cockatoo family (Cacatuidae) can survive for 60 – 80 years if looked after well and kept in suitable conditions.
There are formal records of a Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (called Cookie) reaching 83 years old at Brookfield Zoo (near Chicago). This is recorded on the official Guinness World Records site.
The sulphur-crested, bare-eyed, goliath, Moluccan, and umbrella cockatoos can live for 60+ years.
The general rule is that large cockatoos survive for longer than small cockatoos. Smaller species, like Goffin’s, have a shorter life expectancy, flourishing as pets for 30 – 40 years.
How Long Do Cockatoos Live as Pets?
Illness and disease are more prevalent in wild birds, so their lifespans are usually shorter.
Wild cockatoos also fall prey to predatory animals like snakes, big cats, and birds of prey. Also, the destruction of their native habitats due to deforestation has negative ramifications.
The table summarizes the average lifespan of a cockatoo in captivity vs. the wild:
|Cockatoo Species||Captive Lifespan||Wild Lifespan|
|Bare-Eyed Cockatoo (Cacatua sanguinea)||60 – 80 years||Up to 40 years|
|Citron-Crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata)||40 – 60 years||Up to 40 years|
|Goliath Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus)||60 – 80 years||Up to 30 years|
|Goffin’s Cockatoo (Cacatua goffiniana)||30 – 40 years||Up to 20 years|
|Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri)||60 – 80 years||Up to 50 years|
|Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis)||50 – 70 years||Up to 30 years|
|Slender-billed cockatoo (Cacatua tenuirostris)||50 – 70 years||Up to 20 years|
|Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)||60 – 80 years||Up to 40 years|
|Umbrella cockatoo (Cacatua alba)||70 – 80 years||Up to 30 years|
|Slender-Billed Cockatoo (Cacatua tenuirostris)||30 – 50 years||Up to 20 years|
How To Determine The Age of A Cockatoo
If you adopt a cockatoo that has been rehomed and doesn’t have a leg band that confirms its date of birth, you may be unsure of exactly how old the bird is.
Determining the age of a cockatoo is nearly impossible. DNA testing won’t reveal when a bird was born, so the only option is an estimation based on appearance and behavior.
Signs a cockatoo is closer to the end of its life than the beginning include:
Juvenile cockatoos have very bright and prominent colors in their feathers. As the cockatoo ages, the feathers will fade and become dull.
The quality of feathers will also become more ragged as a cockatoo ages, although it’ll molt feathers and regrow replacements at least once a year.
The irises of younger cockatoos remain a deep black. The older the cockatoo, the more the irises will fade and lighten, especially if it develops cataracts.
Legs and Claws
Older cockatoos have flakier, rougher skin on their legs. Also, the shade of the skin will darken as it ages.
The claws of a senior cockatoo are more likely to be overgrown.
If the beak is pure black, shiny, and seemingly in good condition, this suggests that the cockatoo is in the first half of its lifespan. If the beak is scuffed and faded, it’s growing older.
Demeanor and Behavior
A young cockatoo will be endlessly curious and filled with energy and wonder, inviting play. Older cockatoos are usually more serene and sedate.
As cockatoos age, they start to take regular naps during the day.
What Is The Life Cycle of A Cockatoo?
Not all development stages are of equal length, with most of their life spent as an adult.
The life cycle of a cockatoo can be broken into 5 stages:
Cockatoos are hatched from fertilized eggs. When a cockatoo hatches, it’ll be bald, deaf, and unable to open its eyes. This means it’ll be dependent upon its mother upon hatching.
After around 100 days, a cockatoo will have the wings it needs to fly.
At any point between this age and about 3-4 months, the cockatoo will become a fledgling. This means it’s ready to learn how to fly and become more independent.
There’s a learning curve to flying, and accidents can happen. The fledgling cockatoo’s mother will usually continue caring for and teaching her young.
Wild cockatoos usually leave the nest to explore around a month after fledging. It’s common for wild cockatoos to return to a nest shared with its flock for at least 3-4 years before starting alone.
Most cockatoos bought from a breeder or pet store will be around 4 months old. At this stage, the cockatoo will be weaned and know the basics of flight.
As cockatoos have a long lifespan, they mature slower than some animals. A cockatoo seldom reaches sexual maturity and enters adulthood until 3-4 years old.
Once the cockatoo is 3-4 years old, it’ll experience hormonal changes.
Your bond with an adult cockatoo will be established if you demonstrate patience during this process. Expect a cockatoo to be affectionate, energetic, and conversational.
Cockatoos aren’t good talkers, but some species can pick up words. They prefer to mimic sounds.
Adult cockatoos remain energetic and curious, so exercise and mental stimulation are essential. A cockatoo should spend 2-4 hours outside its cage every day.
As a cockatoo reaches the final stage of its lifespan, it’ll start to slow down.
The cockatoo will remain affectionate but want less exercise, sleep more, and be more lethargic, quiet, and sedate. The cockatoo may also lose feathers in old age.
It’ll likely need extra care when it’s a senior, so be prepared to assist with preening.
Why Do Cockatoos Live So Long?
The long lifespan of a cockatoo is impressive, but why do they live such a long life? Here’s why:
Cockatoos have a fast metabolism, rapidly burning calories. This prevents cockatoos from growing overweight because food is quickly converted to energy.
High metabolism is often connected to rapid aging and short lifespans. Basic Life Sciences explains how a high metabolic rate generates more free radicals.
These are unstable DNA molecules that bind to the cells and cause oxidative damage, reducing the ability of the body to detoxify and combat aging and sickness.
This is why small mammals with high metabolic rates, like the common shrew, only live for around 2 years. However, avian DNA differs significantly from mammals.
Birds don’t experience the same level of oxidative stress through their heightened metabolism. The organs of cockatoos age and deteriorate slower than mammals, leading to a longer lifespan.
Intelligence and Adaptability
Although captive cockatoos can live up to twice as long as wild birds, non-pets still live longer. Part of this is due to their intelligence, which is correlated to their larger mass.
Proceedings of the Royal Society explain how a larger parrot usually has a bigger brain, indicating that a parrot the size of a cockatoo will have high intelligence. This is invaluable for their survival.
Many smaller animals in their natural habitat rely on instinct to survive. Prey animals live in the moment and react to threats. As cockatoos can fly, these hasty escapes are easier.
Cockatoos are intelligent birds that adapt their lifestyle to remain safe. Examples include:
- Cockatoos fly at lower altitudes than birds of prey, their natural enemies.
- Cockatoos roost high in trees, where snakes can’t access them, and strip branches to provide a rapid escape route if required.
- Cockatoos sleep with one eye open, remaining vigilant about owls and other nocturnal threats.
- Cockatoos only breed and eat in safe conditions that have been assessed.
In addition to their intellect, cockatoos are highly adaptable. They don’t migrate during the winter months but seek out more appropriate living conditions if food or shelter is sparse.
In Australia, it’s common to find large broods of sulphur-crested cockatoos living in parks and public gardens close to densely populated cities.
They understand that the presence of humans can lead to abundant food sources.
Diet and Lifestyle
Many of their favorite foods are essential to good health. Parrots aren’t prone to eating “junk food” and will gleefully devour nutritious foods packed with vitamins and minerals.
Cockatiels are energetic birds who enjoy regular exercise. A captive cockatoo that can leave its cage for 2-4 hours will fly around the home, burning calories and maintaining a healthy weight and heart.
Even within a cage, a cockatoo is rarely still. Cockatoos like climbing and are often found scaling the cage bars and taking flight if the dimensions permit.
Improvements in Avian Veterinary Science
While avian medicine is a niche science, with the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education claiming that around 30% of veterinary school graduates hold avian expertise, more is understood than ever.
An understanding of exotic birds’ diet and lifestyle needs has led to a longer lifespan. Diseases can be treated with medication, vaccinations are available, and advice can prevent sickness.
Some medical concerns, like psittacine beak and feather disease, remain untreatable.
How To Extend the Life of A Cockatoo
Follow these steps to give a cockatoo the best chance of exceeding the life expectancy:
- Feed it a healthy and balanced diet, including supplementation (if necessary).
- Avoid certain foods because some are unhealthy or toxic for birds.
- Parrots have sensitive respiratory systems, so avoid airborne contaminants. For example, non-stick coatings (like Tefal) and air fresheners have life-threatening consequences for cockatoos.
- Ensure that fresh water is available at all times to avoid dehydration.
- Encourage the cockatoo to exercise for at least 2 hours daily, ideally 3-4. Don’t clip the bird’s wings unless, except for safety reasons, because flying is an essential exercise.
- Talk to them regularly to avoid behavioral problems (like feather picking) and depression.
- Minimize stress by ensuring the cage is big enough with sufficient toys, perches, and enrichment.
- Ensure the cage is deep-cleaned weekly and perform spot-cleaning to remove old food and feces.
- Locate an avian vet and take the cockatoo for health checks every 6 to 12 months. This should include blood tests and fecal waste analysis.
If you give a cockatoo a good home, you’ll be rewarded with a life-long companion.