Old World Aviaries

Socializing your new Umbrella Cockatoo baby

by Bobbi Brinker, Mattie Sue Athan, and Scott Lewis

(Although this article addresses Umbrella Cockatoos specifically, it is applicable to most species of cockatoos. Ed.)

You have a new Umbrella Cockatoo baby. It is incredibly cute and loving. The whole reason you bought an Umbrella is that you heard how cuddly they are. Given its way, your baby would spend 14 hours a day in your lap being petted. And, given that you just bought this expensive, beautiful, loving baby, that is exactly what you plan to do.

Big mistake!

If you want a companion cockatoo that you can live with, it is critical that the Umbrella baby learns how to be independent and entertain itself. The last thing it needs to learn is that it is totally dependent on you for its happiness. If you lavish constant attention on your baby now, you will have behavioral problems when the baby matures. Your baby must be taught to be independent and not to look upon humans as its sole source of entertainment.

We assume that you have a large cage for your Umbrella baby and that your baby has lots of toys that are easily accessible. It is a good idea to have at least one perch that goes from the front of the cage to the back in addition to a perch that goes from side to side, and toys should hang at beak level and be accessible from both perches. Your baby needs to spend time in its cage to learn to take a nap, kill a toy, have some chow, and groom itself. In short, it needs to learn how to entertain itself while it is not with you .

This does not mean that you should ignore your baby. It should get lots of attention. Give it numerous short periods of attention, treats, and transportation to a play stand and back to either the cage or, if the cage has a play top with a perch and toys, occasionally to the cage top. (Play tops with at least two toy hooks are preferable. If the play top has a place for only a single toy, change toys regularly.) Give it a few scratches and kisses at the end of each transport period. Longer play periods should be physical and interactive. Putting an Umbrella on your chest for hours while you watch TV is a recipe for disaster.

If you work, vary the time when your baby gets out of its cage after you come home. One day take your baby out immediately; the next day let your baby sit in its cage for an hour; the next day let your baby sit in its cage until dinner is over. This avoids your baby calling for you at exactly 5:30 p.m. or whatever.

It is critical that your baby not be allowed to become an unsupervised roamer. Chewed up houses and belongings can get to be very old after a while. A serious Umbrella Cockatoo can destroy walls. We once had to rebuild an entire wall of a room from the foundation up because of an Umbrella who spent too much time out of his cage unsupervised.

In addition cockatoos are famous for developing toe and foot chasing behaviors if allowed access to the floor. Development of these chasing and biting behaviors can become habitual. Such habits are both difficult to break and can later be enacted in different areas in addition to the floor. Likewise, allowing the bird unlimited access to the human shoulder can set the bird up to develop beaking and biting behaviors related to treating that human shoulder as a territory rather than part of a person.

In summary, your Umbrella Cockatoo baby must not be allowed to become totally dependent on you for its happiness and entertainment. This is what leads to mature Umbrellas that are intolerable companion birds.

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