Why Do Cockatoos NEED To Be Cuddled? – A Theory

Posted by Patty on

Umbrella cockatoo

If you are the owner of a cockatoo, especially a white one, you have undoubtedly encountered their constant demand for cuddling. For many people, it is their favorite quality about their cockatoo.

Any time I pick up Linus, my umbrella, he will let all of his weight fall against my shoulders to encourage a good cuddle session. He loves it when I completely envelop him with my arms. I always found it interesting that a prey animal would feel comforted in the arms of a predator – something that in a natural setting would always be regarded as bad.

Theo, my goffins, is a “nestler”. She likes to wedge herself in under my chin or into the crook of my arm, any place of her choosing that is warm and cozy. Both birds have completely different cuddling styles.

moluccan cockatoo

While there are many parrot species that enjoy the hands-on attention from their owners, the cockatoo stands alone in their neediness for physical attention. Why is that? There is a theory that has been passed around for a few years now that may hold the answer. It begins with the raising of a cockatoo in the wild.

A wild parrot hatchling is doted upon while it is in the nest. As it feathers out, it is fed and kept warm and is fiercely protected by its parent. Once it fledges and becomes adept at flying, it is taught what it needs to know about foraging and survival skills. Then it is asked, somewhat impolitely, to find a place of its own and move out.

Generally speaking, this happens shortly after fledging with most species. The parents’ duties have been completed and the bird must now fend for itself. It’s not a touching story, but it is efficient, like most things in nature.

This is not where the story ends for the wild young cockatoo. The wild cockatoo is unique in that juvenile birds remain with their parents for a year or more and continue to be doted upon. Cockatoo parents have been seen in the wild continuing to feed their young well beyond their weaning age. One report observed a parent forcing a feeding on a fully fledged and already satisfied youngster. One has to wonder if the juvenile’s “failure to launch” originates with the young’s reluctance to leave – or the parent insistence that they stay.

Wild cockatoos also give new meaning to the term “close-knit family”. They tend to perch in unusually close proximity and even when going about a normal day’s activities, members of the immediate family can almost always be found nearby. Parents remain close, physically, with their young.

Moluccan cockatoo

It is hard to call the need for physical attention an innate behavior. Those behaviors are usually those that are relative to immediate survival – such as eating or the awareness of predators, but it also makes sense that a bird might see physical contact with other member of the flock in that light. There is safety in numbers, after all, and a smart bird depends on its flock mates to help keep it safe. In the cockatoo, physical interaction might be more deeply ingrained than in other parrots species.

This leaves the question about nature vs nurture. In captivity, a human bred cockatoo is unlikely to be allowed to be fully raised by its parents. My experience is that most breeders still have the idea that they must remove the chick from the nest for hand rearing so that human contact is imprinted at an early age. They believe that this makes them better “pets”.

I completely disagree. I believe that the most mentally healthy birds are those that understand that they are birds – this is most effectively impressed through parent raising.

Could it be that it is in the cockatoo’s nature to be physically needy as demonstrated by the relationship they have with their parents, and do they bond with their human “family” in the same way? Might captive bred cockatoos require so much physical attention because of what they weren’t allowed to receive from their parents in the nest?

What is your opinion?


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16 comments

  • I am part of a parrot rescue and have all kinds of parrots in my care including two umbrella cockatoos a lesser sulphur a ducops and a galah .the two umbrellas are def the worst for attention and the male is the worst..out of all the bad behavior in the rescue birds that come in .and I deal mostly with special needs the ones more likely to bite and really mean it by drawing blood are hand reared ones .I have aviary birds that are disabled they can no longer live in an aviary due to their medical issues so daily they have to be carried from their cages to be taken to the outside flight for air and sunshine .non of the aviary birds bite they certainly don,t like being handled but do not bite unlike some of the hand reared they bite hard .hand rearing makes terrible bird behavior they are more likely to pluck too having not been taught to preen properly by their parents .

    Rebecca on
  • Very interesting theory and I can see this being a possibility. I have a 17 week old umbrella who loves full on hugs and cuddles at certain times of the day, then she has her time when she wants to be on me and me playing with her feathers or just letting her hang on me with no other interaction. I also have a 13 year old greater sulpher who loves his head scratched and then right before bedtime he wants only a 7 minute on lap play with my feathers session and he will then say “ok, I go night night now”

    Fancy fearhers on
  • I have an umbrella and a mullacan cockatoo, both male. The umbrella, Angel, I got when he was about 3 years old. This was his third owner in three years, his cage was squashed into the corner of a tiny house, he had plucked out all his chest , flight, and tail feathers. As soon as I opened his cage he came right out to me and cuddled. He’s now 16 year old and my cuddle bunny. The mullican, Rex, I received a year and a half ago from an older man looking to rehome his two birds. This one is 35 years old. It’s taken some time and a couple of bites, but he is becoming very cuddley and jealous of the other one when he gets the cuddles. It’s interesting to note that having Rex watch Angel and I cuddle has helped Rex get more cuddley with me. Rex used to prefer to cuddle with Beatrice the Blue and Gold Macaw he has lived with for the past 30 years. Your ideas about the reasons for this make sense to me. What ever the reason I just love the hugs and kisses. I can ask Angel for a hug and he’ll walk over to me and flop over onto my chest so I can wrap my arms around him.

    Susan Adamczyk on
  • I’m sure there are both nature and nurture aspects to their behavior. All I know is that I am a sucker for a cockatoo, every time, and I love our Chloe Belle. She is a beautiful umbrella cockatoo that we rescued from her first owner (had a breakup and didn’t have the time for her). This, too, is her forever home.

    Leslie on
  • I have a citron crested male who was one year old when I acquired him from a local bird farm. The first owner cut the prime feathers on one wing which resulted in him becomeing terified if he tried to fly. He ended up as a heap on the floor ready to attack all who approached. He has been in our family for about eight years and took about four years to completely gain his trust although he still will not step up onto my hand from his cage. We haven’t actively taught him to talk but when we were both working the radio was always on and picked up numerous words and phrases. His speach is as clear as our own and does not give any indication to anyone hearing him that it is coming from a parrot. His cage, which he can open easily, is next to a large reclining arm chair and either my self or my wife is sitting there he will climb onto the inside of the cage and say ‘tickle’ followed by ‘Oscar wants tickle’ or ‘tickle Oscar’ , After a few minutes of this he will get more insistant, ‘Oscar baby boy wants tickle’ follwed by ‘Oscar baby boy wants tickle now’. One evening my wife was at the far end of the room and his lordship had been asking for his tickle for about 15 minutes with no result when he demanded ’ Stop that now, Oscar baby boy wants tickle NOW’ just like a child having a tantrum! When he got his wish, and his tickle which mostly consists of cracking the quills on his head he will stand on the arm of the chair open his wings for a hand to rest on his back and gently massage him. The drawback of this is that it is exceedingly soporific, Oscar scenses this immediately, turns round very quickly, taps my arm and says .‘more tickle’., this ‘tickleing’ can last for 2 hours or even more. I was told that Cockatoos were not particularly good talkers but he has a very large vocabulary of words and phrases and puts them in context, that gets a bit scary. He is also telepathic, I was giving him attention onbe evening when he suddenly jumped up at full stretch repeadly shouting ‘Hello’ and after a few minutes calmed down resuming his ‘tickle’. about five minutes later the telephone rang, it was my wife telling me that she would be home in about 30 minutes. About twenty minutes later Oscar shouted ‘hello’ again so I went outside to meet my wife but there was no sign of her. About five minutes after I went back indoors she arrived! This sort of event is a frequent occurrence. He is also very polite in that he will sit quite patiently waiting for me to finish my meal before he asks for ‘tickle’ and will often sit on my chest and flop down onto me while I give him the requisite’ tickle’.Whe he goes to bed he pulls my shirt open and puts head inside for a few minutes before going to bed. Regardless of all this loving he still plucks feathers from his neck which does worry me as I have found no way to stop him, anyone have any advice. I also have a very snuggly female marroon bellied Conure who sticks to me like glue and also needs tickles but doesn’t talk apart from saying her name.

    Jeff Evans on

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