Heartbreakers

See that gorgeous face? The regal crest? He’s alert, highly intelligent, very healthy with a great physique – a magnificent creature. If anyone ever suggests you should acquire an Umbrella or Moluccan Cockatoo as a pet, put your hands over your ears, and loudly sing “la la lalalala la la”. Then run.

I believed all the mainstream bird magazines when they described Cockatoos as loving fluffballs of love. We toured numerous breeders while visiting Florida, spending nearly 5 hours with the breeder from whom we bought our “KoeKoe”, a 12-week old baby Umbrella Cockatoo. Not once did the breeder say, “oh, by the way, there are things you need to know about sharing your life with a male cockatoo…...there is a chance you could have one that is genetically predisposed to behave aggressively, thereby putting you, your children, and your other pets at risk”.

Umbrellas (also known as “Umbies” or U2s) and Moluccans (also called “Mollies” or M2s), are the most popular “companion bird” out of the 17 species of Cockatoos.

They’re extremely intelligent, and unbelievably loving – until puberty. Then the males can become territorial finely-tuned hormonal machines of dominance and control. That’s when the heartbreak sets in. Your stomach twists into knots, finding you’re in an abusive relationship where you fear for your own physical safety as well as for those you love – pet and human alike.

I’ve read too many postings on bird lists, describing the results of Cockatoo attacks. It isn’t uncommon for female mates to fall victim to male aggression, torn to bloody shreds, leaving the male grieving for weeks after his murderous attack. Worse, are the posts describing attacks against humans. Particularly memorable was a husband’s tearful letter detailing the family U2 dive-bombing off his shoulder, attacking his wife’s face and head. She suffered over 300 stitches, nearly losing her left eye and requiring months to physically recover.

I described our aggressive Cockatoo to a friend who owned M2s. She found it “difficult to believe” that my Cockatoo was as aggressive as I described. Her innuendos suggested I was somehow to blame, yet again paralleling human abusive relationships.

Several years later, she “rescued” a “problem” U2 declaring she could love it enough, give it a proper diet, provide it with adequate toys, etc., things she judged I did incorrectly. The U2 is no longer with her. Neither is the tip of her nose, a 1/4-inch chunk of eyebrow and a portion of her upper lip.

All parrots bite for a wide variety of reasons including a bid to play (not unlike a playful puppy), or a means of communication (“leave me alone right now”). Own a parrot, you will be bitten. Cockatoo beaks, however, have a very different structure than other parrot beaks, allowing them to inflict far greater damage to soft tissue – bird or human. The ultimate nightmare, in my mind, is when people go to extremes attempting to control aggressive ‘too behavior, including having the lower beak permanently cut in half. When a ‘too exerts pressure, the lower beak opens, each half swinging out to the sides. Cruel.

Undoubtedly, someone reading this will say, “not my Cockatoo……he’s been with me for X-amount of years and he’s never bitten me, never been hormonal, never had screaming fits for attention, always been a good boy……..”. I’m happy for you. You may quit reading and go play with your Cockatoo.

For all others, Google “cockatoo rescue”. You’ll find pages of “hits” filled to the rafters with “rescue” ‘toos. Five years ago, I felt like I was one voice crying out in the wilderness, urging people to think 20 times before acquiring a Cockatoo, but now the internet provides a bounty of writings taking up the same cause.

Mixed in with the rescue “hits” are thoughtful Avian Behaviorist articles, sites where you can hear a nerve-wracking M2 scream, and online bird magazines far more trustworthy than those at pet store check-out counters.

If you still think you need one, carefully interview breeders. Ask for references that go back 10 years. Why so long? Cockatoos won’t hit puberty until they’re 4-6. Behavioral changes affected by puberty don’t occur over night. You’ll get a better idea of how birds from the breeder have matured. Ask how well they transtioned through puberty, if there are current issues, and if they’re a biter, screamer. Be sure to ask if the bird is still with them. Sometimes that won’t information isn’t easily volunteered as there are stigmas attached to the act of giving a bird over to “rescue”.

Asking questions of this nature will help determine whether the breeder has dominant aggressive male behavior in her flock.
Remember though, there is STILL NO GUARANTEE.

Also, be aware, some people give their “problem” Cockatoos to disruptable breeders who integrate them into their breeding flock. If there is validity to the theory that aggressive behavior is genetic, this will only result in further problems. Buyer beware.


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