Anatomy of cockatoos

On this page your will find some basic information about the skeleton, lungs and digestive system of cockatoos.

Skeleton of a cockatoo
Skeleton of a cockatoo

The skeleton of cockatoos

On the above sketch you see the skeleton of a cockatoo. As you can see, the skeleton does not differ much from skeletons of other bird species. The biggest difference of the skeleton of a cockatoo and the skeleton of, for example, a chicken, is the bill and the feet. Cockatoos and parrots have feet with two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards, while most other bird species have three toes in the front and one in the back. Cockatoos and parrots presumably have this configuration of the feet because it helps them to have a better grip when climbing. The name of this configuration of the toes is called zygodactyl. The bill of cockatoos is very big compared to the size of the head. Cockatoos and parrots are the only family of bird species that can both move the top and bottom part of the bill. Other bird species can only move the lower part of the bill, as the upper part is fixed to the skull.

Skull of a Goffini cockatoo

Skeletons of birds are much lighter than skeletons of other animal groups. Most birds have hollow bones to reduce their weight, which makes it easier to fly. Bird species that dive into water, like puffins or penguins, have lost their hollow bones to provide more strength to the skeleton. Cockatoos do have hollow bones. This lightweight skeleton makes flying less energetically costly. It does make their bones a bit more fragile than bones of mammals. Luckily it is rare that a cockatoo breaks its bones.

Cockatoos have the same internal organs than other birds species. But bird internal organs are a bit different than the internal organs of people. The most remarkable are the lungs and the digestive system. Let’s take a look at them.

Digestive system of cockatoos

The digestive system of cockatoos already starts differently than in humans. The first organ where food is processed in cockatoos, is the crop. This is a sort of pouch that stores and softens the food. You can feel the crop in your cockatoo if it just ate or drank a lot, it located in the upper front of the chest. The next organ the food it processed in is the gizzard. This is a sort of stomach with strong muscles around it. It will squeeze and press the food to reduce it to smaller pieces and mix it with enzymes. After this the food is moved to the intestines and further processed there. The last part of the digestive system is also notably different than that of humans. Birds have just one exit called a cloaca. This is both for poop, urine and for reproduction. Cockatoos and other birds do not produce urine, just solid poop, but the white part of bird poop is made out of the same substances as urine. It is a sort of solid urine.  If a cockatoo drinks too much water, its feces will be accompanied by a lot of water.

Respiratory system of cockatoos

The lungs of birds are really remarkable. The respiratory system of cockatoo is very different than the one of any other animal, e.g. of mammals. The lungs are smaller in comparison, but they are much more effective due to air sacs. Air sacs are basically what their name suggests: sacs that are filled with air. They are distributed all over the internal body of birds. Cockatoos have nine air sacs in their body. When a cockatoo inhales air, it is passed to the air sacs. From there it moves to the lungs. The air sacs make it possible for the air to move in one direction through the lungs. As you know, people breath in and out through the same air tract, making the lungs temporary unavailable when moving the air out. Birds do not have this problem. This makes their lungs much more effective in obtaining oxygen and losing CO2. And that’s handy when you are flying, as a crash due to shortness of breath would be fatal. Also high altitude flying, in thin air, is made possible because of the unique respiratory system.