Behavioral problems

A cockatoo can have behavioral problems caused by psychological problems that are just as bad as physical diseases. A cockatoo is a smart animal and needs to be able to show its own natural behavior. When it is prevented to live like a cockatoo would like to live, it can develop psychological problems that can manifest as behavioral problems.

Possible behavioral problems in cockatoos

feather pluckingBehavioral problems can manifest in cockatoos as:

  • Excessive screaming
  • Plucking its own feathers out
  • Wounding itself
  • Biting and attacking everyone
  • Acting apathetic, not wanting to do anything
  • Showing the same behavior over and over (so called stereotypical / stereotyped behavior)

These problems are all symptoms of psychological problems in cockatoo. These symptoms are what the owner perceives as a problem. When a cockatoo starts screaming or biting, the owner does not enjoy its time with the cockatoo anymore. For the cockatoo the problem started way before. The real problem is that the cockatoo is unhappy.

The symptoms are almost exclusively caused by the human owners of the pet cockatoo. It is caused by keeping the cockatoo in captivity and not allowing it to show its natural behavior. Sometimes a cockatoo can be cured from these symptoms by changing its housing and food, introducing other cockatoos for social contacts or staying with an owner that spends more time with the cockatoo. Other times a cockatoo is so far damaged that it will never completely stop with self destructive behavior or stereotypical behavior. Fortunately it can be brought back to a minimum so the cockatoo can still live a normal life.

Every cockatoo is different, just like every person is different. What can send one over the edge will just temporarily set back the other.

What can cause psychological problems in cockatoos?

Umbrella Cockatoo
Umbrella Cockatoo

Basically anything that prevents a cockatoo to behave like a normal cockatoo, could possibly cause it to start misbehaving. Extreme boredom, loneliness and social isolation will prevent a cockatoo to spend its time in a “meaningful way for cockatoos”. A cockatoo in nature spends its time socializing, looking for food, playing with whatever it can find, flying from food to the nest to water, eating and sleeping. It is hardwired into the animal to do something. If you put such an animal in a small cage, with no or few toys and few social contact, it will not deal well with that. Some cockatoos do, but not all. Especially when a cockatoo was raised with a lot of attention and never learned how to entertain itself, it can become bored and desperate in a small and isolated cage. For some reason it is common for cockatoos to resort to the same behaviors when presented to this environment. They will start to self destruct (feather plucking and self mutilation) or crave attention in any way (excessive screaming) or just go a bit crazy.

What can you do to help a cockatoo with behavioral problems?

It is important to note that the symptoms (screaming, aggression, self harm) are not the problem. There is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. The cockatoo should have enough things to do so it will feel like a normal cockatoo again. It will need other cockatoos of its species, it will need a lot of space, a lot of toys and a lot of patience to be allowed to recover. Some will do very well, others will never recover completely.

A cockatoo with severe behavioral problems usually cannot stay in the family that has it as a pet. The cockatoo will need more than the family is providing. It will need a very large and rich environment to recover. If the owners are really dedicated, they can pull this off. If not, the cockatoo has to go to a place that specializes in cockatoos.

There are sanctuaries for cockatoos where they can go. There they have very large aviaries with cockatoos of the same species. The cockatoos can live in this group, make friends and learn what its like to be a cockatoo again. It can be hard to find a good sanctuary. Its possible you will have to pay for the cockatoo to live there. Most will not allow you to come and take the cockatoo back home after the behavioral problems have subsided, as it is likely that the cockatoo will relapse if it is taken back to a small cage without other cockatoos.

If the pet owners are very dedicated to the well being of the cockatoo, they could keep it and make changes to make the cockatoos live better. The first step is to get a huge cage, basically an aviary. The aviary can be indoors or outdoors (when outdoors it needs to be fitted with an additional indoor area) but it will need to be big. The space allows the cockatoo to move around, spread its wings and allows for more toys and tree branches inside. The next step is to get a lot of toys for the cockatoo. For the rest the cockatoo needs a lot of attention, it needs to be played with and socialized with. It needs to be a part of the family. Or it needs to get a suitable friend or mate of the same species. It can be difficult to get a mate or friend that is suitable, but it is the best thing for the cockatoo. It will have a companion for the whole day and night, something people cannot provide it.

You can read the article about feather plucking and self harm here. It also explains some of the factors behind that behavioral problem.