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Avian Medicine List:
Basic Information Sheet for the Cockatoo

Cockatoo – Cacatuidae


Shown here, Moluccan cockatoo
(Cacatua moluccensis)

Click image to enlarge

Natural history

Cockatoos originate from the Indonesian Islands, Australia, and New Guinea, depending on the species.  Habitats range from woodlands and open forest to coastal plains. Cockatoos are listed in Appendix I of the CITES list. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction, and commercial trade is prohibited and importation/exportation for scientific research requires special permits.

Taxonomy

Class Aves

Order Psittaciformes

Family Cacatuidae

Cacatua moluccensis – Moluccan or salmon-crested cockatoo
Cacatua alba – Umbrella or white-crested cockatoo
Cacatua galerita –Greater sulfur-crested cockatoo
Cacatua sulphurea –Lesser sulfur-crested cockatoo

Species

There are 18 species of cockatoos in 6 genera. The most common pet cockatoos are the umbrella, sulphur-crested, lesser sulphur-crested and Moluccan cockatoo.

Physical description
  • Cockatoos are medium to large-sized parrots with thick, heavy bills that range from 12-28 in (30-70 cm) in length.
  • Cockatoos have an erectile crest that rises when the bird is threatened, excited, angry or ready to play.
  • White is most the common color. Some species may have orange, pink or yellow, while grey or black coloring is more rare.
  • Thee Umbrella cockatoo has a distinct white crest that rises like an umbrella, which differentiates it from the other white cockatoos.
Sexual dimorphism

The male cockatoo has a black or dark brown iris while the female typically has a light brown or red-brown iris.

Diet
  • Dietary strategies vary among species ranging from omnivore to granivore. The diet of free-ranging birds may include fruits, seeds, insects and insect larvae, and flowers. Unlike most parrots, some cockatoos will eat the outer fleshy part of fruit.
  • Black cockatoos need more fat in their diet.
  • ince psittacines hull seeds before ingestion, they do not require grit. In fact, some individuals will overeat grit when ill putting them at risk for impaction.
  • ll-seed diets are deficient in protein, vitamins, and minerals including calcium and vitamin A.
Husbandry
  • Large cockatoos require tall, roomy cages that are strong and securely welded with adequate door and feeder locks.
  • Cage bar spacing should range from 0.5-0.75 in (1.3-1.9 cm) with a perch diameter of 0.75-2 in (1.9-5 cm), depending on species.
  • Provide frequent water baths or showers to maintain normal skin/feather quality and to manage the large amounts of powder dust produced by many cockatoo
Behavior
  • Cockatoos have an erectile crest they will raise when threatened, excited, angry or ready to play.
  • Moluccan cockatoos can be extremely noisy and will scream out seemingly at random.
  • Cokatoos are very social and extremely sensitive. These species are at increased risk for feather destructive behavior and self-mutilation.
  • Foraging is an important part of normal daily parrot activity. Teach and encourage pet birds to play and forage.
Normal physiologic values

Temperature (average)*

41.2 C

106.2 F

 

40-50

200 g bird = 178
Heart rate (beats/min) Variable 500 g bird = 147
    1000 g bird = 127

 

 

 

Respiration (breaths/min)

15-40

 
Body weight (g) Greater Sulfur-crested 880g
  Moluccan 700-100 (850g)
  Umbrella 400-700 (440g)
  Citron-crested (Cacatua sulphurea sulphurea) 360-425 (350g)
  Goffin’s (Cacatua goffini) 220-390 (350g)
Mean life span General 30-45 years
  Moluccan Up to 70 years
Sexual maturity Medium Cockatoos 3-4 years
  Large Cockatoos 5-6 years
Mean number of incubation days General 23-30
 

Moluccan

29.3

 

Rose-breasted

21.9

Average number of eggs laid 3-4

Smaller species may lay up to 7 eggs.

Weaning age (days)

Medium cockatoos

90-120 – Parent-raised
  Large cockatoos 120-150 – Parent-raised
Water intake High individual variability  
Target environmental temperature Mimic natural environment. Household temperatures of 70-80°F (21-27°C) are generally acceptable, however healthy birds can tolerate hot and cold temperatures.
     

* Routine avian exam does not include measuring body temperature

Anatomy and physiology
  • Cockatoos often have more fat in their subcutaneous layer than other parrots.
  • The umbrella cockatoo produces a substantial amount of powder down.
  • Powder down feathers are obvious in white cockatoos and can be found in patches underneath the wings compared to the scattered powder down feathers of other parrots.
  • Unlike most parrots, cockatoos have a gall bladder.
  • The male iris is black or dark brown, while females have a light brown or red-brown iris. Immature cockatoos have a pale grey iris.
  • Anatomic traits of Order Psittaciformes include:
    • Communication of the right and left nasal sinus
    • The only avian tongue with intrinsic muscles
    • Simply syrinx
    • Craniofacial hinge of beak is a synovial joint
    • Ceca absent
    • Zygodactyl foot: two toes pointed backward and two pointed forward
Restraint
  • Large cockatoos may be restrained by holding the thumb and forefinger under the mandible and securing the outer wing with the remaining three fingers. Use the opposite hand to hold the feet.
  • Restrain smaller species by holding the head between the index and middle fingers. Support the body with the thumb and little finger.
  • Even brief restraint of a cockatoo, should leave powder down on one’s hands and clothes. Absence of powder down can be an early sign of feather dysplasia seen with clinically significant conditions such as Psittacine beak and feather disease.
Venipuncture

Using a 26-gauge needle and 3mL syringe, draw blood from right jugular vein. Up to 1% of body weight is acceptable.

Preventative Medicine
  • Obtain a complete history and perform a thorough annual physical examination.
  • Establish baseline data with regular clinical testing (complete blood count, protein electrophoresis, and plasma biochemistries.
  • Ensure proper nutrition and husbandry.
  • Recommend quarantine of newly acquired birds.
  • Perform additional testing for select diseases based on history and physical exam findings: avian polyoma virus, psittacosis.
  • Determine the origin and history of newly acquired sick birds to contain and prevent further spread of disease.
  • Birds housed in large groups or aviaries are at higher risk of Pacheco’s disease virus and use of the vaccine may be indicated.
  • The avian polyoma virus vaccine is recommended for breeding populations.
Injections

Intramuscular (IM)

Reasonably safe, most accurate.
Inject middle of muscle mass.

Ideal location –Pectoral muscle mass

Subcutaneous (SQ)

Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption.

Location:  Inguinal or precrural fold

Intravenous

Effective, narrow safety range.

Right jugular vein or brachial vein is most commonly used.
Alternative option: superficial metatarsal vein.

Important medical conditions

Infectious Diseases

  • Herpesvirus
  • Avian bornavirus infection (proventricular dilitation disease)
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD)
  • (Sarcocystis in aviary birds)

Non-Infectious conditions

  • Aggression in breeding pairs
  • Beak malocclusion
  • Feather destructive behavior and self-mutilation
References

Beynon P (ed). BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996. 7-9, 37. Print.

Carpenter J (ed). Exotic Animal Formulary. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO; Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 278-279.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Appendices I, II, and III. Valid from Apr 27, 2011. Available at: http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php. Accessed June 8, 2011.

Finkelstein A. Normal cloacal temperatures in multiple avian species. Proc Annu Conf Assoc Avian Vet;  2004. P. 383.

Doneley B, Harrison GJ, Lightfoot TL. Maximizing information from the physical examination. In: Harrison GJ, Lightfoot TL (eds). Clinical Avian Medicine. Palm Beach, FL: Spix Publishing; 2006.  P. 173.

Harcourt-Brown N, Chitty J (eds).  BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds, 2nd ed. Quedgeley, Glouchester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2005. Pp. 1, 5, 27. 

Harrison GJ, Harrison LR. Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, Appendix 4, Philadelphia; W.B. Saunders; 1986. P.662.
Koustos EA, Matson KD, Klasing KC. Nutrition of birds in the order Psittaciformes: a review. J Avian Med Surg15(4):257-275, 2001.

Lafeber Company. The Cockatoo Parrot. Lafeber Pet Birds Web site. Available at: http://lafeber.com/pet-birds/species/cockatoo/. Accessed May 16, 2011.

Low R. Parrots in aviculture: A photoreference guide. Pickering, Ontario; Silvio Mattachione & Co; 1992. P. 82.

Morgan D. Bird Care. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications; 2005. Pp. 15-16, 17-18.

O’Malley B. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Edinburgh: Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 156-157.

Tully TN. Birds. In: Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. Pp. 256, 262, 276.

Tully TN, Lawton MPC, Dorrestein GM. Avian Medicine. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000. Pp. 26-34, 43-51, 113.