Why Do Cockatoos NEED To Be Cuddled? – A Theory

Why Do Cockatoos NEED To Be Cuddled? – A Theory

 October 15th, 2012
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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 on “Why Do Cockatoos NEED To Be Cuddled? – A Theory”

Fancy fearhers  10/15/2012 11:36 am

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”

catherine crowley  10/21/2012 7:55 am

I have had lorikeets and budgies at some time all my life and i have now taken on the responsibility of a Corella. Her name is Sophie and she was caught as a fledgling with not too much trust of humans. It is 3 1/2 months since i bought her and just the last 2 weeks i believe she is trusting me.Every day i spend time with her. She loves to sit on the back of a chair next to my computer shredding up an old cotton towel. It keeps her happy and safely occupied while i spend time each day on the pc. She wouldnt let me touch her for weeks – now she holds out her claw to be held and steps up without fear. It may take another 6 months to get to the cuddling stage. she now allows me to pat her back and chest. Time and patience … I am finding it very exciting to earn an almost ‘wild bird’s ‘ trust.

Jeff Evans  10/21/2012 8:22 am

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.

Kim  10/21/2012 8:25 am

OMG…my Moluccan was a rescue and he used to BITE..after I learned to wrap him in a towel.. Then finally slide him next to me… Plus not reacting to the bite… After three trips to have my hand sutured..
He stopped biting me!!!i still have to watch his body language and his little brown eyes.. But now after 7 years I can predict and save myself the pain.. He was in such back state when I got him it is hard to believe he is the cuddle bug I spend hours with today…

Nicki Skipper  10/21/2012 10:02 am

Very interesting to read these comments. I have a 12-ish year-old Goffin ‘too (Fergus) that has lived with me for 2 years. I have 2 conures and was interested in a larger bird, and when I saw an ad that he was up for adoption I went to meet him. The first thing he did was bite me, but I couldn’t leave him where he was…he was in a ditry cage with no toys packed onto a porch with dozens of other birds. The owner told me when she adopted him (the previous year) he bit her husband and had not been out of the cage since. She knew very little about his past, only that he had been in at least 5 homes prior to her meeting him. Knowing I was probably biting off way more than I could chew (and going to get bitten again in the process), I took Fergie home with me. It has been a struggle in many ways, as he does enjoy screaming and is still somewhat unpredictable. Most of the time he is friendly and playful and cuddly but he still bites sometimes, and it’s not always in the same or similar situations…sometimes it seems completely random. Anyway, after biting me a couple of times during his first day with me, he “stepped up” and immediately leaned against my chest and cuddled. I was very surprised at this, given that he hadn’t had any freedom or human contact in at least a year, and never been in a home long enough to really bond with anyone. Regardless, from day one, he has been a cuddler, and continues to enjoy our cuddle time immensely (as do I).

Carolyn Herr [Nanny]  10/21/2012 11:19 am

my G2 , Schotzy , loves cuddling and had to stay on me at least 12 hours a day for the first 3 years..we rescued her from a breeder who had isolated her in a shoe box at 6 weeks…she didn’t like this bird for some reason….I syringe fed her for almost a year anytime she wanted it and she eats all her meals at the table with us as do our African Grey and Amazon Orange wing…Schotzy at 5 has learned to entertain himself for long periods and is content with ambiant attention while I work in the room but is on me as often as he can otherwise…we have perches in every room and they are allowed free rein of the house during the day…I love my velcro bird!!!!

Snuttles’ Hut  10/21/2012 11:57 am

My late night rescue, Wally is such a sweetie to everybody but one person. Although he is not a really cuddly bird, he loves his scritches and his attention. He is a prolific talker and he’s learning how to sing. He certainly loves his music, especially ABBA and Air Supply.
When I was rearranging the room where my birds are kept, he did bite me, just enough to draw a little bit of blood, but that was the only time he’d ever bitten me.
I brought a co-worker home one day, and he was like something from out of a scene from the movie “The Birds” with her. He’d step up onto her arm, and proceed to attack her face. She thought that he was playing, but I know better.
The people who had him and raised him did a wonderful job, and it is obvious that he ws very much loved and well taken care of, but upon a break up of the couple, the ex-husband dropped the bird off with someone who had a pack of Pugs that were known bird killers. The bird had been dropped off with no cage or food, so I got a call to go and pick him up. From the first moment he saw me, he looked at me and said, no, yelled out “I love you. I’m Wally and I’m a Cockatoo”.
He settled right in to my home, and I do believe he loves me to no end. He’s a picky, but eager eater and he enjoys it when I eat in the bird room (as all of my birds do) at meal time.
One day my daughter was over visiting and I had Wally out on his T-perch. He looked at her, flapped his wings and did the Cockatoo screech, and flew right to her. He did this three times in a half an hour period, so I know he was telling us that he wanted HER attention and love.
Wally is absolutely a delight to have here, and I have turned down so many offers to adopt him out. I know that the average Cockatoo goes through about 6 homes in its lifetime, mainly because of the noise issue and the amount of time that needs to be spent with them, and Wally is in his second home. The buck stops here. He will not be placed into any other home as long as my health allows and I am alive.
He is the sweetest bird that I have ever known and I am proud to say that I am owned by a Cockatoo, among other birds.

A Robinson  10/21/2012 12:36 pm

Humans are not predators in any sense of the word. Humans are scavengers. Even a small, little, true predator, like a 40 pound dog, can easily take down a big 200 pound man. “Man the noble hunter” is a conceited lie.

Marsha Matto  10/21/2012 6:10 pm

I even find that my cockatoo wants softened food, like when I used to feed her warm formula! Freedom my cockatoo also loves to lay under the covers with my and watch a movie. Love her !

Carol Burlar  10/22/2012 3:08 am

My cockatoo was a rescue at 15 he’s never been handled and dislikes men ..I have him trusting me enough to scratch his head and give me kisses but he refuses to allow me to get him on my hand …but his problem he has is chewing his perches up ..I can not get him to stop and I need to know if there is something safe I can rub on his perch to stop this ..not knowing what this bird has been through in life before I rescued him ,I’m sure it’s a nervous habit he hasn’t been hand tamed as yet but I have him saying several things ..I’m taking my time with him and really don’t want to push too hard not knowing what the 15yrs were like for him before but I’ve gone through so many wooden perches I’m at my witts end he has plenty of toys bells and keys that I strung to keep him busy….he seems to do this at night ..I’d like some hints on what to do
Carol Burlar Cburlar@hotmail.com

Leslie  10/22/2012 10:56 pm

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.

Dolores Allen  10/23/2012 3:02 pm

My boy Dewey, a goffin, exhibits needy behaviors. He would be happiest hanging out with me all day. Like a toddler, he shrieks when I’m on the phone or demands attention when he hears me talking with others. He, too, cuddles and likes to get under my throw blanket, my jacket–whatever is close to me. But, he’s perfect at night. He tells me “nite-nite” and I cover him and not a peep till morning. Love that bird!!!

Christine Brosseau  10/23/2012 8:47 pm

My 50 plus year old cockatoo Sputnik Umbrella cockatoo is the most demanding when it comes to cuddling. He really enjoys being spoon fed. He even likes when I hold his small mealworms between my finger and thumb for him to eat. My grey and amazon are much more independent. My grey likes personal time spent working as a team (him and I alone) on puzzle games to earn almonds. My amazon is the comedian will talk and sing for attention. Sputnik likes to be rocked to sleep while I watch tv. He comes down off his cage says Hello followed by I Love You. Then climbs the lazy boy chair where I sit and rock and says Hello. Then I let him climb on my chestand wrap him in a baby sleeper blanket and do low awwwwwwwwe sounds. It’s very relaxing for the both of us. He hangs on so tight and falls asleep. He occasionally wakes to check if I’m still there. About 20 to 30 minutes later he wants to go to his bedtime cage. Yes he has a daytime cage and play gym and a bedtime cage. He also snuggles during severe thunderstorms.
I’ve had him for 5 years now but the cockatoo has known me for ever. He is a retired pet store bird. He suffered many years of neglect. I had been visiting him since I was a little girl now 36 years old. His previous owner got him when he was 16 years old got named (Sputnik) and he is 60 years old. He also had 2 previous owners before the pet store owner. We figure he is at least 50 years old.

Susan Adamczyk  10/25/2012 8:17 pm

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.

Ron Munterich  10/27/2012 5:26 pm

I have had the pleasure of having an Umbrella Cockatoo for 11 years. I acquired her because when I was researching parrots I came accross this comment: Umbrellas like three things, to be petted, to be petted & to be petted. Wow! A dog with feathers. She, Laela, was only six weeks old when I brought her home. We played, hugged, cuddled and of course petted. Unfortunately, upon sexual maturity, Laela considered the attention as sexual. She started prolapseing. All available surgeries have been performed. Starting with the simplest up to vent reconstrction (twice). None of the surgeries proved to be successful for more than a couple of months. Hormone injections as well as a hormone implant also did not stop the prolapseing. I love her so much that money was secondary to making her healthy again. I spent over $4000 for her treatment.She was nine years old and I did not know what to do to help my sweet Laela. I had stopped petting, hugging & cuddleing her for a year. She still kept prolapseing. In desparation and with great sadness, I gave her to a friend that runs a rescue in hope that she would stop prolapseing and her body would heal. She still prolapes anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks after sutureing. I have since been told that Umbrella Cockatoos are extremely suceptable to prolapseing especially when given physical attention. None of the other comments mention having any problem with their Cockatoos prolapseing. I hope that no one else has to experience the horrible situation that myself & Laela have had to indure. Not only do I miss her, but I feel terribly depressed that my affection caused her physical harm.

Rebecca  07/02/2013 4:34 am

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 .