Major Mitchell's (Leadbeater's) Cockatoo: Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

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Major Mitchell's cockatoos are beautiful salmon-pink, medium-sized cockatoos that are smart and social. These birds bond strongly with their keepers and have a reputation for being one-person birds. Because they require so much attention, experienced bird owners who are familiar with keeping large parrots are a better match for these birds.

Species Overview

Common Names: Major Mitchell's cockatoo, Leadbeater's cockatoo, pink cockatoo, desert cockatoo, wee juggler, cocklerina, chockalott

Scientific Name: Cavatua Lophocroa leadbeateri

Adult Size: 13 to 15 inches in length

Life Expectancy: 40 to 60 years in the wild; up to 80 years in captivity

Origin and History

The Major Mitchell's cockatoo is native to inland Australia. These birds nest in pairs in woodlands and treeless areas, always near water. They can become nomadic during dry periods. They tend not to nest near other pairs, which means they require a large territory. However, they do often hang around galah cockatoos, another Australian native. The wild population of Major Mitchell's cockatoos are dwindling due to human development of the their native habitat.

Named for Major Sir Thomas Mitchell, an explorer and surveyor of Australia and admirer of the species, its scientific name "leadbeateri" commemorates ornithologist Benjamin Leadbeater. Leadbeater was a London-based natural history merchant who supplied specimens to the British Museum.

Temperament

A high-maintenance species, this bird requires daily socialization and interaction with its owner to maintain good emotional health. This species has a natural tendency to form a tightly-knit bond for life. As its keeper, you will become its bonded mate. This bird is funny and energetic, as well as cuddly and affectionate.

Major Mitchell's can be temperamental. This bird is sensitive to the absence of its bonded human. Your bird might even shun you after taking a short vacation. It can take some time to earn back the bird's trust. Neglected cockatoos may resort to destructive behaviors, such as self-mutilation, chewing on wires, and destroying furniture.

Since they tend to bond with one person, Major Mitchell's cockatoos can show signs of jealousy when their owners interact with other people. They may try to nip or bite the other people to show their irritation. This is a significant reason why this bird is not a good pet for families with small children.

These birds are brilliant and can be taught tricks like dancing or playing hide and seek. Some learn to speak, or can at least whistle to get their owner's attention. They can hit some pretty high notes and have a natural alarm call designed to be heard for miles in the wild.

Speech and Vocalizations

In general, cockatoos can be loud and incessant talkers. The Major Mitchell's species is noticeably quieter and more prone to natural calls. They can be taught to say a few basic words and can mimic whistles or alarms. Their natural calls are not too loud; they make exotic chirps and high pitched alarm calls. Thus, they probably aren't suited to live in apartments or other close quarters with nearby neighbors.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo Colors and Markings

The Major Mitchell's species is the only cockatoo to have a multi-colored crest. When extended, you'll see bright pink and yellow-orange feathers with white at the tips.

The colorful Major Mitchell's cockatoo is primarily pinkish-white and very easy to recognize. These flashy birds have broad pink patches around the neck and on the underbelly. They often have bold pink under their white-tipped wings. 

The males tend to be brighter than the females, though the females have more orange in their crest. While males have brown eyes, females usually have reddish-pink eyes. Both sexes have gray feet and horn-colored beaks. 

Caring for Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

While it can be tempting to rush out and buy one of these beautiful birds, Major Mitchell's cockatoos need specialized care and environments that not all bird owners can accommodate. It is best if they live in a walk-in cage (5-feet high) that is at least 4-feet in long. This allows the large bird plenty of room to move.

These birds are moderately strong chewers and can break welds on poorly constructed cages. Many can open cage latches, so locks or escape-proof latches may be necessary.

Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun. Do not clip the wing feathers excessively. Clip only the primary flight feathers and only enough so the bird will glide to the floor.

Common Health Problems

In general, this species is a long-lived, hardy cockatoo. It is a sensitive bird. If the cockatoo perceives its bonded human is neglecting it, it is prone to depression. This may cause it to self-mutilate and feather-pluck, which can cause a skin infection.

If this bird acquires sarcocystis, a parasitic muscle tumor, it is fatal. Major Mitchell's are susceptible to several avian diseases like psittacine beak and feather disease, bacterial infections, fungal infections, and metal toxicity.

Diet and Nutrition

In the wild, this cockatoo eats mainly seeds from melons, weeds, and pine trees; cereal grains; and insect larvae.

Like all cockatoos, Major Mitchell's are prone to obesity. When young, cockatoos are notoriously picky eaters and don’t seem to need much food to maintain themselves. As they age, however, they tend to put on weight. Monitor its fat intake.

High-quality pellets, a moderate amount of seed mix, and daily helpings of fresh, thoroughly washed bird-safe fruits and vegetables are the ideal diet for these birds. They tend to enjoy green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard as well as carrots, celery, corn, green beans, and zucchini. Many also enjoy nuts, including hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts.

Feed approximately 1/4 cup of formulated diet and 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. If the bird consumes all of its food, add small amounts as desired. Treats such as seeds, nuts, and table foods may be given in small quantities, especially as rewards for good behavior.

Exercise

Just like its fellow members of the parrot family, Major Mitchell's cockatoos are active birds that need plenty of exercise to maintain their physical condition. They need a minimum of three to four hours outside of the cage every day to stretch their wings.

Provide your Major Mitchell's cockatoo with safe chew toys to exercise their beaks. These birds chew wood to make nests in the wild and will display that same behavior in captivity if they get bored or restless.

Regularly give your bird untreated elder, fir, pine, or willow wood pieces or toys. Leather toys and even heat-sterilized pine cones are other good options. Since these cockatoos appreciate water play, a watering bowl or spray-misting will be appreciated by your pet and fulfills some of its activity requirements.

Pros
  • Strikingly beautiful crest; unique looking species

  • Intelligent, can be taught tricks and to speak

  • Can have a playful and loving personality

Cons
  • Can get jealous of others around its bonded human; not good around small children

  • Can get loud and noisy (although quieter than other cockatoos)

  • Requires 3 to 4 hours of daily exercise time

Where to Adopt or Buy a Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

Major Mitchell's cockatoos are usually sold by breeders and can be found at rescues or through adoption agencies. They can cost $4,000 to $10,000, depending on the temperament of the bird, its age, and if the bird is hand-raised. To find available birds, some online sources you can try include:

If you're going the breeder route, ask the breeder long they have been breeding and working with the species. If you can, tour their facility. Look for signs of good overall health of the flock. The birds should be active and alert with bright eyes, clean feathers, and full crops.

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

If the Major Mitchell's cockatoo is a species that interests you, you might want to consider one of these other cockatoo species, as well: 

Otherwise, check out our profiles of other large bird species.