Umbrella Cockatoo

Intelligent Birds That Need Caring Owners

White umbrella cockatoo with its foot raised.

Arthur Morris / Getty Images

Umbrella cockatoos are magnificent birds and keeping one as a pet means you may have found the best-feathered friend you could hope for. They are beyond affectionate—bordering on obsessive—with their caretakers, though they do require more attention and care than many other species.

You can teach these birds to do tricks and mimic speech, making them delightfully entertaining companions for bird lovers both young and old. It's no wonder these big white parrots are so popular. Their comical charms will steal your heart and they will never let you forget that they're around.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Umbrella cockatoo, white cockatoo, white-crested cockatoo

Scientific Name: Cacatua alba

Adult Size: 18 to 24 inches in length

Life Expectancy: 70 or 80 years or more in captivity with proper care

Origin and History

Umbrella cockatoos are native to the tropics of Indonesia. These birds were originally found on the Maluku Islands in the central and northern parts of the archipelago, though they have been introduced to a number of the other islands over the years.

These birds are often found in forests, mangroves, swamps, and open woodlands. They enjoy living along rivers and the edges of clearings and farmland, which provide a bounty of food. In some areas, they're seen as a nuisance to farmers, especially those growing corn.

Possibly more so than other cockatoos, umbrellas form a very close bond once they find their lifelong mate. Rarely will they be apart from one another, though they will join small groups with other umbrellas. When one bird of a pair is lost, it is not uncommon for the survivor to become genuinely depressed.

In the wild, umbrella cockatoos are a vulnerable species and they are protected, so it is illegal to trap them for the pet trade. Their populations are declining for a variety of reasons, including a loss of habitat, hunting, and trapping.


Umbrella cockatoos are gentle, docile, and sweet-tempered by nature, making them well suited to be companion birds. They are very rarely aggressive and will quickly form strong bonds with their caretakers.

These birds are some of the most affectionate you will find, a trait they carry over from the wild. They love to cuddle with their person, bird, or even object of choice. Whoever or whatever they pair up with, umbrellas will cling to it and be very disappointed when the two become separated. 

Colors and Markings

Umbrella cockatoos are primarily white. The underside of their wing and tail feathers have a pale yellow color that makes a beautiful spectacle when in flight.

Most notable on this bird is the pure white crest. When courting a mate, agitated, excited, scared, or even just frustrated, the crest will raise into a large umbrella-like fan that is simply stunning. It can also be a peculiar way to express curiosity at something new and, quite often, is a warning that the bird wants to be left alone. It's a good sign that the bird may bite if approached.

These cockatoos have black beaks and gray or black feet. Some exhibit a tinge of light blue in the rings around their eyes.

Caring Tips

The vast majority of hand-fed umbrella cockatoos make extremely sweet, charming, intelligent, and well-behaved pets. Just as with any bird, however, prospective owners should be sure that they can meet the needs of an umbrella before rushing out and acquiring one.

Umbrella cockatoos are large birds and they need a large cage and area to play in. It's best to go as large as possible because these birds do not enjoy containment. They may act out or become very unhappy in a tight space and this can lead to self-mutilation and infection.

These cockatoos can also be quite loud when they decide to be. This may happen when they want attention or feel neglected and they can produce a call that can be heard for very long distances. For this reason, an umbrella may not be the best choice for those who live in apartments or condos or anyone with close neighbors.

Umbrellas require a sound, uninterrupted sleep every night of 10 to 12 hours. It is a very important part of maintaining their health and well being. You will also want to bathe the bird regularly to reduce the powdered dust they emit naturally.

Umbrellas are very social and intelligent, so their brains need stimulation daily. A properly prepared cockatoo owner will have an arsenal of safe bird toys at their disposal and be able to devote a minimum of one to two hours a day to socialize with their pet.

Most cockatoos thrive on being handled, loved, and petted, so equally affectionate and devoted owners are a good match for these parrots. It is a bird that begs to be spoiled, and it requires a lot of time for training, attention, and enrichment to maintain a healthy relationship.

Feeding Care

Like all large parrots, umbrella cockatoos are big eaters. In the wild, they spend most of the day looking for food. Seeds, nuts, coconuts, and grain in farmer's fields are common to their diet.

As a pet, the ideal diet for this cockatoo should consist of a wide variety of vegetables including leafy greens and root vegetables. High-quality grains such as quinoa and other ancient grains, fresh sprouts, and fresh fruit will do these birds well.

On occasion, they can be fed healthy nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. Healthy seeds such as hemp, milk thistle, or flaxseed can also be offered occasionally.

This diet should be supplemented with a high-quality formulated pelted diet. Make sure fresh water is available at all times.


Umbrella cockatoos are active birds. Like all parrots, they need ample time out of their cage each day for play and exercise. The strong beak of the umbrella cockatoo must be exercised as well. You must provide your bird with several chewable bird toys. Rotate the toys every once in a while to provide something new to play with and prevent boredom.

Toys provide exercise, stimulation, and enrichment and are an important part of the bird's training. You can teach your cockatoo to play games such as catch on the floor with a whiffle ball, for instance. These structured playtimes are essential for bonding and allow the bird to stretch their muscles.

To encourage and increase activity within the enclosure, add plenty of ladders and swings. These are wonderful additions to the environment that will allow your cockatoo to move about and burn off energy in a positive way.