Umbrella Cockatoo (White Cockatoo): Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

White umbrella cockatoo with its foot raised.

Arthur Morris / Getty Images

Umbrella cockatoos are popular for doing tricks, making them delightfully entertaining companions for bird lovers. A sweet-natured species, umbrella cockatoos can be overly affectionate—bordering on obsessive—with their caretakers. These birds may require more attention and care than many other species, but they make up for it with their comical charm. Just as with any bird, however, prospective owners should be sure that they can meet the needs of an umbrella cockatoo before acquiring one.

Species 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 originally hail from the Maluku Islands in the central and northern parts of the archipelago. They are now commonly found throughout all Indonesia.

You can find these birds 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. Due to the transition of their native lands to farmland, the birds pick at crops and farmers consider them a nuisance. The umbrella cockatoo species population is declining due to a loss of its habitat, hunters, and trappers. Vulnerable to endangerment, umbrella cockatoos are now a protected species.

Temperament

Umbrella cockatoos are gentle, docile, and sweet-tempered by nature, making them well suited to be companion birds. In the wild, umbrella cockatoos mate for life. They form a very close bond with their mate, possibly more than other species of cockatoos. They will join small flocks of umbrella cockatoos and are rarely apart from their mate. If a mated pair is separated, it is not uncommon for each of the birds to become genuinely depressed.

Rarely aggressive, they will quickly form strong bonds with their caretakers. These affectionate birds love to cuddle with their person, bird, or even object of choice. Equally loving and devoted owners are a good match for these parrots. This species begs to be spoiled, so plan on at least one to two hours of training, attention, and enrichment per day.

Umbrellas are very social and intelligent. They are capable of learning and performing a wide variety of tricks. Easily trainable, they are often featured as the star of bird shows. Short, daily training sessions yield the best results. To prevent your bird from becoming bored, have an arsenal of safe bird toys at your disposal. This species is not known for its mimicry of human speech, but it does screech loudly to vocalize its displeasure or excitement.

Speech and Vocalizations

While the occasional cockatoo can imitate human speech, in general, these birds are not good talkers or imitators of sound. They have a loud, grating screech or scream and may hiss when alarmed. In the wild, their loud vocalizations were used for communication and could carry over long distances.

In captivity, they often use loud squawks to call for attention. For this reason, umbrella cockatoos may not be the best choice for those who live in apartments or condos or anyone with close neighbors.

Umbrella Cockatoo Colors and Markings

Umbrella cockatoos are primarily white with a pure white crest. When courting a mate, agitated, excited, scared, or even just frustrated, its crest will raise into an impressive umbrella-like fan. 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 also a good warning sign that the bird may bite if approached.

The underside of their wing and tail feathers are a pale yellow color that looks beautiful when in flight.

Although the coloring of males and females is mostly the same, males are distinctly larger. Males have broader heads and larger beaks. Umbrella cockatoos have black beaks and gray or black feet. Some exhibit a tinge of light blue in the rings around their eyes. The irises of males are usually dark brown, appearing nearly black. A mature female usually has reddish-brown irises.

Caring for the Umbrella Cockatoo

Umbrella cockatoos are large birds that need a large cage and play area. Get an enclosure that is as large as possible since these birds do not enjoy containment. This species may act out or become very unhappy in a tight space, which can lead to self-mutilation or illness.

Diurnal birds, umbrella cockatoos require uninterrupted sleep every night for 10 to 12 hours. Good sleep is essential for maintaining their health and well being.

Cockatoos have a powdery down. Bathe the bird regularly to reduce this naturally emitted dusty substance.

Common Health Problems

Umbrella cockatoos may pick at or pull out their feathers if they get depressed or need mental stimulation. They are prone to psittacine beak and feather disease, which is a deadly virus. Also, if they are fed diets that are too high in fat, they can acquire fatty liver disease and get obese.

Diet and Nutrition

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 standard favorites in their diet.

As a pet, about 80 percent of their diet should be a formulated pelleted diet. The rest of their food 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 are great dietary choices for this species. Fresh water should be available at all times.

On occasion, feed them healthy nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. You can also offer healthy seeds like hemp, milk thistle, or flaxseed as treats.

Exercise

Umbrella cockatoos are active birds. Like all parrots, they need to spend at least two hours out of their cage each day for play and exercise. Provide your bird several chewable bird toys to exercise the bird's powerful beak. Rotate the toys occasionally to prevent boredom. Toys are helpful for exercise, as well as stimulation and enrichment. You can teach your cockatoo to play games like catch on the floor with a whiffle ball. Structured playtime is essential for bonding and allowing the bird to stretch their muscles.

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

Pros

  • Social and affectionate

  • Intelligent, can be easily trained to do tricks and play games

Cons

  • Can be loud and not well-suited for apartments

  • Can be more dependent on their owners than other birds

  • Need a lot of space and time out of the cage

Where to Adopt or Buy an Umbrella Cockatoo

Umbrella cockatoos are one of the most common types of cockatoos owned in the U.S. Since these parrots' needs tend to be demanding, rescue organizations are full of unwanted cockatoos. It is not unusual for an umbrella cockatoo to go to its second home by the time it is 3 years old. To rescue one, contact the Center for Avian Rescue, Adoption, and Education, which maintains a directory of reputable bird rescues throughout the U.S.

Pricing from a breeder can range from $1,000 to $4,000. For a listing of reputable cockatoo breeders, reach out to the Beauty of Birds. If you're going the breeder route, probe the breeder. Ask how long they have been breeding and working with the species you're interested in and tour their facility. When perusing their inventory, looks for signs of good overall health of the flock. The birds should be active and alert with bright eyes, clean feathers, and full crops.

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