The beautiful Umbrella Cockatoo, also sometimes referred to as the White Cockatoo, is a medium sized cockatoo weighing between 500 – 700grams and measuring 43-48cm. They are large parrots with impressive white plumage. They have been named due to their impressive, broad, backward bending crest, which opens and fans out like an umbrella. When their crest is lowered, the feathers neatly fold back over their head and the crest is hardly even visible. Of all the cockatoos, the Umbrella and the Moluccan have the largest and fullest crests.
As attractive as the cockatoo crests are, their major purpose is communication. A raised crest can indicate that a cockatoo is displaying for its mate; defending its territory or its flock, calling its flock members; or a cockatoo may be expressing curiosity, excitement, surprise, fear or frustration. For those approaching a cockatoo a raised crest may be a warning not to touch them or else risk being bitten.
A lowered crest can indicate calmness, friendliness and general approachability.
There are some pale yellow / lemon coloured feathers on the underside of the wings and tail, which flash when they fly. When sexually mature there are a few features which can help to determine sex. Both males and females have pale blue eye-rings, but males have dark brown eyes, while females have reddish eyes. The female also tends to have a smaller head and beak than the male. Juveniles of both sexes will have brown eyes. The sex of breeders should be confirmed by DNA sexing.
The Umbrella Cockatoo is endemic to the islands of Central and Northern Moluccas in Indonesia. Within their natural range, they are found at elevations of 300 to 900m in a variety of habitats. They inhabit lowland forests, especially mature canopy forests along rivers. They also frequent cleared lands. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. Wild cockatoos feed on nuts, seeds, berries and insects. Umbrella Cockatoos, like all the other species of cockatoos, are important for the dispersal of seeds, which has important consequences for the ecology and evolution of plants.
Umbrella Cockatoos can be very long lived and a few individuals in zoos have lived up to 50-60 years. Precise data on life span of the average Umbrella cockatoo is poorly documented, however most Umbrellas do not live as long as possible. Birds often succumb to disease or injury rather than living their potential lifespan.
Breeding age can be as young as 3 years, however hand-reared birds may not begin breeding before they are 6 to 8 years old. Breeding life span is not precisely known but is possibly up to 30+ years.
Umbrella cockatoos are affectionate and highly intelligent birds. They are excellent companion birds for those who want a charming, loving bird that likes to cuddle. Umbrellas tend to be very demanding of attention and if they are deprived of attention can become very noisy and destructive or turn to plucking or self-mutilation behaviour. Imprinted cockatoos may become possessive of their owners. This possessive behaviour can lead to unpredictable or aggressive behaviour towards other people, especially as the bird reaches sexual maturity. Mature birds may scream more intensely and loudly (calling for a mate) and screaming is often intensified during the breeding season.
While Umbrellas will occasionally speak, they are not known for their ability to mimic. They are however very vocal and many birds lose their home due to loud screaming. This behaviour is often learned when young birds hear the morning or afternoon screaming of another cockatoo.
In their natural habitat Umbrella Cockatoos only breed once a year – usually between December and March, when vegetation growth is at its peak and food is readily available.
Courtship and Mating
As part of the courtship behaviour, the male ruffles his feathers, spreads his tail feathers, extends his wings, and erects his crest. He then bounces about. Initially, the female ignores or avoids him, but – provided he meets her approval – will eventually allow him to approach her.
If his efforts are successful and he is accepted, the pair will be seen preening each other’s heads and scratching each other around the tail. These actions serve to strengthen their pair bond. Eventually, the male mounts the female and performs the actual act of mating by joining of the cloacae. For bonded pairs, this mating ritual is much shorter and the female may even approach the male. Once they are ready for nesting, breeding pairs separate from their groups and search for a suitable nest cavity (usually in trees).
Cockatoos form a close bond that lasts for a lifetime. If they are separated, they may slip into a deep depression. In absence of a “true” mate, they may accept a caretaker as its mate.
As mentioned, in captivity breeding age can be as young as 3 years, however hand-reared birds may not begin breeding before they are 6 to 8 years old. Breeding life span is not precisely known but is possibly up to 30+ years.
Umbrella Cockatoos are known to breed well in captivity and are bred quite commonly in South Africa and other parts of the world. Some pairs may produce year round. Clutch size is typically 2 to 3 eggs. The breeding cage should be large enough to allow some limited flight between perches. Welded wire 25 x 25mm with a minimum diameter of 2mm is a good choice for aviary construction. A suggested size is 1.2m wide by 1.2m tall by 2.5m long suspended 1.2m above the ground or floor.
Double entrance boxes are often used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Large wooden boxes can be used. Size should be approximately 45 x 45 x 60cm. Metal barrels can be used, however the act of chewing a wooden nest box may stimulate reproductive behavior.
Incubation period is approximately 24-26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 12 to 14 weeks of age. Umbrella cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. Most hand-rearing formulas can be used successfully, however if you are using a formula which is relatively high in fat, care must be taken not to overfeed the chick.
Cockatoos need a balanced diet of equal shares of seeds and vegetables with a small quantity of fruits, nuts, proteins, cooked rice, bean mixture and table food, such as cheese, corn, cereal, pasta, meat etc. If your bird is used to a seed diet, convert to pellets gradually; fresh pellets or seeds and fresh, clean, chlorine-free water should always be available.
Fresh fruits and vegetables should be given daily and discarded when not eaten within 24 hours; cockatoos appreciate quality and variety in their food. Cockatoos tend toward obesity; carefully monitor your bird’s weight and food intake.
A balanced diet would consist of:
• 25% vitamin enriched seed mix (or 50% without pellets)
• 25% pellets
• 25% vegetables, dark leafy greens and fruits
• 15% cooked rice, corn, and bean mixture
• 10% table food, cereal, bread, pasta, cheese, meat etc.
The vegetables should be colourful, with green, dark green, orange, yellow or red vegetables being provided for maximum nutrition. Vegetables typically fed are carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, broccoli, greens, green peppers, asparagus, ripe tomatoes and spinach.
Healthy fruits include apples, pears, peaches, pomegranate, bananas, berries, plums, oranges, kiwi, citrus, pomegranate, grapes, raisins etc.
Nuts make great treats, as cockatoos really like them. If given whole nuts, they love to crack open the shell to extract the seed. This is good exercise for their beak and also provides entertainment.
Food items high in proteins are legumes, cooked eggs, grated cheese, sprouts, ripe tomatoes, cooked beans and spinach. They can also be fed with freshly cooked lean beef, chicken or fish in small quantities. Occasionally, you can give them cooked meat bones.
Cockatoos should always have access to clean, fresh water. Don’t use tap water that is likely to be contaminated with heavy metals and chloride, or may even contain bacteria and parasites. Distilled or purified / filtered water is recommended.
For aviculturists that enjoy working with Cockatoos, the Umbrella Cocaktoo is a great species to work with and these birds can really grow onto their owners, making them a real pleasure to work with. It is also important to keep in mind that male cockatoos frequently become aggressive toward their mates. Fatal attacks may occur in which the male bird severely bites the face, wings, and legs of the female. Cage construction and management must take into consideration techniques to reduce mate aggression. Clipping the wings of the male prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive. Aggressive behaviour may occur in compatible breeding pairs so always watch out for this.
Although the Umbrella Cockatoo is not classified as an endangered species it is classified as vulnerable. Its numbers in the wild have declined owing to habitat loss, hunting, and illegal trapping. It is listed in Appendix 2 of the CITES list of protected species. This gives it protection by making the trade of wild caught birds illegal.
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