White Cockatoo

White Cockatoo

Umbrella cockatoo, White cockatoo, Umbrella cockatoo

Cacatua alba
Population size
43-183 Thou
Life Span
30-40 yrs
400-800 g
46 cm
25-31 cm

The white cockatoo (Cacatua alba ), also known as the umbrella cockatoo, is a medium-sized all-white cockatoo endemic to tropical rainforest on islands of Indonesia. When surprised, it extends a large and striking head crest, which has a semicircular shape (similar to an umbrella, hence the alternative name). The wings and tail have a pale yellow or lemon color which is exposed when they fly. It is similar to other species of white cockatoo such as yellow-crested cockatoo, sulphur-crested cockatoo, and salmon-crested cockatoo, all of which have yellow, orange or pink crest feathers instead of white.


White cockatoos, also known as Umbrella cockatoos, are large parrots with white feathers and black or brown/reddish eyes, and dark gray legs and beaks. The "umbrella" name is due to its backward-bending, broad crest, which opens up like an umbrella and fans out. When lowered, the feathers of the crest fold back over the bird's head and so the crest is then hardly visible. These cockatoos have some lemon-colored plumage on the underside of their wings and tail, and this color flashes when they fly. Males and females both have a pale blue ring around their eyes, males having a dark brown iris and females having a reddish iris. Females also usually have smaller heads and beaks than males.




Biogeographical realms

The White cockatoo is a native of the Indonesian islands of Northern and Central Moluccas (aka Maluku Islands), specifically, the islands of Bacan, Kasiruta, Halmahera, Tidore, Ternate, and Mandioli. They also live on the islands of Obi and Bisa, but it is thought that these birds are escaped pets. White cockatoos inhabit wooded areas and are found in open woodland and forests, mangroves, swamps, and agricultural areas. They are especially common around the edges of clearings and rivers. Most of their time is spent in the tree canopy.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

White cockatoos typically occur singly, in pairs or small groups, and sometimes in flocks numbering up to fifteen. They gather in the afternoon in groups of as many as fifty birds. Although these birds are social, aside from mating pairs, they usually do not establish close bonds with each other. They are diurnal birds and are typically sedentary, although some can be nomadic, wandering in search of food. White cockatoos communicate with their mates by means of a variety of noises and gestures. They scratch one another during mating rituals. They have been seen banging pieces of wood on logs and trees to warn other birds that their territory belongs to them. White cockatoos use loud vocalizations, sometimes for communication. They make a loud, grating scream or screech and they may hiss when alarmed.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

White cockatoos are herbivores (frugivores, granivores) and typically eat various nuts, seeds, and fruits, such as durian, papaya, langsat, and rambutan. They also supplement their diet with skinks, and large insects, such as crickets.

Mating Habits

30 days
3.5-4 months
2-3 eggs

White cockatoos are monogamous, a mating pair staying together for life. In the mating season, males strut and fan their crests to attract a female. The mating season is usually from December to March. Pairs leave their flock to seek a place to nest in a tree. They typically build a nest in a hollow of a very large, tall tree. The female lays two eggs, sometimes three. Males and females share the incubating of the eggs, which usually lasts 30 days. The parents typically raise only one chick. If the first one that hatches is healthy, they raise that one. If the chick is unhealthy or malformed, they raise the second one. Chicks learn to fly when they are 3 months old but still depend on their parents for a further 2 to 3 weeks. When a chick is capable of caring for itself, the family rejoins the flock. White cockatoos are reproductively mature at 6 years of age.


Population threats

The greatest threat to White cockatoos in the wild is illegal trapping for trading in cage birds. Habitat loss and hunting are further threats.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of White cockatoos is 43,000-183,000 individuals. However, this species' numbers are decreasing today and it is classified as endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.

Ecological niche

White cockatoos have an important role in dispersing seeds - which is important for the evolution and ecology of plants. Furthermore, their nests may be used by other animals during the non-breeding season.


White cockatoos are kept as pets because they can be very affectionate, bond closely with people and are valued for their beauty. They are often called "velcro birds" because they like to cuddle with people, especially their owners, or primary care-taker. Anyone not used to cockatoo behavior may find this cuddling behavior odd, as most parrots do not cuddle like the umbrella cockatoo. Although capable of imitating basic human speech, they are not considered the most able speakers among parrots. They are often used in live animal acts in zoos and amusement parks because they are naturally acrobatic and easily trained, because of their highly social nature and high level of intelligence.

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Cockatoos present several difficulties for their owners. They are noisier than many parrots. They can become very bonded (or dependent) on their human companion and this combined with their long life and often misunderstood behaviours can lead to issues. They have very strong beaks which can be easily crack walnuts or maim fingers. They have a "fight or flight" flock mentality, and generally prefer to fly away from danger. In a cage, with no escape path, they can be subjected to stress which often leads to feather picking (as with many pet birds). This species is known for producing large quantities of feather dust, which may be problematic for humans with respiratory problems or allergies.

Like other cockatoos, white cockatoos can learn a large number of words, and are able to construct simple sentences with the words they learn.

Pet white cockatoos may raise their crests upon training, or when something catches their interest such as a new toy or person.

Health issues with captive birds are common since many people do not provide a proper diet for cockatoos. Seeds provide little nutrition (they are mostly fat) and is considered similar to a person living on junk food. Assorted fresh fruits and vegetables and properly created pellets available at many good pet stores are more appropriate. A sick bird naturally will try to hide its health issues. In the wild, it has been observed that a flock will force out an unhealthy bird for fear of attracting predators. An often cited rule of thumb among avian enthusiasts and veterinarians is: "If the bird looks sick, it is likely to be very, very sick – possibly near death". Qualified avian veterinary care is required, both for prevention of disease, and for care in the event of a major illness or trauma.

Signs of illness in a cockatoo can include runny eyes, sluggish behaviour, unusually coloured droppings (likely indicating blood in the digestive tract), sleeping more than normally, droopy wings, tail bobbing when sleeping (indicating difficulty in breathing), sleeping on the bottom of the cage (birds naturally want to be high on a perch), sudden change in or unusual behaviour, feather plucking, biting themselves, sudden weight loss or gain, and a drop in appetite, among other symptoms.

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Fun Facts for Kids

  • The major purpose of a cockatoo's crest is communication. When raised, it can indicate a number of intentions: displaying for its mate; calling its flock members; defending its flock or territory; or expressing curiosity, excitement, fear surprise, or frustration. If approaching a cockatoo, the raised crest may warn not to touch them - at the risk of being bitten. The lowering of a crest may indicate friendliness, calmness, and general approachability.
  • The word "cockatoo" originates from the Malay word for these birds, "kakaktua," meaning "older sister”.
  • As with all birds, cockatoos use their body language for communication. When birds use the feathers on their face to cover their beaks, they convey a welcoming, non-aggressive message.
  • These are powder-down birds, whose feathers produce dust that can sometimes be quite heavy. Preening distributes this dust throughout their plumage, providing important waterproofing to cope with a tropical, wet climate.
  • To bathe, white cockatoos fly through wet leaves in the treetops or hang upside-down during the rain.
  • White cockatoos are very smart and inquisitive birds. They are able to use a branch for scratching their backs. They also climb and do gymnastics.


1. White Cockatoo Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_cockatoo
2. White Cockatoo on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22684789/0
3. Xeno-canto bird call - https://xeno-canto.org/533459
4. Video creator - https://avibirds.com

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