Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, and Philippines


Rain forest, scrublands, eucalyptus grove, forest, mangrove, and open country

Getting to know you

With their perky crest and natural curiosity, cockatoos are among the most well-known and loved members of the parrot family. They are found in Australia and the smaller island countries to the north and west, and they live in forested areas of all types, from eucalyptus groves to pine forests and rain forests. They can also live in the lower slopes of mountain areas as well as mangroves and open country lands, to feed on grass seeds.

In black and white

Cockatoos differ from other parrots not only because of their crest, which can be raised by the bird when needed, but also because they are mostly black or white (with a few notable exceptions, such as the gray and pink galah). This is caused by the lack of a special texture, known as Dyck texture, in their feathers. In other parrots, the presence of this texture produces color by the way it reflects light.

Cockatoos also do not have oil glands, but they do produce a fine powder that is the result of the breakdown of special downy feathers. The powder helps to protect their feathers and keep them clean.

A triton cockatoo named Lalah played the role of Fred in the TV series “Baretta” in the 1970s. Lalah had a bird stunt double named Weird Harold used for flying sequences.
Palm cockatoos can easily crack Brazil nuts with their beak.
Most cockatoos eat nuts, seeds, and fruit, but short-billed black-cockatoos and yellow-tailed black-cockatoos feed on wood-boring beetle larvae.
In some areas of Australia, local lore has it that the arrival of the red-tailed black-cockatoo means that rain is on the way, so the birds are a welcome sight.
In Australian slang, someone who watches for the authorities during illegal activity is called a cockatoo.

San Diego Zoo Global has had cockatoos of various types since our earliest days in the 1920s. In the 1930s, a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Cocky was so tame that the Zoo loaned him to invalids, especially children who were confined to bed for long periods. He would talk for anyone and would permit anyone to handle him. Another cockatoo character from the ‘30s was Jim, a bare-eyed cockatoo. A former pet, Jim was housed in the Zoo’s lunchroom, where he’d greet customers with his astonishing vocabulary of sentences. Following in Jim’s footsteps was King Tut, a salmon-crested or Moluccan cockatoo and our official greeter on the Zoo’s front plaza from 1951 to 1989. A born “ham," King Tut gave a much-acclaimed performance in a local theater’s production of “Sabrina Fair” in 1955. A bronze statue of him was placed in his favorite perching spot near the Zoo’s flamingo exhibit!

Today, the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are home to a variety of cockatoo species. Some serve as animal ambassadors in shows and in close-up animal presentations to our guests. They also make appearances at nursing homes and on television. Two rose-breasted cockatoos or galahs are part of the free-flight Frequent Flyers bird show at the Safari Park. Palm cockatoos can be admired in the Zoo’s new Australian Outback habitat. Come say “G-day!”

Cockatoos are admired for their intelligence, but being smart can sometimes get them into trouble. They learn quickly to take handouts from humans and love to raid bird feeders. If their food sources dry up, they can and will destroy wood decking and paneling on houses, and are even known to strip the rubber seals off street lights.

They became popular pets in the 1970s, due in part to a triton cockatoo Cacatua galerita triton having a role in the TV show Baretta, which led to a sudden and dramatic decrease in their numbers in the wild. In fact, certain Indonesian cockatoo species are thought to be extinct in the wild because of trapping for the pet trade. The Philippine cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia and yellow-crested cockatoo Cacatua suphurea are at critical risk.

Trees that are “just right” for palm cockatoos Probosciger aterrimus to nest in are usually around 100 years old and may be scarce, especially after humans alter the habitat. Logging, mining, and land clearing for agriculture and development purposes have left glaring scars on the forests palm cockatoos inhabit in New Guinea. Breeding these birds in managed care is helping to keep the gene pool active and diverse—a hedge against extinction.

You can help us bring cockatoos back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.