Two cockatoos

Confusing Two ’Toos
by Sally Blanchard

Years ago I was called to work with two cockatoos. One was a young domestically-raised tame wild-caught Eleanora or medium-sulfur-crested cockatoo and the other was a wild-caught citron-crested cockatoo. The Eleanora would readily step on the caregiver’s hand and the other one was completely wild and had never been handled. When I went to people’s homes to do consultations, I usually sat and talked with the people for at least an hour before I started working with the bird. I wanted to know as much as they knew about the bird. Was he or she an imported bird or a handfed baby? Who sold the bird to them? Had anyone worked with the bird before? How long had the bird shop had the bird? How old did they think he was? What was his diet? Had he been to a veterinarian? Did they know the bird’s gender? Had he been out of the cage at all? If so, how did they get the bird back into the cage?

We talked about diet, care, behavior and everything I thought was important. If one of the caregivers could handle the parrot, I had them work with the bird so I could see how comfortable they were with each other. During my conversations with the people, I would glance at the birds on a regular basis without making any sustained eye contact and then lower my head. I found I could usually tell a lot about them in this manner and it would give me an idea of the way I would work with them. There was an interruption after we talked about the cockatoos and about an hour later, I was ready to physically work with the cockatoos. I slowly walked up to the cage with the tame bird with my head lowered so I did not threaten him. I wanted the other cockatoo to see how comfortable I was with the tame bird. I reached in and placed my hand in front of the bird, and gently pushed my fingers into his chest. At this point, I made soft eye contact with him and quietly said, “UP.”

He stepped on my hand and stood up straight and tall as I brought him out of the cage. For a minute or so he stayed on my hand but then he flew off to the ground. At that point, I happened to catch the expression of amazement on the people’s faces. I had picked up the wrong cockatoo. I meant to pick up the one who was tame but instead I picked up the one that had never been handled. This was a surprise to me but I began to think about why this wild-caught untamed bird stepped on my hand so readily. I thought I knew why and after working with hundreds of birds, I am pretty sure of the answer ... I was calm and confident that he would step on my hand so he did. I wasn't too direct and didn't threaten him. There is usually a vast difference in the way a cockatoo will respond to a person who approaches them calmly and confidently than a person who approaches them with trepidation (or aggression.)




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