Cockatoos are popular pets among bird lovers, but they can be problematic companion animals for inexperienced pet owners. Although they are a member of the parrot family, the cockatoo cannot mimic human speech well. Cockatoos are also highly social animals who do not do well alone in cages for long periods of time. They have a strong curiosity drive and require a lot of attention from their owners. Developing a strong bond with your cockatoo is absolutely necessary to his happiness and yours.
Voice and Presence
You must acclimate your cockatoo to your voice and presence before moving onto handling him, especially if he is a rescue. If he seems nervous or skittish in your presence, begin by spending five to ten minutes a day around him. Always enter the room positively and calmly, and do not make any sudden moves. Read a book aloud in a firm, calm voice near his cage. Though it may feel silly at first, remember that the cockatoo is a verbal animal who recognizes members of his own flock through voice. Acclimating to your voice is the first step the cockatoo needs to bond with you.
Cockatoos in the wild often share food with each other. Sharing your food with your cockatoo shows him that you do not mean him any harm. Once your bird appears to be comfortable in your presence, try offering him a bite of food from your plate (as long as it is free from salt or seasonings). If your cockatoo does not accept it, place the piece of food in his bowl and continue to eat your meal in front of him. Do not get discouraged if the bird does not accept your treat right away. Birds are very slow to adapt to new behaviors and surroundings. Persistence is key here.
As a member of the parrot family, cockatoos are very curious and love to play with toys. Buy or make a variety of toys for your cockatoo, and always supply new ones to prevent boredom. Make a note of which toys are your cockatoo's favorite, and place them near or on you. The bird will make a positive association between playtime and you. As your relationship develops, you can play directly with your cockatoo. Try shredding up newspaper or tissue paper together as a beginning bonding activity. Cockatoos also love to carry and toss around small balls.
Most birds in the wild groom each other. Mutual grooming keeps the flock clean and deepens the bond between members. Once your bird is very comfortable around you, try grooming him. Gently rub the back of his neck to imitate grooming by other birds in the wild. It is important to acclimate your cockatoo to this type of touching, because you will eventually have to remove some pinfeathers. Pinfeathers are new feathers that are covered in a keratin-type material. Your cockatoo will remove most of the coverings on his own, but it will sometimes be necessary for you to remove a few he missed to ensure proper feather growth.