The Rise and Pitfalls within the Commerce of Cockatoos

by D.T. Longo

Longo�s Aviaries Inc.
Meaford, Ontario, Canada

This is one difficult topic I frequently challenge to address for I never know which area to pay closest attention and to ultimately make the best impact. Due to the fact that there are several serious reasons one can no longer find superior quality cockatoos for their breeding programs in Canada with the low percentage we have compared to the USA. Human imprinted birds are typically complimented with these birds having identity crisis�; also mate aggression combined with keepers not giving their birds a chance to learn the steps in being a good parent have to be the most problematic issues when working with captive reproduction and management of cockatoos.

Over the past decade through all the influx of traffic and correspondence I have managed, I have noticed a serious decline in good quality breeding stock. One main serious problem is males of certain common species are always abundant and females if and when found, they are former unwanted pets who have one of 5 main problems or disorders being; plucking, screaming, biting, mutilating, or excess dander. From my findings the males are almost always in perfect feather and females are the ones frequently challenged in appearance or physical function. This is one of the few obstacles I find when searching for ideal stock to pair together for breeding.

Mate aggression has been challenging with anyone who houses cockatoos in limited size enclosures. Males can be extremely aggressive and territorial in, C.moluccanensis, C.leadbeateri, C.goffini, C.g.eleonora, C.sulphurea, C.s.citrinocristata, C.alba to name a few. Mate aggression in some of these species usually ends in badly attacked and permanently damaged females if caught early enough or simply lost due to severe and traumatic attacks. I once discussed this theory with Jennifer Smith of B.C. where male moluccan cockatoos in the Islands of Indonesia are able to chase their females screaming for their attention over kilometers on end is a way to disperse energy and stored horomonal aggression that stores. When adding these circumstances in captivity up with hundreds of pairs across the country over a span of a few years, the surplus of bachelor males increase exponentially and as a result become statistics. I suspect we are somewhere in the middle of this stage at this point in time and sadly may eventually result in a recipe for disaster !

Although we have done a fantastic job in relieving the pressure of wild caught specimens for the pet industry here in N. America, we have blindsided ourselves by overproducing pets and not replenishing our own source of breeding stock. Now many of these cockatoos are listed as Appendix 1 on the CITES convention which makes their international trade much more difficult. Once these birds are placed in less than adequate sized environment with lack of environmental stimulation, aggression problems will arise. (eg. mate killing, egg crushing, not given ample opportunity to practice raising hatchlings.)

In the private sector, people purchase and acquire pairs of birds from hard earned money and in most circumstances, a side hobby. What does one do with the offspring if and when these birds do produce? They are rarely given away but usually are parted with a fair set market price. These new generation birds eventually lay eggs for the first time, then one or both of the parents either consume the eggs, or the eggs hatch and the parents kill the babies. The first reflex reaction by the keeper is to label these birds as inexperienced parents and invest in an incubator because thousands were lost in the first clutch alone then human instinct is to intervene to maximize the profit on your investment and minimize losses of life, money or both. Most of us make choices out of self convenience or self serving decisions and never really absorb why we do it, we just do. Like us, parrots learn throughout their whole lives so why not give them the opportunity to raise their young.

They too are making instinctual decisions and if they crush eggs or kill their hatchlings, they are not satisfied with something or possibly a combination of a few things. I like to think it is my responsibility to continually change or manipulate their environment to ensure they are content thus we can both be rewarded. My biggest self fulfillment from the first days of keeping birds is seeing the babies peeking out of the nests and coming out of their nests to continually be fed by the parents and learning how to work the wings they were designed to use ! I like to think one of the reasons people breed birds and not dogs is because it is a challenge! Us, as aviculturists have a responsibility to fine tune our husbandry techniques to create the perfect atmosphere for the birds to fully raise their young until they fully fledge. This steps us into the final and most important issue�

Some of us do have pairs that do raise their young but are never given the chance to continue past 3 weeks. Without going into detail, this practice is done for obvious reasons. What these individuals should attempt in doing is offering parent raised birds on the market prior to pulling the young from the nests. If there is a market for these parent raised birds, there is less work for the aviculturist, more environmental stimulation for the pair for a much lengthier period of time. By removing eggs from nests and passing them into the incubator then perfecting our incubating and handraising techniques to produce pet babies that end up becoming a handful of problems in a year is the simplest way to profit from them and their exploitation; sadly this always ties back to �the root of all evil�.

This is one more innovative but defective way of us managing complete control of these ideas and maximizing profits. In the past 25 years in Canada, this has become the practice and now, although we do not have as many wild caught birds to work with, we have a new generation of cockatoos with identity crisis� who are imprinted on humans and do not know the first thing about the other sex of their kind, who do not have an inkling of a clue as to what nests or eggs are or yet what to do with baby cockatoos or even know how to fly ! In order to repair or undo what we have done is to teach our first generation (founder stock) cockatoos that are still producing to parent raise their offspring until they fledge or continue our incubation techniques and place the newly weaned young cockatoos into flocking situations so they can learn the social skills to become birds, not people !

In the past couple of years, I have been trying to begin a new trend by offering more monetary value for parent raised birds which are imprinted on birds, to introduce to new breeding programs we should manage. This is an attempt in hopes to create a new market for these cockatoos so we can continue to enjoy self sustaining populations for decades to come�at this point, I feel unstable knowing we may be breeding them at a far less successful rate in the near future if no changes are made now.

There is still a problem of many single pet wild caught or parent raised birds (cockatoos) all over the country in people�s living rooms which are being tolerated to the point of eventually being given up, these are the lost treasures we should be seeking, they are one key element to re-establishing the populations in captivity that are now dwindling due to poor husbandry on our part. Handfed birds should be a last attempt if reintroducing to a breeding situation and depending on age, they still may be salvageable�sometimes the clich� �you can�t teach an old dog new tricks� may come into play but many of the species we work with do have a 4 - 6 fold life span over dogs and hope they are still at a young enough age to learn, to change and appreciate who they really are ! I wish but do not expect everyone to change their husbandry practices but do hope to plant at least one more seed of inspiration in someone by these ideas. These are my primary thoughts on cockatoos and have many more in depth details and statistics to share so I may implement this as a first of a three part column.
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