By Rosemary Low

Also known as the Salmon-crested or Seram Cockatoo, the Moluccan Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis), is the largest of the white cockatoos. With a length of up to 52cm (21in)  and weighing between 900g and 1,050g, its is an imposing bird.

Classified as Vulnerable, it has been listed on  Appendix I of CITES since 1989. Excessive trapping of  wild birds and to a lesser degree, deforestation, have caused its decline. Listing it on Appendix I reduced the international trade but illegal trapping still occurs. A shocking total, in excess of 74,000, were exported between 1981 and 1990. Sadly, many of these were adult birds who were terrified of people and never adapted to captivity.

Unfortunately, young hand-reared Moluccan Cockatoos are often the subject of impulse buying. Can there be anything more sweet, vulnerable affectionate, cuddly and adorable than a young bird of this species? And can there be anything more difficult to control and to live with than an unhappy adult Moluccan? I believe that, in any case, they are too intelligent and with an extraordinary degree of sentience that makes life in captivity difficult to bear in most cases.

If there is such thing as a suitable owner it would be someone who is:

Ÿ  100% committed to providing a stimulating and loving environment for as long as he or she lives  or is physically able to care for the bird. Note that the potential lifespan is 60 years

Ÿ  One who understands the unpredictable temperament of this cockatoo.  This takes experience. A sudden wrong move that makes the bird over-excited could land you in an A&E hospital department with a very serious wound. An attack from a Moluccan can be very sudden and unexpected if you cannot read their behaviour. The pictures below show the injuries made by Moluccan Cockatoos to even the most experienced and caring owners.

Pics here

Ÿ  Able to tolerate ear-splitting screeches of a magnitude seldom encountered in the avian world.

Ÿ  Willing to love and care for the bird even when it is feather-plucked or self-mutilating.

In the UK Andelphine Mason Brown and her husband care for unwanted and abused cockatoos. They have dedicated their lives to ensuring that some of these birds have their faith in humans restored. To see them win the trust of cockatoos that are highly unpredictable and have caused serious injuries to previous owners is remarkable.


It is a sad fact that most Moluccan and Umbrella Cockatoos (the most sensitive and difficult species) have multiple homes because purchasers did not understand the difficulties involved in keeping them or the nature of these two species whose need for affection and constant attention is much more pronounced than in other white cockatoos.

One breeder stated that he did not usually sell  these cockatoos as pets and that if his young go to breeding facilities he did not expect problems to develop. This surely missed the point. If they breed, the problem of their young  going to homes where the family is totally unprepared for dealing with a once-cuddly, doe-eyed young cockatoo that matures into a sad, misunderstood bird that disrupts the entire household, is very high.

Such birds are ultimately considered unsuitable for “pets” and are often sold to breeders. Unfortunately, the very high price tag of hand-reared cockatoos of the two species mentioned makes the aim of producing young impossible to resist for some people.

This problem is especially serious in the USA and Canada where so many white cockatoos were hand-reared for the pet trade. One large commercial facility stopped rearing them in the 1990s because they finally had to admit it was cruel and unethical.  In North America it is Wendy Huntbatch who is bravely trying to  care for a couple of hundred white cockatoos, from a total of about 700 unwanted parrots, at the World Parrot Refuge on Vancouver Island. Her dedication, too, is immense and endless -- even while she battled to overcome a life-threatening disease two years ago.

If I had one wish it would be to send breeders of white cockatoos to the World Parrot Refuge to listen to Wendy talk on the subject of the dreadful neglect of white cockatoos and the damage, physical, but mainly psychological, that results.

Can there be anyone who reads parrot magazines who is not aware of the fact that white cockatoos, especially when hand-reared,  are too demanding to make suitable pets? That is putting it mildly.  Many, perhaps even the majority, of these highly intelligent and (when young) irresistibly appealing birds, end up as unwanted or abused. They develop serious psychological problems that manifest themselves in problem behaviours such as biting, screaming and feather plucking.

On too many occasions I have received a telephone call from someone who has bought a white cockatoo – and is now paying the price. One lady told me: “I have just bought a copy of your book The Loving Care of Pet Parrots. How I wish that I had read it before deciding to buy a cockatoo. Everything you said has come true…!” In the book I warn about the demands of tame cockatoos that cannot be met by those who go out to work.


Male Moluccan Cockatoo

She was not an unthinking lady who had carelessly embarked on buying a young hand-reared bird. She had wanted to do everything possible for her companion, who she loved dearly. She had even built an aviary in the garden so that when she was out her cockatoo could play and exercise there. The problem was that she worked and when she returned home the cockatoo screamed so much that, very reluctantly, she had to part with it. In fact, the breeder took it back. So already this young bird had lost its first home. I believe that the majority of white cockatoos spend less than three years at their first location and that period is numbered in just a few months for many individuals, especially those that have been hand-reared and, as usually happens, weaned too early.

Forced weaning has profound psychological effects on white cockatoos. It makes them exceedingly anxious and clinging. They go on to become screamers, seed-flingers, pluckers and, in the worst scenario, self-mutilators (they gauge out areas of flesh, usually from the breast). I am not pretending that wild-caught cockatoos never showed these traits but the incidence is lower.

In the UK, a former cockatoo breeder now devotes her time and energy to taking in unwanted cockatoos. Breeders created the problem. If they have a conscience, they will stop breeding, or at least stop hand-rearing young, now that most rescue centres have run out of space for housing cockatoos.  Sadly, the point has been reached where numbers of cockatoos that people no longer want are euthanised.

Breeders should speak to those few caring and dedicated people who rescue abused and abandoned cockatoos and hear some of the terrible abuse and conditions suffered by these cockatoos. Their popularity is a tragedy for the species as a whole and for thousands of individuals.

These cockatoos occur only on the  island of Seram, Indonesia. For more information: please visit the website

which describes the work being done to educate local people regarding the importance of this species, also rescue and rehabilitation of illegally trapped Moluccan Cockatoos.


 All photographs and text on this website are the copyright of Rosemary Low unless otherwise stated. 
They may not be reproduced without permission.
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