Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of Umbrella Cockatoos. PART I

September 24th, 2015 | by Tony Silva
Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of Umbrella Cockatoos. PART I
Tony Silva NEWS
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Read also the second part of this article:

Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of Umbrella Cockatoos. PART II

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It was 1976 when I first saw the species. In the quarantine of George Kroesen there were hundreds. The birds congregated in the farthest corner, each trying to hide. The facility contained more than 300 individuals. I picked two, a male and a female. The birds were easily sexed: the head of the male was larger and his eye was almost black, while the female´s head and bill was more proportionate and her eye was reddish-brown. The birds were brought home and released into a traditional flight cage containing a metal garbage can with an entrance hole cut into its side, near the top. The aviary was wooden framed; the mesh was 25 x 50 mm in size, 14 gauge. Almost immediately the birds, which had been wild caught, disappeared inside the nest. Three days later the birds had reappeared– they had chewed their way out of the cage and had reduced one of the wooden support beams to splinters. I had been introduced to the cockatoos—a species whose beak can demolish mesh and wood without any hindrance. To be more specific, the Umbrella Cockatoo Cacatua alba.

At the time, Cockatoos were the fad. A television program called Baretta featuring a cop and his pet talking, gin drinking, telephone answering Triton Cockatoo Cacatua galerita triton was airing weekly on American television. The furor resulted in huge numbers of cockatoos being imported. Breeders were suddenly introduced to species that were formerly unknown or very rare.

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After 7 years, when the Umbrellas had finally lost their fear and did not dive into the nest on seeing someone, I realized just how beautiful this species was. The male would display with the crest and wings wide open, would call while clicking his bill and would periodically bob. It was that year when they first laid. I had noticed that the droppings had gotten significantly larger—this is a sign of nesting, as the female holds defecating while inside the nest, and this along with hormones produces a larger droppings. The female also began spending longer periods of time inside the nest, so I decided to look. As I walked inside the aviary, she emerged from the nest and the two birds flew to the opposite end of the flight cage. I then looked inside the nest. There were two eggs. The next day both eggs appeared on the aviary floor broken. I had been introduced to another common cockatoo behavior: egg breakage. They clearly resented my intrusion and taught me a lesson.

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About a month later, the large droppings were noted again along with the missing hen. This time I waited. Exactly 28 days later I heard a chick. A week later I decided to look inside the nest. It contained one chick, which was covered in yellowish down. The other egg had failed to hatch. The chick was taken for hand-rearing.

This early experience taught me considerable about cockatoos and sparked an interest that to this day is still strong. Cockatoos hold a special fascination.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a5/Cacatua_alba_-Binder_Park_Zoo%2C_Battle_Creek%2C_Michigan%2C_USA_-two-8a_%281%29.jpg/612px-Cacatua_alba_-Binder_Park_Zoo%2C_Battle_Creek%2C_Michigan%2C_USA_-two-8a_%281%29.jpg

Two White Cockatoos (also known as Umbrella Cockatoo) at Binder Park Zoo, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA. (c) ellenm1 . This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en).

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The Umbrella Cockatoo is native to Indonesia, being found on Halmahera, Bacan, Ternate, Tidore, Kasitura and Mandioli Islands in North Maluku (Moluccas), with reports from Obi and Bisa probably being attributable to aviary escapees. The species occurs in the lowlands in primary, logged and secondary forests. I have seen them in coconut palm plantations, agricultural fields where large trees remain and in mangroves. The species is considered endangered. When I visited Halmahera I found that the population was still sizable but logging was removing most trees suitable for nesting and this I felt posed a major threat to the population. The second mitigating factor was trapping of the birds for the local trade, even though Indonesian law bans this trade. In every village I saw birds being kept as pets, some obviously freshly trapped. Most of the birds were tethered to a metal perch. I also saw how many Indonesian military offices boarded ships with one of these birds attached to the stand, presumably to sell in the next port of call.

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Habitat loss and trapping are a menace to the long term survival of the Umbrella Cockatoo. The threat during the 1970s-early 1990s was from trapping for legal export from Indonesia compounded with logging of the larger trees. Post the 1990s the threat of habitat loss aggravated. Many birds (though not nearly as many as during the heyday of exports) are still collected and most of these are sold within Indonesia. Like with all K-strategist species (long lived birds), the population may seem to be large and declining slightly, but new recruits are not being added at the rate of attrition and this bodes poorly for the future survival of the species. The population is clearly aging. I have only ever seen one chick out of the hundreds of specimens kept on the islands. I suspect the harvesting of trees is playing a key role in this.

As an aviary bird, the Umbrella has as many good as bad attributes: It is imposing, hardy, long-lived, a fairly willing and prolific breeder, and widely available, but males can become aggressive, killing their females, even after having bred successfully for many years, they are destructive, can be erratic breeders, and can be noisy, calling (albeit less assiduously than Moluccan Cockatoos Cacatuamoluccensis) on full moon nights.

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As pets, Umbrellas tend to be highly affectionate when young. They crave affection and would be happy becoming permanently attached to their owner. They can also drive the household mad with their screaming, especially when left alone. This calling is intended to bring their owners back, who talks to the bird, releases it from the cage, pets it or picks it up. Very quickly these highly intelligent birds will realize that they can beckon their owner on will by calling loudly. By responding to their calling, the owner has unwittingly created a monster.

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Cockatoos can become highly imprinted. On being acquired, they need to be trained to play on their own for long periods of time. I find that natural enrichment can keep them focused far longer than traditional toys, though feel that both should be offered. The bird can be shown an enrichment item or toy by its owner, who should play and manipulate them, attracting the bird, or alternately can place these items in a area where the bird can find them. I have often placed split green coconuts (the fibrous covering minus the fatty meat) inside a box. The birds often spend hours destroying the box and then the fibers of the coconut. Branches with the leaves are greatly enjoyed. Pinecones, spent paper towel holders with a seed in the middle that is kept in place by wads of newspaper, palm seeds and even flowers from the yard (if it is insecticide and pesticide free) will be greatly enjoyed. The list of play items is endless. Imagination can here play an important role.

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Read also the second part of this article:

Tony Silva NEWS: Breeding of Umbrella Cockatoos. PART II

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Title photo: Umbrella Cockatoo (also known as White Cockatoo) at Bali Bird Park. Whole bird with crest upright. (c) www.viajar24h.com. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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2 Comments

  1. hennie mathee says:

    thanks for info it is awesome

  2. Pingback: Breeding of Umbrella Cockatoos | Parrots Daily News

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