Cockatoos are one of the most striking in appearance of all parrots.
Their bold head plumage used to inspire awe in females and fear in potential predators or competitors.
They are known to love music and dancing, and just as being great companions in general.
They’re usually thought of as parrots, but are they actually parrots?
Let’s find out.
Yes, cockatoos are parrots. They belong to the wider order Psittaciformes, which is the broadest scientific definition of parrot. Cockatoo comprises a family of 21 species of parrot, the Cacatuoidea family. So, a cockatoo isn’t just one species of parrot but quite a few. They are mostly distinguished by head plumage.
So, yes, cockatoos are definitely parrots, although they aren’t necessarily our most common and shared image of the parrot.
Further, there are many types of cockatoo, and they represent a subgroup of the parrot order, rather than a single species.
Let’s find out more.
What’s the difference between a cockatoo and a parrot?
Well, the short answer is there is no difference.
Cockatoos are parrots, but obviously, not all parrots are cockatoos.
We’ll get into how parrots are broadly classified shortly, but let’s just firstly look at what distinguishes cockatoos from other kinds of parrots.
Because, though they certainly are parrots, there are clear identifying features that let you know you are probably looking at a cockatoo.
Cockatoos comprise 21 species of parrot, native to fairly diverse regions in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, along with some pockets in the Pacific regions.
More than half of those species live only in Australia.
Cockatoos on the whole are mostly medium and large parrots with quite stocky builds, usually a foot or two in length.
Cockatiels are the only very small species of cockatoo.
Every species of cockatoo, however, has one very important distinguishing feature: a moveable and articulated head crest, which they can move at will and has a variety of uses in cockatoo socialization, from intimidation to impressing potential mates.
They lack what is called the Dyck texture of feather composition in true parrots, which results in the bright blue and green colors which you get in other species.
Cockatoos’ plumage is typically white or black, with some highlights.
So, there are many important differences between cockatoos and other parrots, but they have more in common than they not.
Parrots are broadly defined as having grasping, four-toed feet, hooked bills, and flexible tongues.
They also usually possess vocal cords capable of mimicking speech.
Cockatoos certainly possess all this, they are just distinguished from other parrots by a few features.
Let’s now look more closely at classification.
Are cockatoos part of the parrot family?
Yes, they certainly are. As I mentioned, all parrots are classified in the order Psittaciformes.
This comprises roughly 398 species across several dozen genera.
Cockatoos are certainly a part of this order.
Often, they are confused for non-parrots because they do not fall under the definition of “true parrots”.
But this does not mean they aren’t parrots, somewhat confusingly.
Underneath the order, cockatoos belong to a superfamily, known as Cacatuoidea.
This is merely the Latin, scientific name for cockatoos.
This superfamily, to further confuse matters, only contains a single family—Cacatuidae.
This, again, is merely all cockatoos.
So, yes, cockatoos are parrots, and all 21 species of cockatoo are included in the parrot family.
Cockatoos were first identified by western naturalists in 1840, and since then, disagreements have arisen about their classification.
This is often the case with virtually any species.
Whether the group is a full family or just a subfamily has been hotly debated for over a century, which is why we find ourselves in the position that cockatoo is both a family and a subfamily.
In any case, cockatoos are certainly parrots.
That’s all you really need to know as a layperson and not a professional ornithologist!
Do cockatoos talk?
Firstly, you should know that all parrots possess essentially the same apparatus to be able to talk in the first place.
They can all talk, some are just more inclined to do so than others.
When it comes to cockatoos, they generally aren’t the best talkers.
They won’t pick up a whole lot of speech naturally, and they’ll need to be trained into speaking if that’s a deal breaker for you.
That said, they might pick up a handful of words or phrases on their own.
They do mimic noises, they just don’t tend to mimic speech.
The reasons for this tend to be complex and behavioral, often to do with the kinds of noises they would make in the wild.
Some parrots are just more inclined to mimic your speech than others.
So, cockatoos are certainly not prolific talkers, but you might be able to convince them to pick up some phrases here and there.
It also depends on the species of cockatoo.
Cockatiels generally don’t talk at all, while the larger cockatoos may be more inclined to mimic speech.
It does all depend on the individual bird, though.
Parrots have highly individual personalities, meaning one cockatoo may be far more inclined to mimic speech than another.
Just don’t count on it.
Another important question for many of those considering a new parrot—how long do they live?
How long do cockatoos live?
Again, it does depend on the species, and it can vary quite enormously between different species.
Cockatiels are some of the most highly recommended starter parrots, because they are relatively low maintenance and easy to care for.
They also only tend to live for 10-15 years, though some can live a lot longer.
But larger cockatoos, such as the white cockatoo, are going to live for a great deal longer than that.
A well-cared-for white cockatoo will live, at the very least, around 40 years.
They can live for up to 60 years.
Most other species of cockatoo live somewhere between 25 and 50 years.
So, they are a very long-term commitment, there’s no two ways about that. this is one of the big things you need to take into account if you are considering getting a cockatoo.
It will likely be around for a very long time, and you need to be prepared for that.
If you are happy with caring for them for this many decades, the other thing you’re probably wondering about is how much it will cost to buy one.
How much do cockatoos cost?
Again, it’s going to depend a lot on the species.
The price range will likely sit somewhere between $375 and as high as $16,000.
This might seem like a big range, and that’s precisely because there are so many different species of cockatoo.
Some are going to cost a great deal more than others.
On the cheaper end, Galah cockatoos can go for as low as $500-$700.
On the other end, you have species such as the Goliath cockatoo.
These birds are where you will see the higher end of the price range, as these birds very often sell for in excess of $16,000.
They are highly prized by exotic bird enthusiasts and are quite rare and difficult to find.
You’ve also got to consider the ongoing cost of the bird’s maintenance, which will set you back at least a couple of thousand dollars per year.
Parrots are not cheap in general, and cockatoos are no exception.
While wide-ranging in price, they’re never exactly cheap.
Are cockatoos good pets?
So, are cockatoos good pets, in the end?
Well, the answer obviously depends on you.
But cockatoos are clearly very popular as pets, so we can naturally assume they must be good pets to some degree.
However, as I said, they are very high maintenance and need a lot of care and attention, otherwise, they risk problematic behavior.
Cockatoos in particular, especially the larger species, are known to have hormonal issues and can become very territorial and aggressive at certain stages of their lives.
This can be difficult to deal with if you don’t have experience with parrots.
That said, cockatiels are generally a really good choice as a first parrot.
But if you had your heart set on something bigger, you may want to consider a different species until you have a bit more experience.
Cockatoos are great pets, but they’re also highly intelligent—and this can lead to them not behaving in the way you want them to.
Cockatoos are complex birds with only a couple of distinguishing features which nonetheless set them apart in a big way from other parrots.
Behaviorally, morphologically, and anatomically they are very different from most parrots and indeed from the common image of parrots as brightly colored tropical birds.
But nonetheless, cockatoos are parrots, and you should carefully consider whether owning one is right for you.