Moluccan Cockatoo

Moluccan Cockatoo

Cacatua moluccensis Order: Psittaciformes Family: Cacatuidae


With regard to their availability and suitability as ambassador animals:

  • Contact the Parrot TAG for availability of cockatoos through AZA facilities.
  • Cockatoos do not need to be hand-reared from hatch to make good ambassador birds, in fact, allowing birds to remain with their parents until weaned makes for a healthier individual in many cases – both physically and mentally. Parent reared birds can be reliable in both flighted and non-flighted situations.
  • Large parrots can be challenging to work with and are not beginner birds. Experience and commitment of time is required. Ensuring you have enough time to socialize and train a large parrot is important before considering acquisition.
  • With all large parrots, in the hands of inexperienced staff, there is the potential for handler injury and undesirable behavior due to improper training. 

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

South Maluku, Indonesia including Ambon, Seram, Saparua, and Haruku.



In human care, large parrots can easily live into their 50s and 60s, some even longer than that. Life span is less in the wild due to threats and habitat loss.

Ecosystem Role


Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information 
  • During the breeding season, both male and female individuals may demonstrate natural breeding behaviors that make them more challenging to work with and around. Consider time off from ambassador duties during this time.

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
  • Cockatoos require heated space in locations where temperatures drop below 40 degrees.


  • This species can be successfully managed on a variety of substrates, such as pea-gravel, dirt, grass, artificial flooring. While they will spend time on the ground foraging, if opportunity presents, they tend more to perching than going to ground. The type of perching is more important than the substrate.

Social Housing/Colony Management
  • Cockatoos are a highly social species. Housing with conspecifics is much better for their individual welfare. If not housed directly with conspecifics, housing in a side-by-side situation is also good. Housing cockatoos in solitary situation is not recommended. When housing with conspecifics, attention should be paid to individual preference and birds should be afforded enclosure space large enough to be separate from each other, should they choose.

Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
  • Multiple perching options are necessary to maintain good foot health.
  • Given the proclivity for cockatoos to climb and or chew on enclosure mesh, it is important to consider the type (for example, bare wire mesh is more desirable than coated mesh). If possible, stainless steel is a good option for birds that chew on mesh.
  • Flight-capable individuals need flight exercise to maintain muscle mass.
  • A double door entrance, or some secondary containment, is ideal for any flighted bird. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure safely and without incident.

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild 
  • The diet consists mainly of seeds, nuts and fruit, as well as coconuts. There is additional evidence that they eat insects off the ground.

Diet under human care

  • Under human care, since there is such a wide-variety of commercial parrot pellets out there, it is best to consult with your own institution vet staff regarding preferred diet types. Most widely accepted nutritionally complete diet includes a mix of pellets and fresh produce, with nuts/seeds as supplemental training treats.
  • Dietary amounts will vary by individual. Larger and more active individuals requiring higher caloric intake than smaller or inactive individuals. Diet amounts required will also vary seasonally. Understanding the individual requirements of your bird for optimal weight and health should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Parrot beaks and nails continuously grow, and therefore need to be continuously watched for cracks, splitting and/or growing too long. Trimming may need to be done regularly.
  • Training behaviors to allow for routine maintenance – such as nail trims – is important with parrots. 
  • Provision of chewing materials for self-maintenance of beak is also critical and trimming of beaks in parrots should not be necessary, unless an underlying medical issue is present,  if they are provided enough chewing material to maintain their own beak.

Enrichment & Training


Behavioral Relevant Information

  • Need a lot of enrichment! Parrots are gregarious and have a high activity budget, provision of enrichment is highly important to their welfare in human care.

Environmental Enrichment 

  • Changing perches within their habitat.
  • Addition of browse. 

Behavioral Enrichment 

  • Foraging opportunities as well as chewing/destruction opportunities are highly recommended – not only for mental stimulation but also for natural beak care. Providing daily diet in foraging opportunities as opposed to in a bowl is excellent enrichment. Hanging toys, blocks made from 2x4s, foraging bags/bowls/troughs, paper/plastic/wood for chewing and breaking.  


  • Daily enrichment is recommended. If possible, more than once per day.

Other Enrichment Resources 

  • Since parrots are so prevalent in the pet world, there are a plethora of online resources for enrichment. 


Behaviors Trained
  • Voluntary step-up
  • Voluntary loading into crate
  • Voluntary scale 
  • Voluntary nail trim
  • Voluntary medication from syringe
  • Towel training for restraint
  • A-B flights
  • Calm behavior on hand
  • Cockatoos can be taught a wide variety of novel show behaviors, such as but not limited to, recycling, donation collection, painting, and more.

Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement 
  • This species takes well to positive reinforcement training using its daily diet to reinforce behavior.


Colony or Breeding Management

Individual Identification

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

  • Pet trade
  • Habitat destruction/fragmentation
  • Human/animal conflict (in native areas)

Threats and Conservation Status

  • The Moluccan cockatoo is a vulnerable species, and has been listed on appendix I of CITES since 1989, which makes trade in wild-caught birds illegal. Trade in captive bred birds is legal only with appropriate CITES certification. Numbers have declined due to illegal trapping for the cage-bird trade and habitat loss. During the height of the trapping of this species over 6,000 birds were being removed from the wild per year..

Interesting Natural History Information

Did you know…

Handling & Presentation Tips

  • Without careful management, cockatoos can bond strongly with a single person and can become aggressive to others when that person is around. If bonding occurs, that person should take a step back to ensure that other keepers and trainers can safely work the bird. By having multiple handlers regularly you can assist in preventing such a strong bond from occurring.
  • To avoid getting bit, watching for precursors is extremely important. Slowly bobbing heads, feathers raised, head dipped downward, wings out-stretched, lunging forward, can all be signs that the bird would like you to move away. By doing so you teach your bird that they can politely ask you to leave, and they do not need to bite you to get you to do so.
  • When presenting a hand to ask the bird to step-up, present it outside of “striking” range, or the radius the bird can reach to bite you. Bring your hand closer only when body language tells you the bird would like to step-up.

Use Guidelines

  • This species may be presented on hand, on a perch, or in free-flight demonstrations. 

Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Public contact with this species is not advisable. 
  • Touching is not advisable. 

Transportation Tips

  • Transport box suggestions wire crate or Varikennel.
  • A couple things to keep in mind, crates should not be carried by the handle, but rather using two hands on either side of the crate and supporting it adequately. Swinging transport crates around and or moving them on a bumpy cart may create negative association for the bird, due to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.

Crating Techniques

  • This species can be trained to voluntarily enter a crate either from the hand or directly from their enclosure. Continuous reinforcement of voluntary crate behaviors as well as dedication to their comfort and safety while in the crate is important to maintaining solid and reliable crate behavior.

Temperature Guidelines

  • A tropical species, maintaining temperatures above 40 degrees is important. When transporting and using on programs, attention should be paid to the comfort of the individual and any signs of heat distress responded to accordingly.

Acquisition Information

  • Moluccan cockatoos are readily available through breeders and AZA facilities as well as parrot rescue organizations.
  • Local parrot rescues can be great places to start. By sending a knowledgeable keeper to choose the right bird for your situation, you can get a great, older bird for your program.


  • Parrot TAG 

Contributors and Citations

  • Greensboro Science Center

Comments from the Rating System

  • Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: Moluccan cockatoos are very smart, even for parrots. Our female is extremely smart but hard to train consistently due to her intelligence. She is motivated by attention, not food, and historically has gotten more attention by misbehaving (nothing serious like biting, just not doing what you want and being cute). There are a lot of conservational messages that can be talked about with them, though. We always address the pet trade and why the do not make good pets. People want to touch our parrots a lot and don’t understand why we say they don’t make good pets until we explain, but there are still those who think they are the exception to the rule. This bird in particular is the last animal in the zoo anyone gets to handle. She is extremely intelligent and takes a long time to be comfortable with new handlers, and is also hard to read. She is not a biter, although she has bitten people in the past. She enjoys going for walks around the zoo and going out for shows, but it has to be warm and there has to be an experienced handler with time available to walk her, so she doesn’t go out everyday. She is a surrendered pet and we have occasional issues with her plucking. She also will destroy any toys we give her – she can’t have anything plastic because she’ll shred it but really enjoys bells. We are working on some new behaviors with her manipulating objects (such as “recycle” where she’ll put an item in the recycling bin). She understands what we want her to do but does not always cooperate. She loves to be loud as well and knows a couple words, but nothing on cue. She will, however, repeat certain phrases she knows only one handler says only to that handler. We have never tried to get her to say anything specific to a command, though.

Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species