Cockatoo Heaven

Cockatoo Characteristics

Mate Aggression Information Exchange

There have been many instances of male cockatoos, breeding in captivity, who have injured or killed their mates. Some males will prevent a female from eating and drinking. When she has become weak, he then attacks. This phenomenon is not limited to newly formed pairs, but has appeared in pairs which have been together for many years. Very little is known about the causes of and reasons for this behavior. However, one current belief is that the male is sexually ready to mate, while the female is not. In the wild, females can escape males by flying away, but in an aviary this is not an option.

There are a number of things that can be done.
  • Provide nesting boxes with two exits, so that the female can escape the nest if necessary.
  • Clip the male's wings while leaving the female capable of flying away
  • Provide two sets of food bowls so the male cannot prevent the female from eating
  • Install cameras and intercoms for monitoring activity in the aviary.
  • Separate pairs if there are warning signs of aggression.
  • Pair Compatability - Some aviculturists believe that pairs which have chosen each other show less aggression.
This page will be a forum for collecting and sharing information from aviculturalists who have experience with male aggression. Hopefully some of this information will be of help to others and perhaps even help in identifying a solution.

Carol Highfill

From: Bobbi Brinker ( November 11, 1996
Subject: Breeder Questions

Pair compatibility is key in cockatoos. For safety's sake, a long introductory period is necessary. It is best to pair up cockatoos in the summer or early fall. Mate aggression is high when pairs are put together in the spring. "Psittacine Aviculture" by Richard Schubot has some interesting findings about mate aggression by time of year. I don't recall if this was with established pairs or new pairs.

My cockatoo pairs are a larger species than the Goffin's but I think a large cage can be safer for the female. My cages are 4x4x6 and 4x4x5.

Several strategies have been suggested for reducing mate aggression. One of the least complicated is clipping the male severely while leaving the female flighted. FWIW - A friend lost a hen because the male kept the female from food and water. She died of dehydration and starvation (upon necropsy).

I have closed circuit cameras on my birds. I think this is a good way to keep track of what is going on. Especially if you have an aviary in an outside building. The black and white surveillance cameras would be a good choice as they are meant (in many cases) for low light situations. I also have the big, old, color video cameras. These and the other cameras can be picked up at computer flea markets, ham conventions, perhaps other similar gatherings.


From: J. Paul (augie@JPS.NET) December 16, 1996
Subject: Breeding Goffins

I raise quite a few 'toos and the only serious mate attacks have been twice within the past two weeks and in both cases was in the 'smaller 'toos: (One a longtime mated pair of goffins and the other in a pair of bonded citrons. Fortunately, we got the hens out before they were killed and they are now healing. One had her beak ripped pretty badly and a leg wound, and the citron had a vicious bite/tear to the shoulder area. The males are clipped, the females unclipped, t-boxes are used and they are in 3x4x6 cages to allow room for the hens to flee if necessary.

There is very little info written on either of these, but to me they are difficult to get to settle down and go to nest. I keep visual barriers between the cages with the goffins as they seem to spend much time 'fence fighting' the neighboring males otherwise. I also think that the reason for the attack this past week was due to a bachelor M2 screaming his lungs out in a bout of the 'hornies'. He is visually isolated in the building but they certainly became aggitated by it.

jp (just another wingnut)

From: Anne Johnson ( December 30, 1996
Subject: too aggression

Unfortunately, some birds do not exhibit early signs of aggression. Others may chase the hen around the cage, dominate the food & water dishes, trap the hen in the nest box, or physically attack the hens that result in minor injuries. If a male exhibits any of those signs I would immediately remove him from the breeding situation.

To reduce the risk of aggression: introduce a male and female that are at the same sexual maturity level and make sure they are a truely bonded pair and not a pair that has bonded by default. I house my too's in large flights. I use 8 foot flights for small too's and 12 foot flights for the larger toos. It is harder to trap a female in a large cage. All of the hens are fully flighted while the males are clipped at all times. This gives the hens the advantage for a quick escape if it becomes necessary. I use double entry nest boxes to prevent the males from trapping the hens in the nest box. I have two sets of food dishes and 2 water bottles which are placed as opposite ends of the cage so that the males can't dominate the food. Some males will not actually attack and kill the hens but trap them in the nest box where the hens will die of starvation, or they will not let them eat or drink. Having two sets of dishes prevents the males from witholding food.

To introduce the new bird after quarantine and vet check up I would keep the birds in separate cages side by side, spaced far enough apart so that they cannot touch. After the pair show signs of interest such as calling to each other, sitting as close to each other as possibe, etc. you can let them out of their cages at the same time while observing them at all times. If they click their beaks together, preen each other, etc. and are beginning to bond you may decide to cage them together. Go slow and you will have to decide as it happens if they are bonding or not. I have had the best success with birds who liked each other instantly.

BTW, I had a proven female Fischer Lovebird, who attacked and kill her mate. Aggression is quite common with Lovebirds also, but the hens are the aggressors.

Anne Johnson

From: Kelly Tucker ( January 27, 1997
Subject: Umbrella 'Toos

This question was addressed to me.

Hello. I am new to the cockatoo-l list. I chose to email you with my question because you seem to have a good knowledge about cockatoos and you have a good writing style. I hope you will help me.

I have a male U2 which I recently got a female for. They are very interested in each other. I put them together in the same huge cage, and they went to preening each other, clicking and doing the mating posturing in sync. I felt great about it. Everything was going great, I was never more than 6 feet away, just in case the dreaded cockatoo agression came about. Hours passed by, all day, and then when it started to get dark outside, my male dashed for the female, attacked and bit her. She is ok, nothing broken on her wing where she was bitten. My male then hung on the inside side of the cage seemingly seething to get at the female, who was housed in a separate cage a few feet away. I know that cockatoos get bitey toward their female mates during breeding season, but I'm afraid for the female.

Is the attacking normal and is it likely that the male's attacking urge will phase out as they spend more time near each other (separate cages)? This has happened 3 times, and now I only keep them in separate cages near each other, so he can't attack her. I would be very appreciative of your advice on this pairing. The man I bought the male from said he was NOT a mate killer. But I'm beginning to have doubts. The male is 5, unproven, handfed, a former biting pet moved to a breeding situation. The female is 12, wild caught, a proven breeder. Both are on pellets, soft food mix of 15 beans, veggies, pasta, wheat germ, barleys, rice and fruits. Both get nutriberries for a snack, female gets baked eggshell for extra calcium twice a week. They are both vibrant, beautifully feathered and healthy. I thank you for any advice.

DeAnna Shepherd

Oh boy, DeAnna, you sure ask the hard questions.

The short answer is that no one can tell for sure whether or not a cockatoo will attack and kill or injure a potential mate. I can give you the benefit of what I have learned over several years. I have had three pairs of Moluccan Cockatoos, one pair of Rosebreasted Cockatoos, two pairs of Eleanora Cockatoos and four pairs of Umbrella Cockatoos.

Of all these birds, we have had trouble with two pairs of M2's, the pair of RB2's, one pair of Eleanoras and one pair of U2's. All were males attacking their hens. Fortunately, no bird has been killed. We have had one bitten beak and two bloody feet.

We used to treat the injury if it required treatment, give the birds a rest from each other in separate cages and then try to repair them. We had all the correct nestboxes with escape hatches for the hen, large flights, clipped one wing on the male, etc. The long and short of it was that nothing worked.

If a male attacked his hen, no matter how affectionate and bonded they seemed, he always attacked her again. These males had several things in common. They were all hand fed as babies and they all grew up in homes without a "peer group". That is, there were no other cockatoos in the home. The new pet owner had finished the hand-feeding.

In the last couple of years, we have not given any second chances. We feel that it's too risky for the hen. Most of these males have made it clear that they would rather be pets. They do not recognize themselves as cockatoos. The most violent attacks have come when a person was near the pair. The males seem to feel that if they can kill the intruder (the hen), that they can then entice the object of their affections (the human) into the nest box. The only thing that seems to improve with time is that the males get better at attacking. Their intention is truly murder. It would be funny if the consequences weren't so tragic.

Right now, we have a beautiful pet male Rosebreasted Cockatoo for sale . He really is a super pet - does tricks and talks a little, loves people and is very affectionate. Tell your friends. I wanted to use him as a breeder because he is such a great pet and I wanted to raise more little RB2's just like him. Alas, he has other ideas.

In our experience, the successfully breeding pairs of cockatoos *never* show any tendency to bite their mates. The males are *always* very careful around their hens, always staying between them and any perceived threat. The hens are always cooperative and allow the males to defend the territory.

Males spend a great deal of time in the nest box with the hens when there are eggs. Males come out of the nest box and stand calmly in front of the entrance when we go to feed.

I wish I had an answer for you that you want to hear, but ... Let me know what you decide to do and how it works. We need to share knowledge. Keep me posted and good luck.

Kelly Tucker

From: Kelly Tucker ( February 10, 1997
Subject: Male aggression and breeding behavior

The problem with mate aggression in birds - it's not limited to cockatoos or males - is that it is often very unpredictable. The first symptom is often a dead mate. If we could explain it, we might be able to prevent it.

Most of the cases that I have heard about occur early in the breeding season when the male may come into breeding condition before the hen. This is not always the case.

Many cases have been associated with high potency Vitamin E supplementation.

Most cases have occurred in pairs that were kept in flights less than fifteen-feet long and five-feet wide. Hens do not have "room to run".

I have never heard of mate aggression being prevented by any particular nest box design. The book "Psittacine Aviculture" by Schubot, Clubb & Clubb has some more information.

Wish we knew more.


From: Sybil Erden ( February 10, 1997
Subject: Male aggression and breeding behavior

Male aggression in cockatoos is a rather mysterious and poorly understood phenomenon. It generally occurs when the male is ready to mate and the female isn't. The male can attack the female and often kills her, or leaves her severly mutilated. Often the beak is bitten off . Sometimes it has happened after years and years of compatible living between bonded/mated pairs. The only thing that is known is if a male kills or mutilates he should NEVER be put with another female because it is likely to happen again.

I just spoke to Dr. Branson Ritchie about this. He says, according to breeders/researchers he respects, that it is more likely with a male who is very vocal, which means he is the dominant partner...and somewhat less likely to occur if the female is more vocal (i.e. she is the dominant one.)

Any time you have a pair of cockatoos it is suggested that the female be fully flighted and the male have his wings trimmed short. The space should be large enough for her to be able to fly to safety.


[Home Page] [General Information] [Species Information] [Features] [Links]

Cockatoo Heaven is owned and sponsored by Birds n Ways
Copyright © 1997 Birds n Ways All rights reserved. ---- Last update: March 30, 1997
Contact Us