By Phillip Samuelson
Cockatoos hold a special place in my heart. Anyone who has shared their lives with one of these beautiful and affectionate parrots has fallen under its spell. It’s nearly impossible to resist the charming nature of these crested beauties and have them steal your heart.
Back in the ’80s when parrot importation was wide open, importers sold Moluccans, umbrellas and Goffin’s cockatoos at surprisingly low prices. When I would visit importer facilities, it was sad to see terrified cockatoos huddled in a big group, separated in large cages by species. I had always admired cockatoos and had long desired one of my own. When I saw a local newspaper ad for a Moluccan cockatoo at a surprisingly cheap price–cage included–I made the call and arranged to see the bird.
The cockatoo’s owners lived near the beach in Santa Monica, California, a short drive down the coast from my place in Malibu. My best way to describe them would be to use a popular word of that time, “yuppies.” The 30-something couple were urban professionals dressed to the nines when I arrived, ready to head out for a night on the town. The husband owned the bird and felt guilty about never taming it nor having any time for it. The wife seemed disinterested in the bird altogether, and seemed mostly interested in leaving for the evening. As I entered a back bedroom of the home, a hissing, swaying, dirty, foot-stomping Moluccan cockatoo greeted me from its cage in the corner. I quickly saw that the cage was much too small for the bird, who was unable to extend its wings. The dowel perch had a tiny diameter, more appropriate for a small conure than a large cockatoo. During its nervous swaying, the Moluccan would slip on its perch occasionally because he could not get a firm grip. Regardless of his dirty plumage, however, the bird appeared healthy. I knew he would be happier with me, so I struck a deal with the owner. After loading the bird and his supplies–most of which were inappropriate for him–into the back of my Honda Accord, he was mine, and we were on our way to a new and much happier life for him.
Taming came rather easily. I had tamed enough imported parrots by then to realize that an “aggressive” bird is much easier to tame than a shy, timid one. I gave the bird a day to settle down and adjust to his new cage before initiating taming. I named the bird Floyd, which I thought was an appropriate name for a large pink parrot. Because he had been unable to wear his nails down at all on the tiny perch he had been forced to use, his nails were long and razor sharp. Trimming those nails was the first priority. Then I washed him with a warm spritzing from a water bottle.
Taming and training Floyd soon commenced and was rather uneventful and easy. He responded quickly to kind treatment and treats. Soon I was able to gently stroke his neck and, like any tame cockatoo, he loved it! Within months he was curling up on his back in my arms like a baby and making gentle grunting sounds. What a bird! Despite his affection for me, Floyd never learned to trust or tolerate any other people. The mere sight of another human and he was a swaying, hissing, foot-stomping demon no different from the day I got him. It would amaze people when I would step over and pick him up. He would lay on his back in my arms and glare at the other people in the room, hissing loudly. It seems Floyd was very selective about his clientele. I was it!
One of Floyd’s favorite activities was playing on the top of an enormous parrot play gym I had in my living room. He would scramble to the top and strut around, playing with the attached toys. If he saw I was ignoring him by doing household chores, vigorous, frantic wing flapping would ensue. He would turn his back to me and suddenly strike a pose, wings outstretched and head peeking around so he could see if I was watching. Additional wing slapping would often follow, followed by absolutely ear-splitting vocalizations. The best way I could describe these outbursts is the sound of a cat caught in a rusty screen door. There was no doubt about it. Floyd was very demanding of my attention–a high-maintenance boy for sure.
Floyd was somewhat typical of large cockatoos. Demanding, lovable and extremely affectionate are all terms that fit. For those who have the time and dedication for a cockatoo, the rewards are great.