Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

Cacatua leadbeateri Australia

Also known as Leadbeater’s cockatoo, Pink Cockatoo.

The Major Mitchell’s cockatoo is a strikingly beautiful species. They are medium sized pink cockatoos with recurved crests. The crest feathers have yellow and salmon colored stripes. The crest feathers lie flat on the top of the head with the tips curling upward. The crest feathers spread out and up when the crest is erect. The wings and back are white while most of the chest, the under wings and under tail are pink.

Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are found in central Australia, especially south central areas around Adelaide. They inhabit arid areas especially eucalyptus forests along rivers. They feed in trees and on the ground. They are frequently found co-existing with Rose-breasted cockatoos on savannahs and grass lands where they feed on grass seeds, herbs and in croplands of wheat and corn. They also eat native figs, pinecones and eucalyptus seeds, wild bitter melons, insect larvae, nuts and flowers. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. They are aggressively territorial and are usually found in pairs or small groups.

Length is 14 to 16 inches. Weight is 300-450 grams. Males are generally larger than females and have larger heads and beaks.

Major Mitchell’s and other cockatoo species can be very long lived and a few individuals in zoos have lived up to 50-60 years. Precise data on life span of the average Major Mitchell’s cockatoo is poorly documented, however most Major Mitchell’s do not live as long as possible. Birds often succumb to disease or injury.

Breeding age can be as young as 3 years. Hand-reared males may be problematic breeders. Breeding life span is not precisely known but is possibly up to 25+ years.

Personality - Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are not known to be good pet birds. They tend to be aloof and often bite. Females would be the preferred sex as they are more docile, but are not as common as males.

While Major Mitchell’s don’t often speak, they are very vocal and may loose their home due to loud screaming or aggressive behavior.

Activities – Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are inquisitive love to chew objects in their surroundings. They are very destructive if allow to perch on furniture. They should always be provided with toys, blocks of wood or branches that they can chew. In order to ensure safety companion cockatoos should not be allowed unsupervised freedom in the home as they often encounter toxins or dangerous items. Young cockatoos should be socialized to many people and exposed to a variety of situations such as new cages, toys, visits to the veterinarian, handling by friends, wing and nail clips, etc. to avoid fear of novel situations.

Dietary needs - Cockatoos should be fed a formulated (pelleted or extruded diet) as a basis for good nutrition. Kaytee Exact is an excellent staple diet for cockatoos. The diet should be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables daily to add variety and psychological enrichment. Feed approximately 1/4 cup of Kaytee Exact and 1/4 cup of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. If the bird consumes all of it’s food give additional food as desired. Overfeeding leads to pickiness, wastage and throwing food. Treats such as seeds, nuts and table foods maybe given in small amounts especially as rewards for good behavior.

Special requirements - Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are efficient in utilization of calories. Juvenile cockatoos are notoriously picky eaters and don’t seem to need much food to maintain themselves while adults easily gain too much weight. Try to ensure that the food that they eat is nutritious and avoid large amounts of high fat seeds such as sunflower and safflower. Vitamin supplements are not needed for birds that are eating a formulated diet.

Grooming - Routine bathing or showering is vital to maintaining good plumage and skin condition. Birds can be misted and allowed to dry in a warm room or in the sun, or gently dried with a blow drier. Care should be taken not to clip the wing feathers excessively as cockatoos often fall and injure themselves. Clip only the primary flight feathers and only enough so the bird will glide to the floor. Major Mitchell’s are better flyers than Moluccans and Umbrellas and a few more feathers should be removed.

Identification - All companion and breeding birds should be individually identified to assist in recovery if lost and assist in maintenance of medical and genealogical records. Many breeders apply closed legs bands when chicks are young. While they present a slight risk of entrapment closed bands are preferable to no identification, especially for breeding birds.
Microchips, which can be implanted into the muscle or under the skin, are a reliable means of identification but require electronic readers to verify identification. Tattoos may be used but often fade or become illegible with time. Foot prints may have some application in identification.

Sexing Major Mitchell’s can be sexed by eye color when mature but the color is not always reliable. The eyes of a mature female are red while the eyes of the male are dark brown or black. Juveniles of both sexes will have brown eyes. Sex of breeders should be confirmed by surgical sexing or DNA sexing.

Housing - Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are very active and should be provided the largest cage that space and budget allows. Major Mitchell’s are moderately strong chewers and can break welds on poorly constructed cages. Many are also adept at opening cage latches. Locks or escape proof latches may be necessary on cages. The cage should be as large as possible but must allow at least enough room to fully spread the wings. Ideally the bird will have an outdoor cage as well to allow playtime in the fresh-air and sunlight.

Breeding – Major Mitchell’s cockatoos breed well in captivity but are not as prolific or bred as commonly as Moluccan and Umbrella cockatoo. In North America Major Mitchell’s cockatoos breed predominantly in the winter and spring. Clutch size is typically 2 to 3 eggs. The breeding cage should be large enough to allow flight between perches to help prevent obesity. One inch by one inch 12 gauge welded wire is a good choice for cage construction. A suggested size is 5 feet wide by 5 feet tall by 10 feet long suspended 4 feet above the ground or floor or a large flight cage.

Nest Box - Double entrance boxes are often used to reduce the chance of the male trapping the female in the box. Large grandfather style wooden boxes can be used. Size should be approximately 18” x 18” x 24”. Metal barrels, plastic pickle barrels and garbage cans can be used, however the act of chewing a wooden nest box may stimulate reproductive behavior.

Incubation period is approximately 24-26 days. Chicks will usually fledge at approximately 10 to 12 weeks of age. Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are relatively easy to hand-rear. Most hand rearing formulas can be used successfully. Exact regular handrearing formula is a good choice.

Male cockatoos, especially Major Mitchell’s, frequently become aggressive toward their mates. Fatal attacks may occur in which the male bird severely bites the face, wings, and legs of the female. Cage construction and management must take into consideration techniques to reduce mate aggression. Clipping the wings of the male prior to the breeding season will help the female to escape in case the male becomes aggressive. Aggressive behavior may occur in compatible breeding pairs. Ideally breeders should be the same age and paired when they are young. Older males should not be paired with young females.

When breeding cockatoos, noise and proximity to neighbors must be considered. If housed outdoors cockatoos often call at night especially during a full moon. In southern states outdoor caging must be protected from opossums to prevent exposure to the parasite Sarcocystis falcatula which can result in a fatal lung infection.

Common diseases and disorders

  • Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (Common in the wild population but rare now in captive cockatoos)
  • Proventricular dilation disease
  • Feather-picking
  • Self mutilation
  • Juvenile chewing of flight feathers and tail
  • Poor eating habits - picky eaters
  • Bacterial and fungal infections
  • Sarcocystis
  • Mate aggression
  • Toxicity, ingestion of metals

Conservation Status - Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are listed on Appendix II on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species but only because of the listing of almost all Parrot species. Their wild population is widespread and stable but they are sparsely distributed throughout their range. Australia does not permit the export of native wildlife. Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are uncommon and expensive in the United States.