Cockatoo vs Macaw (Find Out Major Differences)

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Ali Shahid

Cockatoos and Macaws are two types of parrots that are eye-catching. They’re both alike and different in various ways. These birds come from different parts of the world and are known for their bright colors, smarts, and special actions. Cockatoos, which are smaller and from Australasia, can be a bit tricky to take care of. 

On the other hand, Macaws, which are bigger and from the Americas, live a long time and eat lots of different things. Knowing what makes these birds different is important, whether you’re thinking about having them as pets or just finding them fascinating because of their beauty and behavior. 

This knowledge doesn’t just make us like these birds more, but it also helps us take care of them properly and work towards keeping them safe. So, let’s start this journey to find out what makes Cockatoos and Macaws unique.

Cockatoo vs Macaw

Brief Overview of Cockatoo vs Macaw

SizeGenerally smaller, ranging from 12-24 inches in lengthLarger, most species measure between 2-4 feet in length
PlumagePredominantly black or white with hints of red, pink, or yellow; adjustable feather crest on the headKnown for vibrant colors; longer tails and bigger beaks
Native RegionAustralasia (Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, and some Pacific regions)The Americas (Central America, Mexico, South America, and historically the Caribbean)
Natural HabitatDiverse habitats including forests, mangroves, woodlands, rainforests, and alpine regionsTypically associated with forests, including rainforests, woodlands, and savannah-like habitats near water bodies
DietSeeds, fruits, nuts, berries, flowers, and vegetation; formulated pellets; occasional proteinsSeeds, nuts, fruits, berries, leaves, and vegetation; higher fat requirement; formulated pellets; fruits and vegetables
Behavior and TemperamentLively, affectionate, “Velcro birds,” require a lot of attention, and can become depressed if neglectedPlayful, active, more predictable in body language, can be loud, more independent
VocalizationHigher vocal range up to 135 dB, perceived to be louderVocal range up to 105 dB, can still be quite noisy
Care RequirementsSpacious living areas, varied diet, regular misting, prone to neurotic behaviors if not given attentionSpacious enclosures, a diet high in fat, routine misting, susceptible to malnutrition if dietary needs are not met
Lifespan20 to 60 years, depending on the species30 to 50 years, some individuals may live up to 70 years
Common Health IssuesPsittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), neurotic behaviors, reproductive issues, obesity, cloacal prolapseProventricular Dilatation Disease, skin diseases, allergies, hormonal imbalances, feather chewing, oral and cloacal papillomas, Psittacosis, kidney disease

Physical Characteristics

Cockatoos and Macaws are both big, colorful birds, but they have some noticeable differences in size and appearance. Cockatoos are generally smaller, usually ranging from 12 to 24 inches in length. They stand out with their unique feathers, mostly black or white, with touches of red, pink, or yellow. Cockatoos can raise a flexible feather crest on top of their heads, especially when showing off or doing certain actions.

Macaws are larger birds, usually measuring between 2 to 4 feet long. They have longer tails, wings, bigger feet, and a more substantial body compared to Cockatoos. Macaws are famous for their vivid colors and sturdy beaks.

The biggest Macaw species is the Hyacinth Macaw, while the smallest is the Hahn’s Macaw. When it comes to feathers, Macaws stand out with their bright colors, creating a striking contrast to the more muted tones of Cockatoos. For example, the Palm Cockatoo has long and fluffy feathers, giving it a unique appearance.

Habitat and Origin

Cockatoos come from Australasia, which includes Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and certain Pacific areas. They’re a bit picky about where they live, with some species only found on specific islands or regions within these places. For example, eleven out of the 21 species live only in Australia, while others stick to the islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

On the other side of the globe, Macaws call the Americas home. They hang out from Central America and Mexico down through South America, and they used to be seen in the Caribbean. Macaws are quite adaptable, living in various regions, including Mexico, South America, and historically, the Caribbean.

Now, let’s discuss their favorite hangouts. Cockatoos are like subalpine forests to mangroves. They’re a bit choosy, not setting up shop in all kinds of spots, and you’ll find them in different environments like woodlands, rainforests, shrublands, and even alpine forests. 

Meanwhile, Macaws chill in forests, especially rainforests, but they’re cool with woodlands and savannah-like spots too. They’re quite flexible, making homes in lowlands, savannahs, and swamplands, and they prefer areas with lots of trees close to water. The scarlet macaw, for instance, lives high in the canopy of rainforest habitats.


Cockatoos and Macaws munch on a mix of seeds, nuts, fruits, and plants. In the wild, they adjust what they eat based on what’s available in their surroundings. Cockatoos, for example, go for seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, flowers, and other green stuff. Macaws also chow down on seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, leaves, and plants, but they need a bit more fat in their diet compared to other birds.

Now, let’s chat about what they specifically like to eat.

Cockatoos have a varied diet of greens, veggies, and fruits. They get a good chunk of their nutrition from balanced pellets. Seeds are cool, but not too much because they might miss out on some nutrients. They might enjoy a bit of protein here and there like cheese, cooked eggs, or tiny bits of meat, but dairy should be limited because of lactose intolerance. And don’t forget treats like nuts and whole grains for some variety.

Macaws need more fat, and they can get it from nuts like Brazil nuts or walnuts. Special bird pellets are a good idea to make sure they get all the right nutrients. Fruits and veggies should be about 20-25% of their daily grub, but go easy on the pale veggies since they’re not as nutritious. Seeds and nuts are part of their natural diet but shouldn’t take over because of the high-fat content and potential health issues.

Behavior and Temperament

Cockatoos and Macaws are both smart, lively, and affectionate birds, but they’ve got their own quirks when it comes to behavior. Cockatoos are like little balls of energy and love. People often call them “Velcro birds” because they get super attached to their owners. They’re clever, love to play, and can be a bit sneaky. 

But, here’s the thing – they need a lot of attention. If you ignore them, they might feel down or start acting a bit strange. Cockatoos are chatty too, and they can get pretty loud, especially when they want some attention. Some say they’re like having a small kid around because they crave attention and affection a lot.

Now, let’s talk about Macaws. They’re also playful and full of life, matching their size. They’re more predictable with their body language compared to cockatoos. Macaws can be noisy too, and some folks might find their chirps a bit much.

Macaws are a bit more independent, often bonding strongly with just one person. When it comes to being active, both cockatoos and macaws are high-energy buddies, needing lots of things to keep their minds and bodies busy. Nevertheless, cockatoos are considered to be more active than macaws and require a bit more attention. Macaws, while still lively, might not be as demanding of constant company as their cockatoo pals.


Cockatoos and Macaws are famous for their vocal talents, but they each have their unique styles and volumes.

Let’s start with vocal ranges. Cockatoos are like the rockstars of the bird world, reaching up to 135 decibels, while Macaws keep it a bit more chill with a range limited to 105 decibels. To put it plainly, Cockatoos are considered louder than Macaws. Imagine a loud rock concert – that’s around 115 dB, so you get the idea.

Now, when it comes to vocal behaviors, both Macaws and Cockatoos have a thing for making noise. They usually have their vocal sessions twice to thrice a day, making calls at dawn, dusk, and nightfall. It’s like their way of doing a roll call with their ‘flock.’ Cockatoos are especially chatty and sociable, making a fair bit of noise daily. In the wild, their screeches help them chat with each other or warn about dangers.

In terms of noise levels, Cockatoos take the crown for being the loudest among all parrot families. Their noise levels are almost as loud as a 747 jet. Macaws, though not as loud as their Cockatoo buddies, can still belt out some calls for about 30 minutes each morning and night. So, if you’re looking for a feathered friend, be ready for some lively conversations!

Care and Maintenance

Cockatoos and Macaws need a lot of care. They need a big place to live, good food, regular visits to the vet, things to keep them busy, and time with people. Taking care of them is not easy and needs a lot of time and effort from their owners.

Differences in How to Take Care of Them

Cockatoos: Cockatoos really need attention, and if they don’t get it, they can start acting strangely. They need a mix of food, including balanced pellets, fresh veggies, and fruits. They can have seeds and nuts sometimes. Their homes should be big with lots of toys and places to sit to keep them happy and active.

Cockatoos make a lot of feather dust, so they need a regular mist or shower to keep their feathers and skin healthy. They can get sick, especially with reproductive problems and liver issues, so it’s important to keep an eye on them and see the vet regularly.

Macaws: Macaws also need a big home with space to move around and play with toys. They eat more fatty food than other parrots and like a mix of nuts, pellets, fruits, and veggies. Just like Cockatoos, they need a regular mist or shower to keep their feathers and skin in good shape.

If they don’t get the right food, they can get sick, and they are known for chewing things a lot. So, it’s important to give them safe toys to chew on.

Challenges of Having Them as Pets

Both Cockatoos and Macaws can live for a really long time, so owning them is a big commitment. They can be noisy and need a lot of space, which can be hard in a home. Also, they are smart and like being with people, so if they don’t get enough attention, they might start acting out.

Lifespan and Health

Cockatoos and Macaws are parrots that live a long time, sometimes even for several decades. But most people agree that Cockatoos usually live longer than Macaws. Cockatoos can live from 20 to 60 years, depending on the type

. On the flip side, Macaws usually live around 30 to 50 years, although some can live up to 70 years. Cockatoos can get sick with things like Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, which can mess up their feathers and beaks and make them sick. They can also act strange and hurt themselves if they don’t get enough love and attention. 

Other problems include issues with having babies, getting too fat from eating too much fatty food, and a condition where their insides come out, mainly in older females. Macaws can get sick too, with things like a disease that affects their stomach, skin problems, allergies, and issues with their hormones. 

They might also chew on their feathers, get growths in their mouth and rear end, a fever called Psittacosis, and have kidney problems, especially when they are babies. Skin problems caused by allergies, bugs, and infections are common in Macaws as well. It’s important to give them good food, see the vet regularly, and keep them mentally active to keep them healthy and alive for a long time. If they seem sick or act weird, it’s best to see a bird expert right away.


Cockatoos and Macaws are fascinating types of parrots, each with their own special traits and needs. Cockatoos, coming from Australasia, are generally smaller and need more care because they’re affectionate and like attention. They’re known for being vocal and have mostly black or white feathers. 

On the flip side, Macaws from the Americas are bigger and need more fat in their diet. They’re more independent and are famous for their bright colors. When deciding between a Cockatoo and a Macaw as a pet, you should think about your lifestyle, where you live, and how much time you can spend taking care of the bird. 

Both birds need a lot of time, money, and space. They also need good food, regular visits to the vet, and things to keep them busy and healthy. You should also think about how long the bird will live and what health issues they might have.

In addition to being pets, these birds are also friends who require care and attention over the long term. So, deciding to have a Cockatoo or a Macaw is a big choice, and you need to be ready for the responsibility.


  • Dr. Anees Ashraf

    He is a veterinarian by profession currently working in a vet clinic. He loves to treat and breed parrots to produce different mututions.

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