Cockatoo vs Parrot (Astonishing Differences for Potential Owners)

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Ali Shahid

Parrots and cockatoos are known for their lively personalities and the cool trick of mimicking our speech. People have loved having them as friendly companions for a long time. These birds belong to the Psittaciformes group, and they’re part of the Psittacidae family, which is famous for their colorful feathers and their love for socializing. 

Among these birds, cockatoos are a special bunch. They have this fancy crest of feathers and usually come in colors like black, white, red, pink, or yellow. On the other hand, parrots usually have green feathers with some lively shades thrown in. These birds not only look good, but they also entertain us with their playful actions, making them super popular as pets all over the globe.


Brief Overview of Cockatoo vs Parrot

Size RangeGenerally largeRange from small to large
Average LifespanTypically 40-60 yearsVaries widely, from 15-20 years for smaller species to 50-80 years for larger ones
Ability to Mimic Human SpeechGenerally goodRanges from poor to excellent, depending on the species
Feather ColorationMostly white, black, or grey with some red, pink, or yellowWide range of colors, with many species having green plumage and others, like the Eclectus Parrot, displaying more vibrant hues
Noise LevelTypically loudRanges from low to loud, depending on the species
Affection LevelHighRanges from low to high, depending on the species
Typical Size (Length)12 – 18”3Varies widely, from 7 -10” for smaller species to 16” for larger ones
Behavioral CharacteristicsHighly social and affectionate, known for strong bonds with owners and a tendency towards feather pluckingVaries widely, from aloof to playful and social, with a tendency to chew on feathers
Number of SpeciesApproximately 17 speciesOver 350 species

Physical Differences

Cockatoos and parrots have noticeable physical differences that can help us tell them apart.

Let’s talk about crests and colors. Cockatoos are famous for their unique crest feathers that can go up or down. This crest thing is special to cockatoos; you won’t find it in other parrots. Cockatoos usually have less vibrant colors compared to other parrots. 

Many of them are mostly white, grey, or black, with some color in their crest, cheeks, or tail. For example, the palm cockatoo has a cool head crest, and the sulfur-crested cockatoo rocks a bright yellow one. Others, like the salmon-crested cockatoo, show off shades of pink and yellow.

Now, let’s consider size, beak shape, and feathers. Cockatoos are generally between 12 to 24 inches long. Some, like the Moluccan cockatoo, are on the larger side. Parrots, though, come in all sizes, from the tiny budgerigar to the big macaws. 

The beak of a cockatoo is wider and stronger than the narrower beak of other parrots, adapted to their specific diet. The way their skulls and beaks evolved is influenced by factors like what they eat and where they live. Big cockatoos and macaws have a flattened skull roof and a repositioned palate-pterygoid complex, which helps them bite hard.

Lastly, let’s talk feathers again. Cockatoos usually have a single-colored plumage, often white or dark. This is different from other parrots like Ara or Amazon parrots, who show off bright, varied colors in their feathers.

Behavioral Traits

Cockatoos are known for being lively and affectionate birds, forming strong bonds with their owners. People often call them “Velcro birds” because they like to cuddle and stay close to their human pals.

These birds are smart and loyal, seeking attention and interaction. If they don’t get enough of that, they might show behavior problems like screaming or pulling out their feathers. Cockatoos can also copy human speech, though they may not have as many words as some other parrots.

When it comes to making noise, parrots, in general, are famous for being chatterboxes. Cockatoos, while not having the widest vocal range, are especially known for being loud. 

They can be even louder than macaws, reaching up to 135 decibels compared to macaws’ 105 decibels. Among cockatoos, Moluccan cockatoos are the noisiest. Their loud calls are a natural way of communicating with their flock and usually happen a few times a day, especially in the morning and evening.

Habitat and Distribution

Cockatoos and parrots live in different places around the world. Cockatoos are from Australasia, which includes Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. They live in various spots like rainforests, woodlands, alpine forests, and even cities. Some are social and hang out in mixed groups for eating, flying, and resting. Unfortunately, some cockatoo types are decreasing in numbers because of losing their homes and getting caught illegally.

Now, parrots are mostly found in tropical areas and some southern temperate spots globally, like Madagascar, Pacific islands, and the West Indies. In Asia, they are in India but not in Europe. In North America, there’s a parrot called the thick-billed parrot in Mexico and parts of the southwestern U.S.

One big difference is that cockatoos have a movable crest on their heads, a feature not seen in other parrots. Cockatoos mostly have black or white feathers with a bit of red, pink, or yellow, while parrots are mainly green with hints of red, pink, or yellow. Cockatoos are known for their loud calls that help them communicate with their group.

Diet and Nutrition

Cockatoos and parrots have a bit different eating habits. Both birds do well with a mix of pellets, seeds, fruits, veggies, and nuts in their diet, but the amounts and preferences can differ.

Cockatoos do best with mainly pelleted food made for birds, along with some seeds, fruits, and veggies. They really enjoy peanuts and sunflower seeds, but these are high in fat and don’t have enough vitamin A and other important nutrients.

Parrots, on the other hand, like a more varied diet that leans towards fruits. They also eat seeds, nuts, and plants, but the proportions are a bit different.

It’s important to know that what these birds eat can be influenced by things like how much they move around, their age, and overall health. Birds in cages don’t need as many calories as those in the wild because they don’t have to travel far for food.

If cockatoos and parrots only eat seeds, it can cause serious health issues. Seeds are high in fat but lack other necessary nutrients, leading to health problems. Not enough vitamin A can cause breathing and eye issues, and not enough calcium can make their bones weak. Also, too much fat can lead to obesity, heart troubles, joint pain, and a shorter life.

Seeds should only be a small part of their diet. Most of their food, about 60-80%, should be pellets. The rest should be a mix of veggies, fruits, and a small amount of seeds and nuts. This way, they get all the nutrition they need to stay healthy.

Health and Care

Cockatoos and parrots can face various health problems, but proper care can prevent many issues. Common concerns include respiratory diseases, feather plucking, and liver damage from a fatty diet. Long beaks might signal health problems, so it’s essential to have a vet check them.

Preventing problems involves giving them a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mental stimulation. Gentle grooming and occasional water spray help keep their feathers healthy. Regular check-ups with a bird specialist vet are crucial for early issue detection.

Cockatoos are social birds that need lots of interaction and stimulation. They like being in busy rooms with natural light. Leaving the radio or TV on when you’re not around can entertain them. Daily, they need time out of their cage for exercise and interaction. Sitting near the open cage, speaking calmly, and offering treats can encourage interaction.

Environmental enrichment is vital for their well-being. Toys, puzzles, foraging opportunities, and social interaction all contribute. Changing toys and perch arrangements in the cage adds mental stimulation. All these measures ensure a happy and healthy life for your feathered friends.

Lifespan and Breeding

Cockatoos, especially when kept as pets, have impressively long lifespans. While they may live 20 to 40 years in the wild, in captivity, they can thrive for 50 to 70 years. Some exceptional cases even report cockatoos living over 100 years, though most pet cockatoos usually range between 40 to 70 years, depending on their care.

Parrots, in general, have varying lifespans based on their species. For instance, pet cockatiels typically live around 15 to 25 years in captivity, with the oldest recorded at 36 years. Larger parrots like macaws may potentially reach 100 years, but their average lifespan is commonly up to 50 years.

Concerning breeding, cockatoos are monogamous and form strong pair bonds. They usually mate once a year, from December to March. For successful breeding, providing a secure and comfortable environment is essential.

Nesting boxes are often used in captivity to mimic their natural breeding settings. Breeders must comprehend the commitment required, ensuring the breeding pair’s proper diet, a stress-free space, and veterinary care for both parents and offspring. Additionally, breeders should be ready to hand-rear chicks if the parents are unable or unwilling to do so.

Pet Ownership Challenges

Owning a cockatoo or parrot can be fulfilling, but it does pose significant challenges. A major issue is the noise; cockatoos are known for their loud calls, causing potential stress for both owners and neighbors. This noise not only risks hearing but can also create conflicts in noise-sensitive environments. 

Behavioral problems are common too. Without enough attention, cockatoos may get too loud and destructive, chewing on furniture and other items. They need lots of interaction and mental stimulation to avoid issues like screaming or feather plucking. Parrots, in general, can face similar problems if their social and environmental needs are neglected.

While cockatoos are cherished pets known for forming strong bonds, there are misconceptions about how easy they are to care for. They’re high-maintenance physically and emotionally, requiring a significant amount of attention and time outside their cages. 

Many people are unaware of the time commitment and quality care these birds need, leading to thousands being given up to bird rescue facilities each year due to destructive behavior and the challenges they pose. 

Prospective owners may not fully understand the commitment involved, and it’s important for them to consider adoption from rescue organizations, as there’s a surplus of older birds needing homes.

Conservation Status

Cockatoos and parrots are facing significant threats, leading to the endangerment of various species. Conservation efforts are underway, but challenges persist. The yellow-crested cockatoo, critically endangered with 1,000 to 2,500 remaining in the wild, is threatened by habitat loss and illegal trapping for the pet trade.

The scarlet macaw, military macaw, and African grey parrot are also endangered. The Philippine cockatoo faces critical endangerment due to habitat loss and illegal trapping. The salmon-crested cockatoo is at risk due to logging, habitat conversion, and the pet trade.

Habitat loss, primarily from deforestation and fragmentation, poses a major threat. Illegal capture and nest poaching for the wild-caught bird trade exacerbate the decline. The white cockatoo is endangered due to capture for the cage bird trade and habitat loss. The pet trade poses risks, as many birds perish before reaching consumers.

Conservation strategies include habitat protection, anti-poaching efforts, and legal safeguards. Organizations like the Indonesian Parrot Project and the Katala Foundation work on alternative incomes, scientific studies, and rehabilitating confiscated birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists some cockatoo species under the Endangered Species Act, collaborating internationally to regulate their trade.

Despite efforts, protected areas cover only 10% of parrot species’ geographic range. The future depends on effective management, especially in hotspots like southern Australia and the Amazon Basin. Conservation groups advocate for stronger protections and better habitat management to secure the survival of these species.


Cockatoos and parrots, belonging to the same Psittaciformes order, showcase noticeable differences in physical traits, behaviors, and habitats. Both demand a well-rounded diet and attentive care to ward off health concerns. 

As pets, they come with challenges like noise and behavior problems, requiring informed and dedicated owners. Numerous cockatoo and parrot species confront substantial threats due to habitat loss and the pet trade, emphasizing the importance of conservation endeavors. 

Whether contemplating these birds as pets or admiring them, grasping their distinct features, requirements and the challenges they confront is vital. Responsible pet guardianship and backing conservation initiatives play a pivotal role in securing the survival and welfare of these extraordinary creatures.


  • 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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