Male vs Female Cockatoo (Major Differences)

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Ali Shahid

Cockatoos stand out with their unique crests and curved bills. There are 21 different types of these birds, like the white ones, the dark ones, and the smallest of the bunch, the cockatiel. It’s important to know the distinctions between male and female cockatoos, especially if you’re thinking about having one as a pet. 

Even though both genders have similarities, there are subtle differences. For example, in some types, males have black eyes, and females have brown eyes. The beak, feather color, and size can also differ between them.

Plus, males often have more vibrant colors and are known for their lovely songs, while females might have lighter or gray tones. Understanding these distinctions not only deepens our admiration for these interesting birds but also helps in giving them proper care and grasping their unique behaviors.

Male vs Female Cockatoo

Physical Differences

Cockatoos are lively and affectionate birds celebrated for their unique feathers and crests. While the classic white ones with yellow crests are common, you can also spot gray, black, blue, or pink cockatoos, sometimes with a mix of colors in their feathers and crests. These birds come equipped with sharp, curved beaks and claws, as is typical for birds that take to the skies.

Eye Color

In many cockatoo species, telling males and females apart can be based on eye color. For example, female galahs, Major Mitchell’s, and white cockatoos show red tones in their eyes, while all males have dark brown irises. In the case of the sulphur-crested cockatoo, mature males have black eyes, while females have brownish-colored eyes. This eye color distinction is also applicable to blue-eyed cockatoos, Moluccan (or salmon-crested) cockatoos, red-vented cockatoos, rose-breasted cockatoos, and umbrella cockatoos. However, this difference becomes noticeable only when the cockatoos have grown up, as young cockatoos uniformly have brown eyes.

Beak Size and Structure

Cockatoos sport a sizable bill, kept sharp by grinding their two jaws together during rest. This bill is paired with a substantial, muscular tongue that aids in maneuvering seeds within. Typically, male cockatoos boast broad, black beaks, while females have somewhat smaller, horn-colored ones. Although color variations exist in certain breeds, the general pattern is for males to have dark beaks and females to have lighter ones. Notably, in palm cockatoos, males showcase a noticeably larger beak.

Body Size and Structure

Males and females in all cockatoo species share a strong resemblance. While there might be subtle variations in body size or head structure in some species, these differences are often too minor and inconsistent to reliably identify the bird’s sex. Nonetheless, as a general trend, males tend to be larger and heavier than females. Take the white cockatoo, for example; the male typically boasts a broader head and a larger beak compared to the female.

Feather Color and Patterns

In most cockatoo species, males and females wear the same feather coat. Yet, some species stand out with distinctive plumage variations. For instance, in gang-gang cockatoos, only the males boast a vibrant salmon-colored head, while females sport more prominent barring. Female red-tailed black cockatoos flaunt yellow-orange or yellow-to-red stripes on their tails, chests, cheeks, and wings, while their male counterparts appear predominantly black with a grey beak. 

Cockatiels follow suit, with males showcasing a brighter yellow head and orange cheek patch, while females don more subdued colors and often have barred feathers on wings, tail, and/or body. Notably, these physical distinctions can differ across species and individual birds, and in some cases, DNA testing may be needed for accurate sex determination.

Behavioral Differences

Cockatoos are known for their affectionate and playful personalities, making them one of the friendliest bird species. Despite their intelligence and mischievous streak, they aren’t big talkers like some other parrots. Instead, they’re famous for their loud calls and their need for attention.

In terms of behavior, cockatoos thrive on social interaction and companionship, be it with other cockatoos or their human caretakers. They require mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy. Without enough attention, they can develop issues like depression, neurotic behaviors, or even self-mutilation.

While both male and female cockatoos share general behaviors, there are some subtle differences. Males tend to be more assertive and playful, displaying dominance through vocalizing, territorial actions, and active behavior. On the other hand, females often have a calmer demeanor and show more independent behaviors. However, individual personalities can vary significantly, and these distinctions are general tendencies rather than strict rules.

As cockatoos mature, their behavior can change due to hormonal shifts. This might include mate-seeking behavior, territorial displays, and alterations in vocalization. Males may become more aggressive and protective, while females might seek attention and, in some cases, lay eggs even without a male partner.

During mating season, male cockatoos may become more territorial and aggressive, while females may display nesting behaviors. In captivity, where they often form strong bonds with human caretakers, neglect can lead to behavioral issues. It’s crucial for cockatoo owners to understand and manage these behavioral differences, providing the right environment, stimulation, and care for their feathered companions’ well-being.

Lifespan and Reproduction

Cockatoos boast a noteworthy lifespan, averaging 20 to 40 years in the wild. In captivity, their longevity extends, ranging from 50 to 70 years, with some individuals even reaching close to a century. For instance, Moluccan cockatoos can thrive for up to 70 years in captivity, while Sulphur-crested cockatoos may enjoy over 40 years as pets.

Regarding reproduction, cockatoos engage in monogamous breeding with enduring pair bonds, typically mating once a year between December and March. In the breeding season, male Moluccan cockatoos may show territorial and aggressive tendencies, while females seek nesting spots and exhibit gathering behaviors. Female sexual maturity starts around 3 years, with males usually maturing later.

Both male and female cockatoos may display egg-incubating behavior, even when solitary. However, as male cockatoos reach adulthood, they might attempt to mate with objects or their human companions, which, while possibly awkward, is not harmful. Managing this involves providing distractions or considering a mate if breeding is desired.

It’s crucial to recognize that while these behaviors are typical, individual personalities can widely differ, and these distinctions are general tendencies rather than rigid rules.

Cockatoos as Pets

Their affectionate demeanor often earns them the nickname “Velcro birds” as they form close bonds with their owners. These intelligent and playful pets mimic human speech but require substantial attention and time outside their cages. Without proper care, they may become boisterous and destructive, chewing furniture and walls. Cockatoos are vocal with loud, harsh voices expressing joy or displeasure. They thrive on companionship with their human family, mirroring the life they lead in the wild.

While male and female cockatoos behave quite similarly, with both capable of speech and tricks, physical differences exist in size, plumage, and eye color. Male cockatoos may display mating behaviors in adulthood, attempting to mate with objects or human companions, which, while potentially awkward, is not harmful. Both genders can exhibit egg-incubating behavior even when housed alone.

Proper care for cockatoos involves providing ample space and supervised time outside the cage, following a daily routine that supports their natural traits, and adhering to a diet recommended by an avian veterinarian. Fruits, vegetables, and seeds complement their nutrition. Enrichment through toys is essential for mental stimulation. Owners can distract male cockatoos from mating behaviors. Awareness of eye color and feathering differences is crucial for female cockatoos, depending on the species.


While male and female cockatoos share many common traits, distinctive physical and behavioral differences set them apart. Males may exhibit characteristics such as darker eyes, larger beaks, and more pronounced plumage in specific species, while females might have reddish-brown eyes and subtle size variations. 

Behaviorally, males tend to be more vocal and display territorial behaviors, whereas females may demonstrate distinct nesting behaviors. Understanding these differences holds paramount importance for both cockatoo owners and breeders. It not only guides proper care practices but also helps in managing expectations regarding behavior, ensuring that the unique needs of each bird are adequately addressed. 

Recognizing the gender of a cockatoo becomes particularly valuable in addressing reproductive behaviors and potential health concerns. Ultimately, appreciating these nuanced distinctions contributes to strengthening the bond between cockatoos and their human companions, fostering the well-being and happiness of these charming birds.


  • Dr. Sajjad Ali

    Dr. Sajjad is an Avian expert and loves to treat and help parrots. He has two years of clinical experience in treating and helping parrots as a vet.

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