COVER STORY: Salmon-crested Cockatoo


The Salmon-crested or Moluccan cockatoo is one of the largest of all cockatoos. It is a light pink color with a dark salmon colored recumbent crest. When excited, Moluccan cockatoos can bring the crest to a full vertical and even slight forward position on the top of the head, and force its facial feathers out creating a very large and intimidating tacadc in order to frighten off predators. Their beaks and feet are very strong and they require sturdy cages and aviaries or they will liberate themselves quickly and easily.

The Moluccan cockatoo or Salmon-crested cockatoo is endemic to Seram, Ambon, Saparua and Haruku. islands of South Maluku, Indonesia. They tend to prefer lowland (non-mountainous) forested areas where they often gather in flocks to eat or sleep. The diet of these wild birds reportedly consists of seeds, figs, fruits, coconuts, and insect larvae.

When I was fourteen years old I remember visiting the Dr.'s Pet Center at the Harrisburg East Mall in Pennsylvania. There, among the assorted breeds of puppies, was a kennel cage containing four adult wild-caught, Moluccan cockatoos· sitting side by side on a wooden perch. They swayed and hissed as I stood there enamored by their stunning beauty, and wondered what it would be like to have such a wonderful pet. Of course, at that time, working for $1.25 an hour as an usher in a local theater, I had no way of attaining the $1200 price tag needed to take one of these beauties home with me. I knew nothing about birds other than I found them amazing, both for their beauty and grace, and because of their interesting biology; after all, they come from eggs!

It was not until many years later that I found myself walking through Pet Farm, an import and wholesale facility in Miami, Florida. I came across an entire bay ofMoluccan cockatoos, this time hundreds and hundreds of birds once again lined up on perches along the walls swaying and hissing at my intrusion. I simply had to take a pair of these home with me, and so, one of the very first breeding pairs of parrots I bought was an imported pair of Salmon-crested cockatoos.

By the mid 1980's aviculturc was in high gear in the United States.

Breeders were being established all over the country with the largest collections found primarily in the southern States, probably because the weather was warm and breeding birds could be kept out of doors all year long. I built my first large wire cage and hung my first home-made wooden ncstbox for my new pair ofMoluccan cockatoos. I was anxious to release these beauties into the cage so I could look at them and marvel over their soft hues of orange and pink feathers. Out of the pet carrier they flew, and into the nest box they went. I rarely ever saw them as they felt more secure in the dark ncsrbox. Since the food was disappearing, I knew they were coming out, but not when I was around to look at them.

If one were to ask a person that has kept or been around Moluccan cockatoos to use one word to describe them, the list would probably look like this: large, cuddly, loveable, loud, demanding, intelligent, smart, affectionate, destructive, talented, talkative, or adorable. From this list it is easy to see there can be "good and bad" in owning a Moluccan cockatoo. But for the most part, pet owners with this species say they would never part with their pet and most consider them part of their family. Unfortunately, some people "bought into" the cockatoo craze without doing their homework, and because of that there are some sitting in rescue facilities awaiting the right situation where they may be placed back into a pet home, or housed with a mate where they can breed and fulfill their natural instincts.

Breeding Moluccan cockatoos is not really that difficult when compared to many other parrot species. Usually any compatible pair supplied with an adequate cage, diet, and nesting box will produce fertile eggs. The fun begins when trying to get them to incubate the eggs, or rear the young. It seems that Moluccan cockatoos do not like any interruptions in the nesting process. Even a momentary glance into the box, once eggs are present, may be enough for them to abandon incubation or destroy the eggs.

Although this behavioral issue has created a need for many of their eggs to be artificially incubated and their chicks to be hand-reared in cap· tivity, multiple generation successes are finally being reported with this species. In the boom years of aviculturc, and before we knew any better, we would spoil baby Moluccan cockatoos in the avian nursery, probably because they are so damned adorable. But this led to a decade or two where our captive-bred birds simply were not the best breeders for second or third generation production. Male birds were aggressive toward their mates, and some females tended to eat their eggs rather than incubate them. Sometime in the late 1980's aviculrurc began new practices when dealing with cockatoos; less time was spent spoiling young birds and more time was spent allowing them to socialize with other young birds. This has definitely resulted in better breeding results using hand-reared parental stock.

This species is rather active, although shy, and they do require a long cage in captivity. This is despite the fact that the keeper will probably rarely see the birds if they are provided with a nesting box. But when no one is around, even the shyest of pairs will exit the nesting box and fly back and forth from perch to perch. They are particularly vocal at dusk and into the night hours. On a full moon night, pairs housed out of doors can be heard vocalizing or producing their eerie screech for miles around. There are many stories from zoos and other keepers about how neighbors or others have reported "someone being hurt" when they hear the long drawn-out scream of a Moluccan after dark.

In the wild, Moluccan cockatoos have been experiencing a moderate to severe decline in population numbers since the mid 1980's. They are currently listed as vulnerable by Bird Life International, and were added to Appendix I under CITES in 1989. Metz and Nursahid report: "By the 1980s the species was being extensively and unsustainably trapped for the cage-bird market, with an estimated 74,509 individuals exported from Indonesia between 1981 and 1990, and international imports averaging 9.751 per annum between 1983 and 1988. Although reported intcrnational trade fell to zero in the 1990s, trappers have remained highly active and birds are openly sold within Indonesia."

The Moluccan cockatoo is now listed as "threatened" under the U.S.

Endangered Species act as well, but our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had the foresight to exempt it from the constraints of Federal Permit· ting usually needed for any interstate commerce with a listed species. This was accomplished, in part, due to the large outpouring of support from AFA members, pet owners and breeders in this country that asked for a "Special Rule" for the species if it were to be listed under the Act. Thanks to this special rule, breeders, zoos, exhibitors, and pet owners can still possess, move, sell, barter or donate Moluccan cockatoos in the United States without obtaining a Federal permit. This has helped those that are trying to establish unrelated pairs of this species to move birds between themselves and keep their bloodlines strong.

Keeping cockatoos as companions or pet birds is still common in the United States, but a decline in pet birds is being seen. This decline coincides with the decline in many companion animal species and may be a temporary phase. There is no question that cockatoos are demanding pets. They may be one of the most affectionate pets a per· son could keep as well. The key to keeping a well-adjusted pet cockatoo will probably be an enriched environment that helps to keep them occupied when the keepers are not around, and just the right amount of affection and interaction when they need it. Almost all companion parrots can benefit from toys, games, or other forms of enrichment in the cage, but it is vital to a pet cockatoo.

Although they are large, sometimes loud and demanding pet birds, the Moluccan cockatoo must continue to be a species of focus in U.S. aviculturc. We cannot turn our backs on a species that is also fighting extermination in their natural habitats. Responsible aviculturists must begin to unfold the secrets and find the "best way" to preserve this species in captivity, be that in pet homes, or be it in zoos or other breeding/exhibit situations. Multiple generation successes with this species may be one solid hope for its restoration if and when the people ot Indoncsia and the Indonesian government decide to preserve its habitat and request the return of this species to the wilds of the future.

Metz, S.; Nursahid, R. 2004. Trapping and smuggling of Salmon-crested Cockatoos: an undercover investigation in Seram, Indonesia. PsittaScene 16: 8-9.