All About Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

all about Sulphur Crested Cockatoos
Meeting: Sulphur Crested Cockatoos

Meeting: Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

The Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos is an iconic Australian species that attracts various comments from onlookers.

For some, they are considered nothing but a raucous and destructive pest.

However, for the majority of us, they are a pleasurable sight and appreciated as an integral member of Australian wildlife— the land of parrots!

These long-lived birds have a strong presence on the east coast and in northern Australia, where they live in fl ocks, often in close proximity to man. They are larrikins, and fly about the city calling to one another while performing aerial acrobatics. Sadly, in some localities they are responsible for raiding crops and orchards and, as such, are culled.

However, they have adjusted well to encroachment on their habitat since the arrival of Europeans.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos ranked number 11 in the 2017 Bird of the Year competition run by The Guardian. For a species that some call ‘just a big white bird with a little yellow’, they did well to beat the King Parrot and other more colourful species such as the Crimson Rosella.

Within Australian aviculture this species has long been underrated, with more focus put on exotic species of cockatoos. However, the Sulphur-crested is our biggest white cockatoo species and is highly intelligent and deserves more attention. Fortunately, the days of a cocky in a small cage are over and we have dedicated aviculturists working with this species and giving them the care and attention they deserve.

In this article, we explore how two Australian aviculturists from either side of the country keep and breed this hardy and glorious species.

Stephan Maric, of Ambessa Aviaries, lives in Melbourne and has been keeping and breeding white cockatoos for some 30 years. Hayden Dix, of Argyle Aviaries, in the south-west of Western Australia, has been keeping and breeding white cockatoos for 15 years.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos Subspecies

There are three subspecies of Sulphurcresteds found in Australia. They are Cacatua galerita galerita, C. g. queenslandica and C. g. fitzroyi. Stephan keeps and breeds C. g. galerita and C. g. fitzroyi. Hayden keeps only the nominate form C. g. galerita, but hopes to add C. g. fitzroyi at a later date. The nominate form is the most widespread, both in the wild and in captivity.

Housing: Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos


Housing for Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

Both Stephan and Hayden house their birds as single pairs in conventional aviaries.

This allows the birds to come to ground and forage, just as they would in the wild.

Stephan’s aviaries vary in length, with a minimum of 4m. They are 1.2–2m wide x 2m high and he uses 2.5cm (1-inch) wire.

Most of the aviary is open and facing north, with the rear covered in Colorbond®, as is the roof leading to the back of the aviary. Stephan utilises a sprinkler system for his aviaries, which cools them and allows the cockatoos to bathe.

Stephan doesn’t fi nd the need for full partitions between the aviaries because these cockatoos are social birds and enjoy being able to see one another. He uses a skirt around the aviaries to prevent vermin getting in. This aviary design works particularly well in Stephan’s part of the country, where he can get four seasons in one day and temperatures can go quickly from extreme cold to extreme heat.

Hayden’s aviaries measure 6m long x 2m wide x 2.4m high. He has covered 2.5m of the rear of the roof with Zincalume® sheeting which he finds reflects the heat well. On the sides of the fl ights, the rear half is a combination of 2.5cm (1- inch) weldmesh that starts at the floor and meets halfway up and joins the Colorbond®, which goes to the roof. This allows for privacy at both the back and the front of the flight. The front section along the sides is weldmesh, as is the front, including the roof.

Both breeders utilise sprinklers but Hayden’s sprinkler system is fully automated and comes on when temperatures reach 28-30ÂșC. It drops the temperature by a few degrees, and provides water for the birds to bathe.

Hayden’s design is based on temperatures that can be as low as zero, with the occasional minus temperature, right up to 40-plus degrees on extreme summer days.

how to feed Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos
Feeding: Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

How to Feed Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

Stephan feeds an austerity diet and a breeding diet, which he finds works well for his birds. His austerity diet consists of grey striped sunfl ower, oats, wheat and green food. The green food includes weeds found in the paddock, with roots and dirt left on. If you watch wild Sulphurcrested Cockatoos, they eat the roots and all of the plant, which Stephan likes to replicate in his aviaries.

Leading up to breeding in August, more sunflower seed is added, and increased amounts of fresh green food are given, along with apples and other fruits. Stephan also feeds his birds the occasional chicken or lamb bone and tree nuts during this time. He finds this diet works well with pairs leading up to and during breeding.

Hayden feeds his birds a daily portion of small parrot mix, with the addition of a little extra grey-striped sunflower. He finds they love apple, orange, silverbeet and other fruits and vegetables. He also feeds weeds and grasses.

As breeding approaches in August, the addition of a mix of sprouted pigeon mix, sprouted grey-striped sunflower and sprouted lupins is provided. Corn on the cob is also fed and appreciated, especially when chicks are being reared. It goes without saying that both men use heavy dishes to feed and water their birds.

how to breed Sulphur-Crested-Cockatoos
Breeding: Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos


How to Breed Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos

Both Stephan and Hayden find their breeding season starts in August and concludes in December—although Stephan has had a chick hatch in March. As the breeding season approaches, the birds become increasingly vocal and display more. Pairs can also become aggressive to their keeper.

Stephan found his birds matured and started to breed from 15 years of age, while Hayden purchased his birds when mature and, as such, could not indicate at what age they started to breed. As Stephan explained, ‘breeding Sulphurs is a long process as age has a lot to do with breeding success. Unless you begin with a proven mature breeding pair, the wait can be very long for those like myself that started with two yearling birds’.

Both men have found aggression between individuals is limited. Separation is sometimes the answer, but not always.

Certainly the key is allowing natural pairing to occur.

Wild birds nest in tree hollows or even cliffs. In captivity, breeders can use a range of options such as hollow logs, boxes, drums etc.

Stephan has used all three with good results, but in recent times he has opted for 60L metal drums which he finds are easy to handle and maintain. He positions these in the rear of the aviary. He uses wood dust mixed with a little cleaned dirt for nesting material. He also adds wood blocks for the birds to chew, thus naturally creating more nesting material.

Hayden only uses hollow logs. They have an internal diameter of 40–50cm and are usually 90cm–1m high. They have open tops and, like Stephan’s, are kept in the rear of the aviary under shelter.

Hayden uses 5mm karri wood chip because it breaks down well without excess dust. He said it is also beneficial in that ‘the eggs seem to stay afloat and not sink through nest substrate’.

Both breeders’ pairs lay clutches of 1–2 eggs, with 28–30 days of incubation being performed by the parents. One of Hayden’s pairs is odd in that they will lay three clutches of infertile eggs before laying fertile eggs in the fourth clutch. He finds this pattern occurs with the pair almost every year.

Both Stephan and Hayden allow their pairs to parent-rear for a number of weeks before removing chicks for handrearing.

This, they both explain, is due to the lack of interest in parent-reared birds, although both would like to allow their birds to complete parent-rearing. Stephan said, ‘I dream of the day that someone in the avicultural world decides to obtain pure, unrelated aviary-bred Sulphurs’.

Stephan keeps his young back till they are approximately 20 weeks of age before letting them go to their new home. Hayden adds that he fi nds chicks wean at 12–14 weeks but may take longer, particularly if there is only one Sulphur-crested being reared at a time.


Stephan and Hayden find these birds to be fantastic pets for those that can cater and care for them. Hayden said, ‘apart from the occasional scream, they are perfect as pets—10/10’. Stephan adds that in his opinion and experience they are ‘probably one of the most loyal and affectionate species’.

It goes without saying that pet Sulphurcresteds deserve a quality diet and require a spacious cage or aviary to live in. They are also a loud species—particularly in the morning and late afternoon—and, as such, not ideal for areas where noise complaints may arise. Socialisation is also vitally important and, where possible, as young birds they should be able to interact with birds of other species or individuals of the same species.


When asked if either had advice for those wanting to keep this species, Stephan said, ‘my advice to fellow aviculturists would be to obtain a pair and grow old together in this wonderful journey that aviculture is, and learn from them the meaning of birds’.

Hayden added, ‘They do need a large flight to really be appreciated, and to see them in flight, with the yellow crest rising up when landing on the perch, is magnifi cent’.


The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo may be a daily sight for many of us in Australia but this should not deter those wanting to keep and/or breed this iconic species.

They offer the potential keeper as much, if not more, than many of the exotic species available today. For those wanting to keep this species, do your research and enjoy your birds.

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