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Cockatoo vs. Macaw: Which One Should You Choose? (With Pictures)

Ashley Bates

Macaws and cockatoos are both large bird species that are commonly owned as pets. They are considered exotic animals because they come from areas of the world close to the equator. Their bright colors, intelligence, and long lifespans make them a preferred pet for many.

However, if you can only have one of these birds, how do you choose one species? There are enough differences between the two to distinguish them. Different people will find that they prefer a macaw for a pet than a cockatoo and vice versa.

If you are trying to decide between the two, read on to discover their similarities and defining differences.

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Visual Differences

cockatoo vs macaw
Image Credit | Left: Cockatoo (Julie Clarke, Pixabay) Right: Macaw (MountainMan5000, Flickr)

At a Glance

Cockatoo
  • Average height (adult): 12-28 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 220-880 grams, depending on the breed
  • Lifespan: 30-45 years
  • Exercise: 15-20 minutes each day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes
  • Trainability: Less apt to speak and more challenging to teach tricks
Macaw
  • Average height (adult): 12-40 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 3-3.5 lbs. (1.3-1.6 kgs)
  • Lifespan: 50-80 years
  • Exercise: 10-20 minutes a day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Relatively
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes
  • Trainability: Easy to train, talkative and intelligent

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Cockatoo Overview

Cockatoos obsessively love their humans. They need heaps of attention, much more so than almost any other bird species commonly kept as pets. They are extremely cuddly and loving. These birds can quickly suffer from depression or anxiety if they are not around people.

These birds are well-known for their distinctive plumage. They are medium-sized birds with a stark white body. They have a crest on the top of their hard that is frequently a warm shade of yellow or orange. Their beak and feet are slate gray, and they have light blue circlets around their eyes.

Large Cockatoo side view_YULIYAPHOTO_Shutterstock
Image Credit: YULIYAPHOTO, Shutterstock

Personality / Character

Cockatoos are sometimes called “Velcro” birds because they will want to stay near their humans. They are known for having borderline obsessive behavior when it comes to being around their favorite people. Cockatoos form bonds with the members of their family quickly. It is this behavior that has defined them as being loving but highly demanding birds.

Cockatoos are not only known for being emotional when it comes to their caretakers, but they are also quite intelligent. Still, most people who own a cockatoo would attest that it is akin to living perpetually with a 2-year-old. They can have temper tantrums if left alone or bored for too long.

Speech and Sound

Be prepared to deal with a loud bird if you decide to adopt a Cockatoo. They vocalize whenever they want attention and will be even louder during their favorite times of the day. These are typically at sunrise and sunset.

Cockatoos are a variety of parrots that can learn how to speak. They are not as proficient as other species, but they can learn a few small phrases and specific words.

Training

When training your cockatoo, the most important thing is consistency. The time of day that you decide to take them out and do a training session should be consistent, as well as the commands that you give them and the place you train them in. The more consistencies you have, the faster they will learn.

If you are trying to teach them how to say a specific word, you need to stick to the word or phrase until they say it and get comfortable with it. Once they begin to say it, reward them immediately.

Sulphur crested Cockatoo in flight
Image Credit: sompreaw, Shutterstock

Health & Care

All varieties of cockatoos are prone to feather picking if they suffer for too long from loneliness or boredom. They need to be mentally stimulated to stay healthy. Moluccan cockatoos are the most prone to exhibit this behavior with less provocation than other birds.

Beyond feather picking, other common diseases include
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Obesity

Most of the significant health conditions that they can suffer from can be circumvented if their diet stays healthy and balanced. They shouldn’t consistently have food that is too high in fat. If they do get treats, ensure that they get plenty of exercise.

Breeding

Most cockatoos breed well in captivity, particularly the more common breeds. They must get comfortable in their surroundings and with their mate to induce breeding. They have to bond and they need to be well-fed. Give them a spacious cage and ensure that it is immaculate. If you try to breed them in North America, the primary breeding season runs from the end of winter into the spring.

Close Up of Two Inquisitive Cockatoos staring into the Camera
Image Credit: Annalucia, Shutterstock

Suitability

Cockatoos are suitable pets for people who have plenty of time to spend with their birds. If most people in your home have an 8-to-5 job and are consistently gone in the evenings, this is not the bird species for you.

Pros
  • Loving birds that bond quickly with humans
  • Adapt well to a variety of surroundings
  • More convenient to breed domestically than many other species
Cons
  • Demanding of physical attention
  • Loud
  • Starts feather picking when bored

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Macaw Overview

Macaws are perhaps some of the most well-known parrots. When someone talks about a parrot in generic terms, it is the macaw’s brightly colored red body with blue and green wings that comes to mind. They also happen to be some of the loudest birds in the jungle and one of the largest parrot species owned as a pet. There are more than nine species of macaws, with several being on the endangered list for the wild population.

macaw on a tree branch
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Personality / Character

Macaws are quite clownish and silly and tend to be affectionate. They are considered the giants of the parrots and are highly social birds. There are few different macaws, including the popular red-bodied macaw and the hyacinth macaw, which has a bright blue and yellow body. Macaws are not only the largest domesticated parrots, but they also have large personalities. They are raucous and love to mimic all kinds of noises. They are brilliant and love challenges and games. With their large, strong beak, they can quickly tear toys to shreds to see what’s on the inside.

Speech and Sound

Large versions of the macaw have just as large voices. They are known for screaming if they are unhappy or feel ignored. They make all kinds of other sounds too, such as squawking and screeching, sometimes just to hear their own voice. These constant and consistently loud noises make them an inappropriate pet for an apartment.

Macaws are intelligent enough to be trained to make all kinds of sounds. They naturally like to mimic whistling sounds, music, or other noises that they hear around the home.

Training

Macaws love learning new things and are always ready to take on a new challenge. When working with them to train certain character traits or vocalizations, use positive reinforcement. Try to be consistent and avoid taking a day off, so the new lessons will always be fresh in your bird’s mind.

It is better to have multiple short lessons than one long one. When they do something right, immediately reward them with a small but favorite treat. Maintain eye contact to keep their attention.

macaw flying
Image Credit: christels, Pixabay

Health & Care

Macaws, like many other parrots, are known for feather picking behavior when bored or lonely.

Breeding

Blue and gold macaws are easier species to breed domestically. They are much more willing in the broader variety of locations and conditions. Other macaws can be bred domestically, but they can take much more time and management before breeding.

Suitability

Macaws are best for people who live in separated homes without close neighbors. You need to have plenty of time to train them so they are not so raucous, and your household needs to be okay with constant loud noises.

Pros
  • Intelligent and trains relatively quickly
  • Some species are straightforward to breed domestically compared to other birds
  • Not as demanding or obsessive as the cockatoo
Cons
  • Extremely loud birds
  • Can exhibit pretend aggressive behaviors

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

The best bird for you between a cockatoo and a macaw primarily comes down to the amount of noise that you are okay with and the amount of time that you can spend with your bird. A cockatoo needs plenty of time with humans each day, or they will quickly exhibit harmful behaviors. A macaw isn’t as demanding but is much more vocal and markedly louder than a cockatoo.

If you are looking for a larger parrot, each of these birds presents a good side. That said, consider your neighbors and family in this decision too, as these are not pets that easily go unnoticed.

Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.