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How to Tell the Age of a Cockatoo

Oliver Jones

It is not very easy determining the age of a cockatoo, unless if it has a leg band right from birth. However, as this bird ages, it undergoes some physical changes, which can be used to give a rough estimate of the age.

If you acquire a cockatoo without a leg band, take some time and observe its body changes as it grows every day.

Some noticeable changes include:
  • Changes in Bodily Appearance – Many species of birds, including cockatoos, experience variations in their physical appearance as they get old. Their plumage tends to get rougher, and the color of their features tends to fade. When cockatoos are old, their outlook tends to be dull. Additionally, due to too much preening, their feathers get a bit damaged.
  • Behavioral Changes – Just like any other type of bird, cockatoo tends to have behavioral changes as they age. Although young cockatoos undergo dramatic changes during their young age making it challenging to tell their age, they start showing behavioral changes as they grow. Some of the cockatoo species become more irritable and violent, while others tend to calm with time. This can point you in the direction of age because you can determine whether it is very young or getting very old.
  • Frequent Illness – Cockatoos tend to be more exposed to severe illnesses as they get old. Some of the common diseases that attack these rare types of birds include arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, eye problems, and other ailments as they age. Some of the bird diseases can very contagious, thus affecting a large population of cockatoos. Now if your cockatoo is more prone to illnesses, then you can automatically assume that old age is catching up.
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How to Approximate the Age

The following are some of the main factors that you could use to approximate and tell the age of the cockatoo species:

Color and Appearance of the Beak

1Cockatoo
Image Credit: Benita5, Pixabay

The appearance and the color of the cockatoos’ beak can be used to approximate their age. As cockatoos get older, their carved beaks tend to be more scuffed and worn out. Their color also tends to change subtly. It may be tricky to notice the color changes as it takes place at a slower pace.

Movement and Posture

The way a cockatoo moves and sits can be another indicator of its age. Just like young babies, young cockatoos are most of the time awkward as they learn to use their wings and legs. They tend to crouch lower on the perch or fluff their feathers when they nap.

Older cockatoos may also fluff their plumages out more so that they keep themselves warm. However, it’s important to note that this can also be a sign of illness among birds. Therefore, before using this method to assume the age of the bird, you should ensure that the bird is not sick or ailing.

Activity Level, Energy, and Playfulness

Similar to humans, a vast array of bird species, including cockatoos, will become a lot more lethargic or sluggish as they age. Younger cockatoos are usually active, more enthusiastic, playful, or extremely curious.

You could tell that a cockatoo is older if it doesn’t do a lot of hopping or flying around. As they age, cockatoos tend to be more relaxed and calm. However, some of the cockatoo species tend to remain active even as they age.

Older cockatoos tend to nap more often and for a more extended period, especially during the winter or during molting. Once again, you may mistake this attribute for poor health among birds. When cockatoos are ailing, they tend to nap more often. Therefore, you should ensure that the cockatoo is not sick when using this method of age indication.

Color and Appearance of the Feathers

Bare-Eyed Cockatoo
Image Credit: Bare eyed cockatoo, Ian Salvin, Flickr, Attribution CC 2.0

Feathers are one of the prominent features that you may use to tell the age of a cockatoo. As compared to other parrot species, cockatoos tend to be less colorful and dull. However, when young, their feathers are more vibrant and smoother. As they age, the feathers tend to be less vibrant and somewhat dull.

Likewise, the development and the quality of the feather can tell more about their age, diet, lifestyle, and health. Newly hatched cockatoos are covered with a thin tuft of about an inch long. A few weeks later, they are covered with pin plumages that are just starting to open. The pinfeathers will eventually unfurl as they continue growing.

Although the cockatoo feather quality may worsen as they age, they may tend to be vibrant when food is abundant or when the cockatoo is eating healthy meals.

The Eyes of the Cockatoo

Bare-Eyed Cockatoo
Image Credit: IMG_1057, darkwingchicken, Flickr, Attribute CC 2.0

By looking at the eyes of the cockatoo, you can be able to approximate their age. The color of the cockatoo’s iris can be a revealing way that you may use to determine how old a cockatoo is. When young, most of the species have dark-colored irises. However, they get lighter with age.

The Nails and Legs of Cockatoo

When the cockatoos get old, they tend to have overgrown toenails as compared to the younger ones. The skin of their legs becomes flaky and rougher. In some other cockatoo species, the legs become darker with age. The darker the leg, the older the cockatoo could be.

Keep the exact track of age using a Leg Band

If you want to keep track of the age of a cockatoo, you may install a leg band on them. The leg band indicates the date when the cockatoo was born. However, the information on the leg band may vary. It may also indicate the exact location where the cockatoo was born.

Steel leg bands are considered the most appropriate as they are robust and durable, and the information on them may be impossible to alter as compared to plastic leg bands.

The leg band should be comfortable enough on the cockatoo’s leg, so it won’t make it restless or interfere with its behaviors and lifestyle. In addition, other leg bands are computerized to indicate the exact location of the cockatoo, its activities, and its age.divider-bird

Bottom Line

Although it is challenging to tell a cockatoo’s age accurately, the above tactics will help you approximate their age with a higher percentage of accuracy. However, it would be best to be keen enough not to confuse poor health or diseases on cockatoos as old age. This rare species of birds tend to be weak and pale when sick, and this can be mistaken for old age.

Regardless, if you are the original owner of the cockatoo right from birth, you can avoid the guesswork by using a leg band with the birthdate. This way even if you sell the bird, the new owners will know the exact age.


Featured Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.