How did we end up with a cockatoo?

Well, we had cockatiel Darwin (aka Little Bird) for years and thought the next logical step in bird ownership was to purchase a large bird. There happened to be a bird store in Bakersfield and one day they had two baby cockatoos- one was a lesser sulphur-crested and the other was Daisy, a triton. Like most baby animals they were adorable and cuddly. We fell in love with Daisy, spent the required “bonding time” with her, and a week after our wedding the four of us were driving to Seattle to start our new lives together.

It’s been so long that I don’t remember many of our early experiences with Daisy. However, one thing that became apparent right away was the amount of care she required.  Cockatoos have the intelligence level of a 3-year old and must be intellectually stimulated, so that means puzzle toys and things like that. ‘Too’s can pick even pick locks and break out of their cages! They also have a strong instinct to forage and chew, so expensive wooden toys must be provided daily, only to be destroyed within a few hours (it’s that or your furniture).  Lastly, birds are social animals so they must spend hours a day interacting with their “flock”, which in our case is Eric and myself. Given these habits ‘Toos cannot be left alone for more than a day, so a qualified bird-sitter is required even for weekend getaways.  Don’t even ask me about the costs associated with all of these things! Oh, don’t forget about the ear-shattering screaming too.

Ok, no big deal. This is how things are going to be from now on. We’re bird owners!

Fast forward a few years. Just like humans, birds go through puberty. Due to hormones and probably boredom Daisy starts pulling out her chest feathers.  This was a little traumatic for us at first but we were somewhat reassured to know that this is common behavior and can usually be corrected with a little work. Some birds go so far as to pluck all feathers (except the ones they can’t reach) or even chew their skin. Then came the occasional panting and mating behavior when I picked her up. We were warned that she might try laying an egg soon, which can be detrimental to her health (thankfully it never happened though).

In the past year or so we’ve noticed a big change in Daisy’s behavior- aggression towards Eric.  Unbeknownst to us, cockatoos tend to bond with one person in a household, their “mate” so to speak.   It was apparent that I was Daisy’s mate and she began nipping at Eric when he walked by, which turned into full-blown bites/attacks after a while. Even I’ve been bit when trying to interfere- she gets a  look on her face and I know something’s about to go down. This new behavior was devastating to us…I think both of us knew in the back of our  minds that things weren’t going to work out in the long term. We didn’t want to talk about it though, we bought Daisy with the intention of having her forever and re-homing wasn’t an option.

Fast forward another year, and now Baby A is on the way.  Given Daisy’s unpredictable behavior toward Eric we realized that 1. we can’t trust her with a baby/toddler/child and 2. most of her care would fall on my shoulders, which I can’t manage with a newborn in the house.

With this in mind we have made the painful decision to re-home Daisy. On May 5th she’ll be placed in the Cockatoo Rescue and Sanctuary just outside of Seattle. This facility houses over 300 large birds who are segregated into flocks of their own species. They even have a colony just for Tritons! We did have the option of placing her in a private home, but that person’s situation could also change and result in yet another home down the road. Also,  I’ve come to the realization that unless you can meet 100% of their needs,  it is simply wrong to own a large pet bird. They deserve freedom that humans cannot provide. This sanctuary is the closest thing to nature. I’m sure she’ll be scared at first (or maybe not!), but once she integrates into the flock she’ll have no memory of us or life in a small cage. We have had overwhelming support for this decision from both our birdsitter and award-winning avian vet, who sits on the sanctuary’s board of directors and will ensure continued care for these birds. We are making a large donation to the facility;  if you feel so inclined you can find the Paypal link on their website.

We feel that we’ve been exceptional bird owners. Shame on that Bakersfield store for not warning us about ‘Too behavior- I wonder how many of their birds ended up neglected, abused or other bad situations.

I am absolutely dreading next weekend, but I take comfort in knowing that she will be happy and among  friends for the rest of her life. We’ve certainly learned a lot from Daisy. She’s taught us patience and responsibility…in her own way she’s been training us to be parents 🙂


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