The White (or Umbrella) Cockatoo (Cacatua alba) is a large white cockatoo with a fan-shaped erectile crest of broad, blunt-ended feathers. As in other Cacatua species, there is some yellow suffusion on the underwing and undertail. The sexes are very similar in appearance, but the eyes of females have a reddish (rather than dark brown or black) iris (juveniles have dark gray eyes). This species is found only on Halmahera and on a few surrounding islands in the North Moluccas in the Maluku province of Indonesia. White Cockatoos are common in captivity. This is the only large cockatoo with an entirely white crest. When the crest is relaxed, head shape is similar to that of the closely related Salmon-crested (or Moluccan) Cockatoo (C. moluccensis), but the White Cockatoo is sleeker, the color and erected crest shape are different, and the Salmon-crested plumage is suffused with pink.
White Cockatoos occur in lowland and hill forests up to 600 m. The diet consists of seeds, nuts, berries, and other fruits. Although this species seems relatively tolerant of habitat degradation, large trees with cavities are needed for nesting. The 2 to 3 eggs are incubated (by both parents) for around 30 days and young may remain in the nest for two to three months. White Cockatoos spend most of their time in the canopy and can be seen in small pairs or small groups flying above the trees or perched in emergent trees, although they may forage less conspicuously at lower levels. They are often most conspicuous when groups of up to 50 birds may gather before roosting in large trees.
Birds are trapped for the pet trade using decoys to lure them into snares. An estimated 10% of birds intended for export die prior to leaving Indonesia. White Cockatoos are also shot for food. Because cockatoos are long-lived, the impact of reproductive shortfalls may not be immediately apparent.
(Collar 1997 and references therein; Juniper and Parr 1998 and references therein)
White cockatoos are found in the North Moluccas of the Maluku province of Indonesia. They occur naturally on the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, Ternate, Kasiruta, Tidore, and Mandioli. White cockatoos have been found on the island of Obi and its satellite Bisa, but they are believed to have been introduced to the area as escaped captive populations.
Biogeographic Regions: australian (Introduced , Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
Cacatua alba is a large white bird with blunt-ended feathers. It has yellowish coloration on the underside of its wings and tail. It is often referred to as the "umbrella cockatoo" because of its broad, backward-bending crest. The crest is fan-shaped when erect. The beak and legs are dark grey. Sexual dimorphism occurs in the eye coloration of C. alba. Both sexes have a pale blue eye-ring, but males have a dark brown iris while females have a reddish iris. Females usually have a smaller head and beak than males.
Cacatua alba weighs 500 to 630 g and is 46 cm long, on average. Its wingspan is 25 to 31 cm.
Range mass: 500 to 630 g.
Average length: 46 cm.
Range wingspan: 25 to 31 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; ornamentation
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
White cockatoos occupy wooded areas. They are found in forests and open woodland, mangroves, swamps, agricultural areas and are particularly common around the edge of clearings and rivers. They spend most of their time in the tree canopy. It has been suggested that tall secondary vegetation is their preferred habitat. They are found at elevations of 300 to 900 m.
Range elevation: 300 to 900 m.
Average elevation: 500 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian
Habitat and Ecology
In the wild, C. alba mainly feeds on fruits of trees. They are often observed feeding on papaya, durian, langsat and rambutan. However, they have been seen eating crickets (order Orthoptera) and skinks (family Scincidae). They also feed on maize growing in fields, sometimes doing considerable damage.
Animal Foods: reptiles; insects
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore )
Cacatua alba helps to disperse seeds and their nests are probably used as habitat for other animals in the non-breeding season.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat
We do not have information on predation for this species at this time.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Cacatua alba communicates with its mate through a variety of gestures and noises. They also scratch each other during the mating ritual. They have also been observed using pieces of wood to bang on trees and logs to alert other birds that the territory belongs to them.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Cacatua alba can live over 40 years in captivity and 30 years in the wild. People have made claims of cockatoos living up to 100 years, though these claims have not been documented.
Status: wild: 26.9 (high) years.
Status: wild: 30 years.
Status: captivity: 40 years.
Status: captivity: 26.9 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Courtship behavior in C. alba is very impressive. It begins with the male showing off his body by ruffling his feathers, spreading his tail feathers, extending his wings, and erecting his crest. He then bounces about. The female avoids him at first, but eventually permits him to come near her. They then scratch each other around the head and tail. This serves to strengthen the bond between the two birds. After some time, the male mounts the female and they mate through the joining of the cloaca. Adults that have previously mated successfully have a much shorter courtship ritual, and the female often approaches the male.
Mates form a close bond with one another and are monogamous, with pair-bonds lasting throughout their lives. They can slip into a deep depression if removed from their partner. In the absence of a mate, white cockatoos in captivity will bond to a caretaker as if that person were its mate.
Mating System: monogamous
The breeding season of C. alba is dependent on the weather. They begin breeding when plant growth has reached its peak (usually between December and March). Pairs leave their group and find a nesting spot in a tree. They generally choose nesting holes in only the largest trees, and nest between 5 to 30 meters above ground. They usually lay two eggs, occasionally three. The male and the female share the responsibility of incubating the eggs until they hatch; incubation usually lasts 30 days. Typically, the parents raise only one of the chicks. If the first chick to hatch is healthy, they care for that one. If it is malformed or unhealthy, they raise the second chick. Chicks are born altricial. They learn to fly at three months of age but are still dependent on the parents for another two to three weeks. White cockatoos reach sexual maturity in six years.
Breeding interval: White Cockatoos breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs when vegetation growth is at its peak, usually between December and March.
Average eggs per season: 2.
Average time to hatching: 30 days.
Average fledging age: 3 months.
Range time to independence: 3.5 to 4 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 to 6 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 to 6 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 30 days.
Average eggs per season: 2.
The male and the female share the responsibility of incubating the eggs. Typically, the parents raise only one of the chicks. If the first chick to hatch is healthy, they care for that one. If it is malformed or unhealthy, they raise the second chick. Cacatua alba chicks are born altrical and are completely dependent upon their parents. Both parents are involved in caring for young, although females play a larger role. Chicks learn to fly at three months of age but are still dependent on the parents for another two to three weeks. Once a chick is able to care for itself, the group of three rejoins the rest of the flock.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cacatua alba
No available public DNA sequences.
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cacatua alba
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
There are twenty-six bird species that are entirely restricted to the Northern Maluku Endemic Bird Area. Cacatua alba is one of eight threatened birds in this area. The greatest threat to wild white cockatoos is capture for the pet market. It is estimated that 17% of the world's population was removed annually between 1990 and 1993. The United States is by far the largest consumer of wild caught white cockatoos, with 10,143 imports recorded between 1990 and 1999. Fortunately, so far, the populations have been relatively resistant to such large pressures from the trade market. This is probably due to their considerable capacity to reproduce, their ability to adapt to changes in habitat, and their lack of predators and competitive species.
Cacatua alba is also threatened by deforestation and hunting.
Cacatua alba is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and was placed on CITES Appendix II in 1981. The Indonesian government began issuing quotas on trapping in 1988 after becoming a part of CITES. However, the quotas were poorly enforced. In 1999, no quota was issued, making any capture illegal. The zero quota will remain in effect until a more reliable system for enforcing quotas is established.
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
CITES Appendix II. The North Maluku government has proposed to the Forestry Ministry that the species be classified as a protected species (C. Trainor in litt. 2005). The Indonesian government issues catch quotas and all capture was illegal in 1999. It occurs in two protected areas: Gunung Sibela Strict Nature Reserve on Bacan (although this site is threatened by agricultural encroachment and gold prospecting) and the 167,300 ha Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park on Halmahera, which was declared protected in 2004. A project was set up by Burung (BirdLife) Indonesia in 2007 to set up effective protected area management in the Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park, including monitoring wildlife trade, raising public awareness and support, and providing training for Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park staff and related partners (Waugh 2009). The species is fairly common in captivity (Lambert 1993).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor national and international trade. Conduct research into population dynamics, ranging behaviour and threats, so that appropriate trapping quotas may be devised. Promote more effective enforcement of trapping quotas. Improve patrolling of the routes used for wildlife smuggling from Indonesia. Introduce trapping concessions to increase self-regulation of trade. Initiate a conservation awareness campaign promoting local support for the species and the regulated collection of eggs and young, rather than adults. Develop captive breeding programmes.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Cacatua alba can cause considerable damage to corn crops.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
White cockatoos are commonly sold as pets throughout the world; they can cost $1,500 each. They are also popular among Indonesian tourists.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; ecotourism
The white cockatoo (Cacatua alba), also known as the umbrella cockatoo, is a medium-sized all white cockatoo endemic to tropical rainforest on islands of Indonesia. When surprised, it extends a large and striking head crest, which has a semicircular shape (similar to an umbrella, hence the alternative name). The undersides of the wings and tail have a pale yellow or lemon color which flashes when they fly. It is similar to other species of white cockatoo such as yellow-crested cockatoo, sulphur-crested cockatoo, and salmon-crested cockatoo, all of which have yellow, orange or pink crest feathers instead of white.
The white cockatoo was first described in 1776 by German zoologist Philipp Ludwig Statius Müller. Its species name alba is a feminine form of the Latin adjective albus for "white". It lies in the subgenus Cacatua within the genus Cacatua. The term "white cockatoo" has also been applied as a group term to members of the subgenus Cacatua, the genus Cacatua as well as larger groups including Major Mitchell's cockatoo and the galah cockatoo.
While psittaciform parrots and cockatoos have many common anatomical attributes like zygodactyl feet and hooked bills, the cockatoos and parrots diverged from the ancestral parrots as separate lineages as early as 45 MYA (fossil record) or 66 MYA (molecular analysis) (Wright 2008) during the period when Australia, South America and Antarctica were breaking away from the super-continent Gondwanaland where the ancestral parrots were believed to have evolved.
Though historically they (white cockatoos as well as related species) have been referred to as "white parrots", taxonomically they are not considered to be true parrots.
The white cockatoo is around 46 cm (18 in) long, and weighs about 400 g (14 oz) for small females and up to 800 g (28 oz) for big males. The male white cockatoo usually has a broader head and a bigger beak than the female. They have brown or black eyes and a dark grey beak. When mature some female white cockatoos can have reddish/brown irises, while the irises of the adult male are dark brown or black.
The feathers of the white cockatoo are mostly white. However, both upper and lower surfaces of the inner half of the trailing edge of the large wing feathers are a yellow color. The yellow color on the underside of the wings is most notable because the yellow portion of the upper surface of the feather is covered by the white of the feather immediately medial (nearer to the body) and above. Similarly, areas of larger tail feathers that are covered by other tail feathers – and the innermost covered areas of the larger crest feathers – are yellow. Short white feathers grow from and closely cover the upper legs. The feathers of this species and others create a powder similar to talcum powder that easily transfers to clothing.
In common with other cockatoos and parrots, the white cockatoo has zygodactyl feet with two toes facing forward and two facing backward, which enable it to grasp objects with one foot while standing on the other, for feeding and manipulation.
Whilst the maximum lifespan of the white cockatoo is poorly documented; a few zoos report that they live 40–60 years in captivity. Anecdotal reports suggest it can live longer. Lifespan in the wild is unknown, but believed to be as much as ten years less.
Distribution and habitat
Cacatua alba is endemic to lowland tropical rainforest on the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, Ternate, Tidore, Kasiruta and Mandioli (Bacan group) in North Maluku, Indonesia. Records from Obi and Bisa (Obi group) are thought to be introductions. It occurs in primary, logged, and secondary forests below 900m. It also occurs in mangroves, plantations including coconut and agricultural land. Cacatua alba is endemic to the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, Ternate, Tidore, Kasiruta and Mandiole in North Maluku, Indonesia. Records from Obi and Bisa are thought to reflect introductions, and an introduced population breeds locally in Taiwan (China). It remains locally common: in 1991-1992, the population was estimated at 42,545-183,129 birds (Lambert 1993), although this may be an underestimate as it was largely based on surveys from Bacan and not Halmahera where the species may have been commoner. Recent observations indicate that rapid declines are on-going, and are predicted to increase in the future (Vetter 2009). CITES data show significant harvest rates for the cage bird trade during the early 1990s.; annual harvests have declined in actual terms and as a proportion of the remaining population in recent years, but illegal trade continues and is likely to have been underestimated (S. Metz in litt. 2013).
Food and feeding
In the wild, white cockatoos feed on berries, seeds, nuts, fruit and roots. When nesting, they include insects and insect larvae. n their natural habitat, umbrella cockatoos typically feed on various seeds, nuts and fruits, such as papaya, durian, langsat and rambutan. As they are also feed on corn growing in fields, they do considerable damage and are, therefore, considered crop pests by farmers. (BirdLife International, 2001)They also eat large insects, such as crickets (order Orthoptera) and skinks. Captive birds are usually provided a parrot mix containing various seeds, nuts and dried fruits and vegetables. Additionally, they need to be offered lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and branches (with leaves) for chewing and entertainment.
Like all cockatoos, the white cockatoo nests in hollows of large trees. Its eggs are white and there are usually two in a clutch. During the incubation period – about 28 days – both the female and male incubate the eggs. The larger chick becomes dominant over the smaller chick and takes more of the food. The chicks leave the nest about 84 days after hatching. and are independent in 15–18 weeks. Juveniles reach sexual maturity in 3–4 years. As part of the courtship behavior, the male ruffles his feathers, spreads his tail feathers, extends his wings, and erects his crest. He then bounces about. Initially, the female ignores or avoids him, but - provided he meets her approval - will eventually allow him to approach her. If his efforts are successful and he is accepted, the pair will be seen preening each other's head and scratching each other around the tail. These actions serve to strengthen their pair bond. Eventually, the male mounts the female and performs the actual act of mating by joining of the cloacae. For bonded pairs, this mating ritual is much shorter and the female may even approach the male. Once they are ready for nesting, breeding pairs separate from their groups and search for a suitable nest cavity (usually in trees).
The white cockatoo is considered Endangered by the IUCN. Its numbers in the wild have declined owing to capture for the cage bird trade and habitat loss. It is listed in appendix II of the CITES list which gives it protection by restricting export and import of wild-caught birds. BirdLife International indicates that catch quotas issued by the Indonesian government were 'exceeded by up to 18 times in some localities' in 1991, with at least 6,600 umbrella cockatoos being taken from the wild by trappers - although fewer birds have been taken from the wild in recent years, both in numerical terms and when taken as a proportion of the entire population. RSPCA supported surveys by the Indonesian NGO ProFauna suggest that significant levels of trade in wild-caught white cockatoos still occur, with 200+ taken from the wild in north Halmahera in 2007. Approximately 40% of the parrots (white cockatoo, chattering lory, violet-necked lory and eclectus parrot) caught in Halmahera are smuggled to the Philippines, while approximately 60% go to the domestic Indonesian trade, especially via bird markets in Surabaya and Jakarta.
The illegal trade of protected parrots violates Indonesian Act Number 5, 1990 (a wildlife law concerning Natural Resources and the Ecosystems Conservations).
White cockatoos are kept as pets because they can be very affectionate, bond closely with people and are valued for their beauty. They are often called "velcro birds" because they like to cuddle with people, especially their owners, or primary care-taker. Anyone not used to cockatoo behavior may find this cuddling behavior odd, as most parrots do not cuddle like the umbrella cockatoo. Although capable of imitating basic human speech, they are not considered the most able speakers among parrots. They are often used in live animal acts in zoos and amusement parks because they are naturally acrobatic and easily trained, because of their highly social nature and high level of intelligence.
Cockatoos are also noisier than many parrots. They can become very bonded (or dependent) on human companion and this combined with their long life and often misunderstood behaviors can lead to behavior issues.. They have very strong beaks, and umbrellas are capable of breaking walnuts and fingers if very scared. They have a "fight or flight" flock mentality, and general prefer to fly away from danger. In a cage, with no escape path, they can be subjected to stress which often leads to feather picking (as with many pet birds).
Pet white cockatoos may raise their crests upon training, or when something catches their interest such as a new toy or person.
Health issues with captive birds are common since many people do not provide a proper diet for cockatoos. Seeds provide little nutrition (they are mostly fat) and is considered similar to a person living on junk food. Assorted fresh fruits and veggies and properly created pellets available at many good pet stores is more appropriate. A sick bird naturally will try to hide its health issues. In the wild, it has been observed that a flock will force out an unhealthy bird for fear of attracting predators. An often cited rule of thumb among avian enthusiasts and veterinarians is: "If the bird looks sick, it is likely to be very, very sick - possibly near death". Qualified avian veterinary care is required, both for prevention of disease, and for care in the event of a major illness or trauma.
Signs of illness in a cockatoo can include runny eyes, sluggish behavior, unusually colored droppings (esp indicating blood in the digestive tract), sleeping more than normal, droopy wings, tail bobbing when sleeping (indicating difficulty in breathing), sleeping on the bottom of the cage (birds naturally want to be high on a perch), sudden change in or unusual behavior, feather plucking, biting themselves, sudden weight loss or gain, and a drop in appetite, among other symptoms.
They were quite popular in China during the Tang dynasty, a fact which in turn influenced the depictions of Guan Yin with a white parrot. The Fourth Crusade was also sealed between Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and the Sultan of Babylon in 1229 with a gift of a white cockatoo.
- BirdLife International (2013). "Cacatua alba". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Alderton, David (2003). The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Caged and Aviary Birds. London, England: Hermes House. p. 204. ISBN 1-84309-164-X.
- "BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Cacatua alba.". Birdlife International. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- ProFauna Indonesia (2008). Pirated Parrots Retrieved 8 September 2011.
- "Indonesia Ministry of Forestry 1990".
- Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 4 ("Cacatuidae"): Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-22-9.
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