Sulphur-Crested (Greater) Cockatoo: Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

A white sulphur-crested cockatoo sitting on a branch with its left wing spread.
Andoni Canela/age fotostock/Getty Images

The sulphur-crested cockatoo is one of the largest of the several species of beautiful white cockatoos. It is a different species than the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo. Although spectacular in appearance, this huge, active parrot is brilliant, long-lived, and noisy; and it is very challenging to keep as a pet. This bird expects a lot from its owner and it is recommended only for experienced owners who are up to the task. For a motivated owner, the sulphur-crested is a once-in-a-lifetime pet.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Sulphur-crested cockatoo, greater sulphur-crested cockatoo

Scientific Name: Cacatua galerita

Adult Size: The largest subspecies (C. g. galerita) can reach an adult size of about 20 inches, weighing nearly two pounds

Life Expectancy: Up to 80 years in captivity with proper care

Origin and History

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are native to eastern Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and New Zealand. Their preferred habitat is along the edges of tropical and subtropical rainforests. They are also a familiar sight in urban areas. In some parts of Australia, this bird is so plentiful that people consider it a nuisance. The Wild Bird Conservation Act prohibits the import of sulphur-crested cockatoos to the United States, so most pet birds now are captive-bred. 

There are four subspecies, hailing from different geographic locations with slightly different physical characteristics:

  • Cacatua galerita triton: Called the Triton cockatoo, comes from New Guinea and the surrounding islands
  • C. g. eleonora: Eleonora cockatoo, comes from some of the eastern Indonesian islands
  • C. g. fitzroyi: Mathews cockatoo, comes from northern Australia
  • C. g. galerita: Standard sulfur-crested cockatoo, comes from eastern Australia. This is the most common subspecies.

The lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo looks similar to the (greater) sulphur-crested cockatoo, occupies a different geographic range, and is not a typical pet bird.


Cockatoos are an affectionate species among the various types of parrots; the sulphur-crested is typical in this regard. You must be willing to devote the time and energy to form a strong bond with a bird. A sulphur-crested cockatoo loves to be handled but also needs enough alone time to learn self-sufficiency, which is no small feat.

This bird is a more emotionally complicated pet species than other cockatoos and is prone to sudden, unpredictable movements that can be startling, although the intent is rarely aggressive. This demanding bird can become self-abusive and destructive if it does not get the attention it needs.

They are considered one of the most intelligent parrots. They have the learning capacity of a 1- to 2-year-old human child and can learn to talk and do tricks. Young birds will be easiest to train and socialize.

Speech and Vocalizations

These birds are excellent mimics and can quickly learn to speak words and phrases. The sulphur-crested cockatoo also has a piercingly loud shriek. This species is not well-suited to apartment living as its noisiness can be considered a nuisance to close neighbors.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo Colors and Markings

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are primarily white with black beaks. They sport a beautiful crest of yellow feathers on top of their heads. It has a yellow wash on the underside of its wings.

The sexes look similar, although the female can be distinguished at close range by its reddish-brown eye. The male's eyes are darker brown or black. This distinction does not become apparent until the bird has reached maturity, which varies between 3 to 5 years of age.

Caring for the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are large birds that need very spacious enclosures. At a minimum, the cage should have a footprint of about 40 inches by 40 inches and at least 5 feet tall. A bigger cage is better, and best of all is an aviary environment.

The birds naturally emit a downy powder, which aids in keeping their wings and skin healthy. This powder may be problematic for some people with allergies.

Bird bathing is strictly an individual preference. In the wild, some cockatoos enjoy standing in the rain while others avoid it.

Common Health Issues

The health issues affecting sulphur-crested cockatoos are similar to those for other cockatoos and parrots of the same size. This bird is especially prone to rebellious behavior problems if it does not get attention and adequate exercise and mental stimulation. They may start feather plucking and destructive chewing. To avoid these unwanted behaviors, owners must be diligent about providing their pets with plenty of toys and attention.

Like other parrots, sulphur-crested cockatoos are prone to fatty tumors if their diets do not include enough fresh vegetables and fruit. This species is also susceptible to psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), a viral condition.

Diet and Nutrition

In the wild, sulphur-crested cockatoos feast on seeds, grain, and insects that they harvest from trees. In captivity, they need a varied diet that includes high-quality pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Experienced owners of sulphur-crested cockatoos take great care in preparing their birds' diets, as cockatoos can quickly suffer from the effects of poor nutrition.

A well-formulated, high-quality parrot pellet should account for 75 percent of its dietary needs. The remaining 25 percent should be fresh fruits and vegetables. Start by offering your bird 1/4 cup of pellets and 1/4 cup of fruits daily. Increase the amount as needed. Nuts and seeds can be given sparingly as training treats.


The sulphur-crested cockatoo is a highly active and lively bird that requires plenty of exercise to maintain proper health. Owners of sulphur-crested cockatoos should allow their pets a minimum of 3 to 4 hours of outside-the-cage playtime every day.

Provide the bird plenty of space to climb, stretch, and flap its wings. Most cockatoo owners provide their birds with play stands or special perches for their exercise needs.

Give your cockatoo plenty of interactive toys that can be chewed, grasped, and climbed. Cockatoos have one of the most powerful beaks in the parrot world, expect to give them durable toys. Birds get tired of the same toys every day, plan to rotate them in and out to keep your bird interested and distracted from unwanted behaviors like chewing on your wooden furniture.

  • Social, affectionate, likes handling

  • Intelligent, can learn to talk and do tricks

  • Long-lived species

  • Can be noisy, not well-suited for apartments

  • Needy, requires at least 3 to 4 hours of supervised out-of-cage time

  • Emits a powdery dust that can aggravate allergies

Where to Adopt or Buy the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Purchase sulphur-crested cockatoos from a reputable breeder. Expect to pay from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the reputation of the breeder, the bird's tameness, and age. Do your homework, and if possible, spend time with a sulphur-crested cockatoo in a home environment to develop a sense of what it takes to be an adequate owner.

You can also rescue sulphur-crested cockatoos regularly abandoned by owners who are not up to the challenge. Some online sources where you can find sulphur-crested cockatoos include:

Make sure that the bird you want to take home is alert, active, and exhibits all the signs of a healthy bird, such as bright eyes, clean feathers, and full crops.

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

Other similar pet bird species you might want to consider include:

Otherwise, take a look at more species in the cockatoo family.

Article Sources
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  1. Cockatoos General Information. VCA Hospitals.

  2. Tumors Lipomas in Birds. VCA Hospitals.

  3. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Pet Birds. VCA Hospitals.