I owned a small pet shop many years ago. One of my customers wanted a bird, and she couldn’t decide what kind she wanted for herself and her husband.
One day she came in and told me they wanted a cockatoo. They said they had done a lot of research and decided that a cockatoo would be the perfect bird for them.
I have a pair of cockatoos at home that were given to me by a dear friend who could no longer take care of them. They hadn’t bred in 6 years, so I didn’t expect them to lay an egg at the time.
As I was doing my routine one morning — cleaning, feeding and watering my birds in their outdoor aviary — I heard a little squeaking noise coming from the box inside the aviary.
I knew that sound very well. I opened the box and there she was. Because her mom and dad had been pecking her, she had some small wounds on her head and wings. I decided to pull her from the box and hand feed her.
Several days later I was reminded by my partner about the promise I had made several years earlier when I received the cockatoos. If they were to ever breed again, I would sell the babies at the pet shop. Thinking that it would probably never happen, I promised. Now I was devastated and heartbroken. I had become very attached to Pesto (whom I also sometimes affectionately called Boo Boo).
I called my customer and told her that I had a baby cockatoo for her. I told her she wouldn’t be ready to go to her new home for several months. She was very delighted and was willing to wait for her.
Several months later the day had come for me to part with Pesto. I brought her into the pet shop and hoped that the customer would forget to pick her up. She didn’t.
She came running in with a big smile; and, she was so happy. I put Pesto in her kennel and had to turn away with tears streaming down my face as they walked out the door.
A Shocking Turn of Events
The customer came in the shop once a month to purchase items.
I always asked how Pesto was doing, and she told me she was doing great but that she had changed her name. She then asked if I was sure she could be taught to talk; they had been trying to teach her, but she never said a word.
She didn’t look anything like Pesto; she was feather-plucked and skinny. Pesto was big and healthy the last time I saw her. I said, “Pesto is that you, baby?” She came down out of the corner, and we both just looked at each other.
Almost a year had gone by, and one day as usual the customer came in. I asked how Pesto was, and this time she responded with, “I had to get rid of her!” She began to tell me that her husband didn’t like her and was abusing her. So they put her in a small room by herself, kept her in the dark and fed her only peanuts.
My heart fell. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I asked where she was, and she told me that she dropped her off at another pet shop in town. I ran for my “Closed” sign, put it on the front door of my business, and drove to the other pet shop.
I looked around at all the birds they had in the store and didn’t see her. I asked the salespeople if someone had dropped off a cockatoo in the past few days and they all said no. I just couldn’t leave — I had a strong feeling Pesto was there.
When no one was looking, I snuck into the back room of the pet shop.
I looked around and didn’t see her. I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m wrong; maybe this isn’t where my customer took her,” and I prepared myself to leave. As I was leaving their back room, I looked down, and in a cage under a stack of other cages was a cockatoo. She was huddled up in the back corner of the cage and looked so scared.
I bent down and started talking to the bird. She didn’t look anything like Pesto; she was feather-plucked and skinny. Pesto was big and healthy the last time I saw her. I said, “Pesto is that you, baby?” She came down out of the corner, and we both just looked at each other.
All of a sudden, a salesperson walked in and started yelling at me for being in the back room which was clearly posted, “Employees Only.”
The owner of the store had just arrived, heard all the commotion and went running back to see what was going on. I asked her about the cockatoo. She told me that someone had dropped her off and that she was crazy and that nobody can get near her.
She told me that she didn’t know what would happen to her because nobody would want a bird like that. I persuaded her to let me open the cage; and, that I would take full responsibility if I was to get attacked by this bird.
I opened the cage and this bird jumped on me. I got scared and thought, “Oh my God, this isn’t Pesto, and I’m going to get mutilated by a crazy cockatoo.”
With that, she put her head on my chest and opened her wings across my chest, she then looked up at me and said, “Pesto?”
6 Things to Consider Before Getting a Cockatoo
The following list is adapted from the book How to Choose Your First Cockatoo Wisely:
- No Impulse Buys! Never adopt a pet on a whim. Take your time and do the research. Watch the cockatoo’s behavior closely. Remember that like dogs or cats, cockatoos have varying characteristics and personalities. If you want a bird that can be easily tamed and trained, choose a hand-raised cockatoo. It may be more expensive, but in the long run you will realize it’s worth the money.
- Your Lifestyle: Do you work long hours? Does your spouse want a pet, too? Do you have children? Are they mature enough not to be a threat to the cockatoo? If you travel a lot, who will care for the bird while you are away?
- Your Home Environment: How much free space is there? If you rent, what will your landlord think about this pet? Do you have a good cage? Minimum cage size should be 3 to 4 wingspans wide and 2 to 3 wingspans deep.
- Cockatoo Lifespan: Small cockatoos live 8–14 years; larger ones 35–60 years.
- Are You Able to Meet This Bird’s Specific Needs? Do you have enough time to properly feed and clean for it? Cockatoos need a lot of attention and love in order to become adorable pets.
- Long-Term Cost: Besides the initial cost of the pet, you will of course need to pay for a suitable cage. Over time, the cost of a good diet — not to mention regular veterinary care — will far exceed whatever you initially paid for the cockatoo. Cockatoos are high-maintenance pets and may cost more than you imagined.
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This is an edited version of an article written by Cherie Auletta that originally appeared on her Facebook page under Pesto’s nickname, Boo Boo.
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