Breeding Glossy Black Cockatoos

After successfully keeping 8 species and sub-species of Red, Yellow and White tailed Black cockatoos for 10 years, there was always a desire and challenge to acquire a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos. In March 2002 we got a chance to purchase a breeding pair that were sold after the owner went into liquidation. This pair of birds was parent raising a chick at the time, so all care was taken by moving the parents complete with their breeding log and chick 800kms north to our aviary complex. Due to their extremely quiet nature, they settled down, continued to feed, and eventually weaned their fledgling. The next year - April 2003 they laid 1 egg again. It hatched 31 days later and fledged after 90 days. The youngster continued to be fed by the hen for 3 months after fledging.

The cock bird was never seen feeding the chick but always fed the hen. The youngster was moved to another flight at nine months of age (six months after leaving the nest). It was only moved after being observed cracking casuarina nuts on the feed bowl. We were then always on the lookout whenever we were out driving for and collecting sheaok (casuarina) seed cones both times, as this is there natural feed.

Casuarina cones are a vital part of the Glossys' diet. When crushed they have a high oil content. We collected casuarina cones from the trees and stored them in the deep freezer, otherwise the cones will dry out and the seed capsules open within 48 hours. The nuts have to be collected away from city areas as they become contaminated, by diesel soot, grime etc, and birds will refuse to eat them. As well as casuarina cones, the birds are also fed grey-stiped sunflower almonds, greens, carrot, raw beetroot, and the odd mealworm.

The pairs are fed 20-30 cones per day in non-breeding season, and 60-80 cones while nesting. Pairs are housed in flights 6m long, 1.5m long, and 2.4 high with half the roof area covered. The nest log is mounted on a stand to the left of mid flight.

Hand Rearing Glossy Black Cockatoos

In 2004, the hen laid once again in April but failed to incubate the egg. She continued to lay at 21 to 23 day intervals until four eggs were laid and didn't show any signs of incubating. After successfully hand rearing many other types of cockatoos, we decided to try Glossy chicks. All eggs placed in incubator were fertile and hatched averaging 12 to 15 grams. The chicks was placed in a brooder at the same temperatures as other black cockatoos and Two chicks died at three and four days while still being hydrated with Hartman's solution and infant formula. Another died a couple of weeks later in a temperature-controlled brooder (set at a temperature normally used for all other Red, Yellow, and White-Tailed-Black Cockatoo chicks) because of dehydration and slow digestion. This indicated to us that the Glossy chicks have a low tolerance to heat.

These Glossys' have a very different anatomy to other cockatoos so hand rearing over many years has been difficult for all aviculturalists trying to breed them. We have successfully raised one chick, but it was removed from the temperature-controlled brooder at 7 days. However, we believe that the temperature wasn't the only contributing factor, but also the diet.

Sir Edward Hallstrom was the first to breed the Glossy in captivity in 1946. He too realised there was something different about their diet and food intake. Nearly 60 years later, there is still no sure formula available, and everything is trial and error. However due to some deaths in young birds, autopsies revealed these Glossys had not a gizzard as one would expect to find in other parrots. Close examination proved that inside the body and close to the crop was a receptacle containing food which was not, however, a muscular gizzard. It was a parchment-like bag and seemed like a secondary crop for storing food. In one part of the intestine was found to have rudimentary muscles (incompletely developed) about 1.5mm thick and similar to gizzard muscles. The muscular portion of the bowel had two valves and the outer one became easily blocked if the chick was fed any substance containing bran, oats, wheat etc.

Field studies on Glossys carried out on Kangaroo Island reveal important data. During nesting periods one bird can pick up to 300 casurina cones a day. This amount of kernels would still only amount to 20-30mls of food mass (not much). It was also noted that parent birds were absent from nesting hollows for many hours a day in freezing temperatures, and chicks were mainly fed morning and evening. Admittedly the Glossy chicks are covered in a very thick long yellow down giving them sufficient insulation while the parent birds are absent from the nest.

Keeping the anatomy and feeding habits in mind we prepared a mixture similar to the natural food knowing this would be necessary for the chicks survival. A substitute for the high oil content of casurina kernels had to be found along with an enzyme replacement naturally acquired from the parents. The replacement mixture needed to have high oil content, so we checked the nutrient composition of various seeds. The sunflower kernel proved to be a good source of protein, vitamin E, calcium, zinc carbohydrate, and magnesium, besides having a total of 14g fat in 28.35grams (50% of composition). Other species of cockatoos when fed high fat content seed can suffer kidney and liver problems, becoming obese, infertile and result in sudden death.

The Glossy's unique pendulum type crop enables the absorption of the high fats. The dietary fats have varying degrees of saturation (saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) that determine their metabolic features. These fats are used for energy, establishing cell growth or stored for reserve energy, all useful to sustain the chick when unattended in nest.

After some research, we made a mixture of sunflower kernels that had been blended down into fine granules, sieved through fine gauze to remove any husk, then ground with a mortar and pestle to a fine oily paste (a tedious task). Enzyme replacement acquired from a health store and then added to a base liquid to make a runny paste proved ideal.

From our own first experience we found that the chicks needed to be taken from temperature controlled brooders and put into large plastic boxes with a heat pad (protected by being inserted in a singlet disposable plastic bag) at one end, just incase the bird needed warmth. To monitor the temperature we also placed a thermometer near the heat pad. The reading stayed at the 83°F. The heat pads were very hard to come by; foot warming control heat pads are ideal. The chick was observed pressing up against the pad when room temperatures were low.

We found Glossy chicks could only be fed very small quantities of formula at lengthy intervals. When the chick was only 14 days old, we were feeding at intervals similar to other blacks and found that the crop was extremely slow in emptying, so cut down on feeding intervals. In addition, to assist with digestive movement through the slow emptying crop a small amount of pure peanut oil was mixed with the formula. This proved successful; droppings were formed to a soft consistency.

The chick displayed the characteristics of aggressiveness at two months of age prior to feeding and exercised by stretching his wings. From our records, the 30-day-old Glossy black chick could only digest ten mls of food four times a day, whereas a Red-Tailed Black chick can consume 30mls of food four times a day at the same age. At 90 days, the Glossy chick weighed 290 grams and only demanded food twice a day. Some Red-Tails weigh 700 grams at 90 days. Placed in a cockatoo cage along with almond kernels, sunflower seed and water the chick was very quick to play and crack available food, assuring complete weaning within 5-6 months.