The highly intelligent Triton Cockatoo

Notice of 05.10.2019

After more than 3 months of quarantine stay, during which veterinary examinations have been made, clinical laboratory tests of blood, feathers and cloacal swabs have been performed along with giving prophylactic worm and parasite cures, a couple of immensely beautiful Triton Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita triton) have been cleared and are thus ready to move into my birdhouse.

I have never had the pleasure of keeping the iconic Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) before, but this summer I suddenly got the opportunity to acquire a beautiful pair of one of the subspecies, the Triton Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita triton). Along with other characteristics, this subspecies differs from the nominate species (Cacatua galerita galerita) in having very fine bright bluish eye rings and a wide, rounded feather top and by being a little bit shorter (ca. 46 cm). In nature, this subspecies lives on New Guinea as well as on a number of surrounding islands.

It is a couple of very calm birds with a friendly and sociable nature, which now must settle in their new surroundings. You no longer encounter Triton Cockatoos on a regularly basis among bird keepers anymore. When I was a teenager - back in the 1970s - a Triton Cockatoo played an important role in the popular American TV series, "Baretta", starring the American TV actor Robert Blake as the undercover Police Detective Tony Baretta. In the TV series, Tony Baretta is a disguise specialist and this ability enables him to solve many crimes. On the home front, he has a very faithful companion in the form of a totally tame and talking Triton Cockatoo named Fred. The reason why the "Baretta" TV-series exclusively used Triton Cockatoos was that Tritons - apart from being very intelligent - also are extremely loving and affectionate birds including good talkers, unlike several other white Cockatoo species. Fred’s signature phrase in “Baretta” was notably: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time".

Triton Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita triton), male bird.

Actually, four different Triton Cockatoos, all of which were owned by the famed animal trainer Ray Berwick, played the part of Fred in the TV-series. He also trained many other animals for the movies and television. One of the first tricks he taught Fred to perform was for a scene in which Tony Baretta had been injured. Fred had to fly over to Baretta, who was lying on a bed. He had to take a handkerchief, which was being held against the “injury” on Baretta’s head, fly over to the kitchen with the handkerchief and dip it in water. Then, he had to fly back to Baretta and put the handkerchief against his head.

For many people at that time “Fred the Cockatoo” kindled the first sparks of desire in their hearts for companion parrots. As a result - very unfortunately - many Cockatoos were taken from their natural habitats, forest homes, because a great number of people from all around the world simply wanted to own - and keep - a “Fred the Cockatoo”-bird.”

At that time it was not realized, that “Fred the Cockatoo” - besides from being very popular - for certain also had a negative impact on the wild populations of Cockatoos and on all parrots in general. Nowadays the entertainment industry in general shows more moral responsibility towards the wildlife they use and portray in their shows, etc.

I do not keep parrots as lonely companion birds, and I do no teach them any tricks or try to humanize them. I keep them because their behavior and intelligence fascinate me. I seek to promote and support their natural behavior through enriching their everyday lives with new natural stimuli and challenges. I also only keep parrot in pairs (or in flocks) because it is their nature - they simply thrive best in this way - and with the aim to breed them in order to preserve them for future generations. It is worth noting that the birds we keep in human custody today not are taken from nature, but are descendants of birds that have been here for many years.

Over the last decades, it has not been allowed - with a certain few exceptions - to export/import wild caught parrots from their natural habitats, so humankind has become wiser in this aspect. However, there is still a long way to go, since there still are many other treats to the natural wildlife population of parrots such as burning down their natural habitats, intense forestry, poisoning, poaching, illegal trade, etc. We therefore have to protect and ensure the existing stocks of parrots that we already for several years have had in human custody through systematic breeding efforts. In this way, the need for illegal trade is hopefully weakened, and perhaps one day in the future birds reared in human custody could be exposed in the wild under controlled forms with the help of relevant local authorities.


Jorgen Petersen


Conceived/Updated: 05.10.2019 / 15.01.2024