The average cockatoo is a bit of a diva, and that includes the boys. Screeches and screams are standard features of your cockatoo's vocal repertoire, although you can always teach him to talk if you don't want him to keep screaming for your attention.
Communication plays a vital role in a cockatoo's survival, especially in the wild. He needs to let his family know how he feels and other important information. And, like people, he learns the appropriate noises to make from his parents and siblings. But when he's living with you, he adapts his range of sounds to suit his surroundings, combining sounds he learned in the wild with ones he learns in your home. Cockatoo vocalization expert Sam Foster says that your style of communication influences your cockatoo: if there's a lot of noise in your house, your cockatoo is likely to join in, while in quieter homes, the cockatoo will also make less noise.
Sam Foster also suggests that you record your cockatoo's screams and calls in a daily journal, noting the time of day and what is happening in the house at the time, in order to understand what your feathered friend is telling you. Make a note about whether he stops making a noise when you come in the room, or if he starts. Check what he's doing when he's making noises: pacing and frantically climbing around his cage are signs that he's distressed. You could also make a note of your own mood in your journal. You might see that there's a link between your emotions and your cockatoo's behavior.
Cockatoos are sociable, chatty birds and yours will love having regular chats with you. It's fairly common for him to call out just to see if you're around. He screams for a few reasons: if somebody he doesn't know comes in the room or if he hears loud noises outside are just two examples. He also screams out of sheer excitement when he's in a playful mood, and you might notice more of this around dawn and at sunset. If your cockatoo makes a distinct hissing sound, it's a sign of fear. His crest might also stand up at the same time, showing he's on the alert for danger. Panic cries are easy to identify, according to Sam Foster, and you should respond to these immediately.
A 2011 study in Australia discovered that wild cockatoos were learning calls from escapee pet cockatoos. The wild birds were calling out "Hello darling" to passersby, as well as imitating the ping of a microwave and a telephone ring tone. These birds are excellent imitators, like other members of the parrot family, and yours is smart enough to know that imitating a human voice gives him a good chance of getting your attention and praise. So, if your cockatoo uses a call that you don't like to attract your attention, you can change it by talking to him frequently. It's also a great way of keeping him entertained and stimulated. But be prepared for your cockatoo using words and whistle sounds that he hears other people use -- rather than the ones you'd like him to use -- some of which might be quite embarrassing.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.