Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Outstanding Aussies - The Glorious Gang Gang Cockatoo

cock gang gang cockatoo jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Mature Cock Gang Gang displaying the red head

Australia has a rich diversity of Parrots & Cockatoos. Many of these are unique and this includes the distinctive Gang-Gang Cockatoo. A species, which is believed to have been given the name Gang Gang by aboriginals, these cockatoos are seen through out much of their range in flocks and small family parties visiting parks, gardens, open forests, woodlands etc. 

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Hen Gang Gang's have more of a grey head and lack the red head of the cock bird

They often feed at backyard feeders and are incredibly tolerant of humans. So tolerant that it is not unusual to see birds showing little fear of humans and allowing close approaches. People can often get as close as 2 metres and sometimes closer without concerning the birds. Though if startled or sensing danger they will fly off or move higher through the tree.

Gang Gangs are migratory and will head for the lowlands in the cooler months and back to the higher altitudes during the hotter months. Though it appears in parts that some pairs may be more resident then migratory. Although feeding may take place close to the ground they rarely are seen to come to the ground and usually only do so for to take in much needed water or to eat fallen food. Water may be sourced from farm dams, creeks, backyard birdbaths etc. 

Breeding requires tree hollows such as those found in old Eucalypts and competition for hollows is increasing in parts from White Cockatoos, which are expanding their range. A passive species the presence of these small cockatoos (approximately 35cm’s in length) is often only given away by the call they make which resembles a creaking gate. 
young cock gang gang cockatoo jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Young cock showing the red coming through in the head

 The sexes are easily told apart. The cock bird features a brilliant red head and crest that is complimented by the grey of the rest of the body. The hen is somewhat more subdued in colouration being overall grey with some suffusion of pinkish red through parts of the chest and below. At times a suffusion of pinkish red may also be seen through the head.

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Conventional Aviaries used to House Glossy Black & Gang Gang Cockatoos

In a captive environment the Gang Gang is a popular bird within Australia and quite rare elsewhere in the world. They will do well in either a conventional or suspended aviary and will happily breed in either. A conventional aviary of 5-6 metres long x 1.5 metres wide by 2 metres high will sufficiently house a pair of Gang Gangs. Though they have been housed in smaller aviaries and bred quite successfully.

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Colony of Gang Gang Cockatoos

Gang Gangs are as mentioned a passive species and they have in the past been housed in colonies. One Australian aviculturalist in particular had a large colony of Gang Gangs that produced quite successfully for him. During the breeding season the doors of smaller aviaries linked to the large colony aviary were opened. Once a pair were observed entering an aviary and working the nest the aviary door was closed and the pair given the chance to breed. 

Young birds will also do well in a colony system and this allows for young to bond with their preferred partner. The best results often come from young birds that have bonded early on and the bond of a Gang Gang pair is extremely strong.

One of the most common issues experienced with Gang Gangs is feather plucking. The best way to keep them in good feather is to give them plenty of other things to do instead of shredding feathers. This includes providing a plentiful supply of branches to destroy. It must be said that if you need mulch for your garden all you have to do feed branches into the Gang gangs cage and they will turn it into mulch for you.

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Wild Cock bird eating the berries of the introduced Hawthorn

Wild Gang Gangs eat a varied diet and have adapted well to the clearing of many of their food trees by eating the berries of the introduced Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus). Indeed many a keeper also provides their birds with the berries of the aforementioned plants. Other introduced foodstuffs, which Gang Gangs relish, include pine cones, milk thistles, dandelions, liquidambar pods and rose hips.

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A selection of bush foods enjoyed by Gang Gangs in captivity and the wild

Native food items they relish in the aviary include the nuts of every Eucalyptus tree from the smallest to the largest and the seed pods of many other native trees like the Hakea, Acacia, Banksia, Casuarina and many more. All can be provided attached to the branch.

For those with a preference for pelletized diets Gang Gangs will readily consume them if they are introduced to them from an early age. Most though stick to a diet featuring a dry seed mix such as a small parrot mix (with added sunflower during breeding) as the base to which they also serve other foodstuffs.

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A selection of sprouts, nuts and fruits for Gang Gangs

Fruits such as oranges, pomegranates, pears, apples and passionfruit are often picked through. Many Gang Gangs though seem to prefer the seeds and little else however they should still be provided. Vegetables such as silver beet, endive, broccoli, cauliflower, corn on the cob, green peas and beans are also readily consumed. Sprouted or soaked seed can be added mixed in to the fruit and veg mix and is readily consumed

spitfire grubs sawfly larvae gang gang cockatoo jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Sawfly Larvae such as those on this branch are readily taken by captive and wild Gang Gangs

In addition to the countless foods already mention the Gang Gang will take to a variety of nuts such as almonds and walnuts. They also enjoy peanuts. Observations of wild Gang Gangs has shown that like some of the Black Cockatoos they will eat live food such as caterpillars, sawfly larvae etc. Taking note of this many breeders also feed a variety of foods such as mealworms, earthworms, sawfly larvae, caterpillars, mice, chicken necks, cooked chicken bones, dry dog food etc. 

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Hen Gang Gang opening a cacoon to get to the larvae inside

Despite being seen as a specialist species the Gang Gang is no more difficult then any other species of Cockatoo to breed. It Is just a matter of making sure that their needs are met. The best breeding birds are often those that have been introduced to each other at an early age and allowed to bond. A bonded pair of gang gangs may breed as early as two years of age although 3-4 years appears to be the norm.

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Gang Gangs at their nest log
These birds will accept either a hollow log or nestbox which should be introduced where possible at an early age. This is so as they become use to it and can work it even if not intending on breeding in it at an early age. Be warned though that they will chew a nestbox to pieces in no time unless it is re-enforced around the edges and at the entrance with sheet metal. If given a hollow log they will chew and hang from their logs, as they do in the wild. When doing this they display with their tail and wings open which is pleasing to observe.

A log or nestbox varying in size from 230mm to 330mm in diameter to 600mm to 900mm long will suffice and should have an inspection door for checking young and eggs.  The nesting receptacle can either be positioned vertically or horizontally and close enough to allow some weather on the log. Not enough though to allow rain to fill the log or box.

Untreated Saw dust obtained from a sawmill works well and to this the birds will add extra wood from the chewing they do of the nesting receptacle. A clutch size of 2-3 eggs is the norm and sitting often commences on the laying of the first egg. Incubation can be highly variably depending on climatic conditions, when incubation first took place etc. 25-30 days of incubation seems to fit into reports from various breeders and both the cock and hen take turns incubating the eggs.

chick gang gang cockatoo jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Young Gang Gang Chick
Once hatched the babies are in the nest for up to eight weeks. The parents are very protective of their young. They usually fly into their logs with their wings spread, crested up and growling when the keeper goes near their young in the log but that is usually all they do.

hen young gang gang cockatoo jadewelchbirds jade welch birds
Young Hen Gang Gangs

If the parents are not supplied with a good quality diet prior to breeding and plenty of quality food during breeding the chicks may develop rickets. Too little food and some mouths may also go unfed causing long-term issues. So the idea is to bump up the foods and make sure the birds get enough each day for mum, dad and the young.

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Parents and their young enjoying almonds

Gang Gangs are social birds and the young can be left with the parents for quite some time once they leave the nest. Some parents are still seen feeding their babies three months after leaving the log. Interestingly as with Galahs and some other Cockatoo species, wild Gang Gangs are known to form crèches for their young where nesting has taken place close in proximity to one another. These has led to large flock of birds being recorded.

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Wild hen enjoying Hawthorn Berries
Overall the Gang Gang Cockatoo is a delightful bird. They are small, interesting and intelligent as well as eye catching. They possess a great charm and are unique and it is not hard to see why they are sought after. Their requirements are not hard to meet however the keeper should expect to put more work into these birds then some others. This particularly concerns providing branches for the birds to chew and plentiful supplies of food leading up to, during and after breeding when young are in the aviary. If you have the time, space and ability to keep the Gang Gang then why not add them to your aviaries?

Many thanks to Gordon Dosser who helped to Co-Author this blog post. Gordon has had a long history with the Gang Gang Cockatoo and was incredibly helpful in supplying photos and information from his years of experience with these incredible birds. Thank you must also go to Pauline Brennan and Paulene Cook for the fantastic photos they provided.

Happy Birdkeeping,

Copyright © Jade Welch - All Rights Reserved. All photographs and text are protected
by copyright and may not be reproduced by any method without written permission from Mr Jade Welch.


  1. My friend Jade
    Thank you very much for this useful article. gang gangs are the dream of every breeders. And I am one of them.
    Moh'd Ali