Charlie, the Sailor-Bird

Summary: About Charlie the Goffin Cockatoo: Born at the aviary in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Westdale, and one of the crew aboard Al Hoceima.



Born in the Hamilton, Ontario aviary (currently located in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Westdale) in April 1999. Hand-raised by the owners of the now-defunct local pet store.

We brought the birdie home three months after he was born. Charlie is a Goffin Cockatoo. Goffins are found in Indonesia and live anywhere from 40 to 80 years, depending on which resource you use to look it up. They look a bit different from the average cockatoo: their crests are very small and they are only about 10-12” head to end of tail.

We were told that Charlie was quiet and sweet - sweet, yes, most of the time, quiet, most of the time, however, can he scream! And he has been known to bite, hard. A forest of Goffins must be deafening. Charlie sounds as though he’s smoked too many cigars when he screams. Since he has a vocabulary of about thirty words which are vocalized in a fairly soft, high-pitched sound (sounds like me, I guess), we’re really annoyed when he makes his “Notice me!!! NOW!!!” screams. Birds don’t have vocal cords to get tired out, so he can go on for a very long time.

Goffins are playful, jumping and doing somersaults in their cages. They are known escape artists, as well, so all the little doors to his cage are pad-locked. If Charlie realizes that a lock is NOT locked, he will remove it and throw out his food or water dish, or escape the cage from the front door (if it is open) and munch on the wood by the little window above his cage. I’ve even seen him try to un-lock a lock by sticking his claw into the key-hole.

If he is not talking or shrieking, but still wants attention, he’ll signal with his head – that come-hither motion. He does it for a very long time until you get the drift and come over, or at least acknowledge him.

When we lived in our house and he had his big cage, he used to grab some food with his foot and lie upside down head first, in the food dish, trying to throw the food into his beak. Clever.

He’s aware when people are leaving, when they tie on their shoes or get their coats, etc., and says, “Bye, bye” without prompting. He also says, “Be good boy” when we’re leaving (wonder where he got that from).

He also knows when it’s bed time. As soon as we begin our going-to-bed routines, he’ll start saying “G’night; Night Charlie”. And funnily, when we’re staying up later than usual and he wants to go to bed, he’ll start saying it on his own to let us know!

When he’s holding on to the side of the cage, he will start counting his toes - ”One, two, four”. We think he can’t say “three”, although an “eeeee” sounds comes out occasionally, and we’re sure he loves “four” since he says it with vigour.

Parrots tend to like either human males or females. In our household (boathold?), he loves Dave. I’m his Mummy so he loves me, too, but it’s not the same.

Regarding the biting: His cage is his domain, so fingers coming near are prime targets. Also, when we take him out of the cage for playtime or a cuddle (surprisingly, he really loves to cuddle) and he starts to jump around and get excited, it’s time to go back to the cage.

The last time he got really excited, jumping from one to another of us, he reached over and bit my nose and DID NOT LET GO, even got better purchase and bit deeper. My eyes started to water, so I didn’t realize that I had blood all down the front of my white shirt. I was very tentative with him for months afterward, but he’s only a bird and he didn’t remember the incident two seconds later. I still have a wee scar, so I remember…Just imagine that beak clamped on to yours...

Dave here – It really was horrible, but just to add a bit to the story, when Charlie got over-excited, Angi told him sternly to calm down. Charlie responded by squawking at her, and the two of them got into an argument (Really! – the bird doesn’t like to be told off and always wants to have the last word!). After a brief exchange between them, getting the bird even more riled up, he ended up giving her nose a severe munch.

He loves to play. In the photo with me, he’s trying to get his head under the flap of my jacket. We were sailing to Main Duck Island in July of 2008. I wasn’t afraid of his flying away (as long as nothing startles him, he’s fine), since cockatoos tend to sit more than fly, but I was concerned about the temperature. I was cold enough to be wearing a sweatshirt and foul weather gear. He was OK for a few minutes and then I took him below to his cage. In the photo on the right, he is putting his head under the spoon and actually rubbing his head against the spoon. He loves getting under things such as covers, people’s clothing (including up sleeves) and hats.

If he likes you and you are comfortable with him, he will grab your fingers so that you pet him, or put his head under your fingers to force you to pet him.

Since he was raised by humans, we are his nest-mates. When we get into a discussion and everyone’s yapping at the same time, trying to get his or her point across, the bird joins in. Since he can’t really talk, it becomes a combination of every sound he knows all jumbled together coming out as loudly as everyone else in the room. It’s hilarious.

About sailing with Charlie, he is increasingly better about it. This year he screamed for a couple of minutes as we first started motoring out of our slip, then he was quiet and calm. Even during the worst weather, and we had some, he merely grabbed the side of the cage with one foot and held on. No screaming at all. If only he were like that when we are at our slip.

The following is a list of the words and phrases he knows, some of them coming out at absolutely the appropriate moment:

Whatcha doin
Whatcha doin up there
Come in
Come out - Enunciating the “t”
Come on!
Come ‘ere


Bye, bye
Be Good Boy
Charlie - vocalized in a variety of different ways to get his point across – conversational, angry, frustrated, trying to be cute, etc.; he also calls everyone, “Charlie”
Two - Two comes out as “tuh”, spoken very quietly.
Three - Comes out as “eeee” when he finally says it.
Four - He gets as far as four and then goes back to one. He sometimes combines the numbers, as in “tuhfour”, and, today, tuhone”.
Shut up - Used only once and at me, and shocked me so much that I didn’t tell him to “shut up” for some time :)
Bird food - His name for Dave – bwahahaha!
What’s that? – When we were moving him and his huge cage, a man on the street asked if he could talk. Just at that moment a plane flew by. Charlie looked up and said, ”What’s that?”. I hadn’t realized that he could put the correct phrases in context. I was proud.
Good night
‘Night, Charlie

When he’s having a screaming fit and you ask him what he wants, he’ll respond, “Come out”. Dave refuses to let the bird out of the cage if Charlie is screaming for attention, so the bird has to quietly ask to come out. It works.


If you're thinking of getting a cockatoo for yourself:


In retrospect, I would not recommend buying a cockatoo.  Charlie will live longer than I will; he’ll have to be willed to someone.  He will always be a 2 year-old: he needs a fair amount of attention (not from me, since he sees me most of the day) but from others; his screams are loud and annoying, sometimes coming at 6 o’clock in the morning if the sun shines on his cage (even when he's covered up); he bites on occasion and his beak is razor-sharp.

Given all of that, we do love him and he’s here to stay. He is a part of our family, but will remain a toddler forever.

I cannot recommend the purchase of a cockatoo due to the many issues dealing with them. For further information, especially concerning Moluccan cockatoos, see  Make sure you know what you're getting yourself into!


© Copyright 2008 David S. Malar and Angelika Jardine. All rights reserved.
Home -

Website Design and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by