Why Are Cockatoos Dusty?

Cockatoos are well-known for their beautiful white plumage and captivating personalities. These intelligent and social parrots share a unique attribute across over 21 species – being dusty.

While you may be curiously wondering why these beautiful creatures are covered in dust, the truth is that this seemingly dusty appearance is actually an essential element of their overall health and wellbeing.

In fact, the dust you see on a cockatoo is referred to as “powder down” and plays an important role in maintaining their feather condition. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of cockatoos and uncover the reasons behind their dusty appearance.

The Science Behind Powder Down

What is Powder Down?

Powder down, also known as “feather dust,” is a special type of feather that is unique to certain species of birds, including all members of the cockatoo family. Unlike regular feathers, powder-down feathers have a powdery substance on their surface. This white substance is made up of microscopic keratin particles that are produced by the feathers themselves.

The Purpose of Powder Down

The powder down on a cockatoo serves several crucial functions. First and foremost, it helps maintain the condition of their feathers by providing a moisturizing effect. This is particularly important for larger birds like cockatoos, whose long feathers may be more prone to breakage and damage.

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Additionally, powder down acts as a natural cleaning agent for the feathers. When a cockatoo preens its feathers, the powdery substance from the powder-down feathers is distributed across the remaining plumage, helping to remove dirt, debris, and bacteria.

Waterproofing and Insulation

Another important function of powder down is to provide waterproofing and insulation to the cockatoo’s feathers. In the wild, cockatoos need to survive various weather conditions, including rain and extreme temperatures. The powder down’s hydrophobic properties help to repel water, keeping their feathers dry and insulating them against the cold.

Cockatoos and Dust Baths

The Role of Dust Baths

To distribute the powder down evenly across their plumage, cockatoos often indulge in dust baths. These dust baths help keep their feathers in top condition, removing old powder down and dead skin cells.

How Cockatoos Take Dust Baths

In the wild, a cockatoo will find a dry, sandy area and begin to roll around, spreading its wings and tail to allow the sand to reach as many feathers as possible. The dust helps to clean their feathers, absorbing any excess oil, dirt, and debris.

As a pet, it’s essential to provide your cockatoo with opportunities to take dust baths. This can be achieved by placing a shallow dish filled with bird-safe bathing sand, such as cornstarch, in their enclosure.

Caring for a Dusty Cockatoo

Cleaning the Surroundings

As a result of their dusty nature, cockatoos can make their surroundings quite dusty as well. To minimize the spread of dust around your home, regular cleaning and vacuuming are crucial. Additionally, consider placing an air purifier near the cockatoo’s cage to help filter out the excess dust particles.

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Providing Bathing Opportunities

Although cockatoos primarily keep their feathers clean through preening and dust baths, they also benefit from occasional water baths. Providing your pet with a shallow dish of water or gently misting them with a spray bottle can help keep their skin hydrated and feathers in good condition.


Cockatoos are famous for their dusty appearance, but now you know that this unique feature is an integral part of their biology. The powder down they produce keeps their plumage waterproof and insulated while also providing a natural cleaning agent. By understanding and accommodating the basic needs of these dusty birds, you can help ensure they stay happy and healthy.


Q: What is the white dust found on cockatoos?
A: The white dust found on cockatoos is called “powder down,” which is a powdery substance released by special types of feathers. This powder down helps maintain the condition of their feathers and provides waterproofing and insulation.

Q: Are all cockatoos dusty?
A: Yes, all species of cockatoos possess the unique powder down feathers responsible for their dusty appearance.

Q: How can I help my cockatoo keep its feathers clean?
A: Providing opportunities for dust baths and occasional water baths will help your cockatoo maintain clean, healthy feathers.

Q: Is the dust from cockatoos harmful to humans?
A: While the dust produced by cockatoos is not generally harmful, some individuals may experience allergies or respiratory irritation in response to the dust.

Q: Can I prevent my cockatoo from being dusty?
A: No, the production of powder down is a natural and essential aspect of a cockatoo’s biology. However, you can take steps to manage the dust in your home through regular cleaning and the use of an air purifier.

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