Cookie Cockatoo, 76, enjoying a treat at a birthday celebration.
As people get older, they contemplate the next phase of their lives—the golden years and retirement. Probably for most the magic age is 65, although it seems more and more individuals put it off well past that milestone. The same is true for a particularly popular resident at Brookfield Zoo: Cookie, a 76-year-old Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.
Cookie, the oldest resident at the zoo, is the only remaining member of the original animal collection, which dates back to 1934, when the zoo first opened. Earlier this year, staff in the zoo’s Bird Department noticed that when Cookie was off exhibit, his appetite improved and he appeared more at ease. At that time, a decision was made to have Cookie on exhibit only on the weekends. However, about a month ago, his keepers observed that their fine-feathered friend was becoming more cranky and fussy when they put him on exhibit. Due to his increasing level of agitation, they decided it would be in Cookie’s best interest to “retire” him from his on-exhibit space.
“Cookie has taken up permanent residence in the keepers’ office at Perching Bird House, thus allowing him to retire in familiar and comfortable off-exhibit accommodations. There he is enjoying the constant companionship of the keepers he knows so well,” said Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “We know Cookie’s retirement may be a disappointment to his many fans, but his well-being is our top priority, and we feel him being off exhibit is best for him at this time in his life.”
Since Cookie arrived at the zoo, millions and millions of guests have seen him. The charismatic pink cockatoo has become one of the zoo’s most famous animals. He even has acquired quite a loyal fan base affectionately called “Cookie’s groupies,” who come specifically to see him. In addition, Cookie receives fan mail (on a regular basis) as well as toys from his many admirers.
“Because Cookie has such a following, we want the public to know that he is still as healthy as one would expect for an animal in his advanced years,” added Snyder. As a senior citizen, he has faced a few age-related health ailments similar to those of elderly humans. In 2007, he was diagnosed with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. To ease any discomfort he may be experiencing, Cookie is on a calcium-rich diet and takes anti-inflammatory medication and vitamin supplements to help support joint health.
The Bird Department keepers are providing Cookie with various enrichment items to occupy his time and stimulate his mind. These include putting seeds and other treats in a paper bag that he has to tear open in order to get to the food and providing him with a wide variety of toys, as well as lots of interaction with his keepers.
If Cookie remains healthy, the zoo plans for him to make occasional appearances during the warmer months, including during his annual birthday celebration in June. In addition, video and photos of Cookie will periodically be posted on the zoo’s Web site at www.CZS.org/Cookie
Cookie is well beyond the average life span for his species. He arrived at Brookfield Zoo at the age of 1 from Taronga Zoo in Australia. It is believed that he is the world’s oldest living Major Mitchell’s cockatoo in a zoo setting. The next oldest bird of this species in a facility is a 31-year-old female at Paradise Wildlife Sanctuary in England. Currently, there are 157 Major Mitchell’s cockatoos in zoos or other facilities worldwide. Only 16 North American zoos, including Brookfield Zoo, have this species in their animal collections. According to a reference in the Encyclopedia of Life, the median lifespan for this species in a zoo setting is between 40 and 60 years.