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Since late September 2009, Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo at Brookfield Zoo, has been off exhibit in Perching Bird House enjoying his golden years and spending quality time with his keepers. But on Saturday, June 26, at 10:30 a.m., he made a public appearance for a very special occasion: his 77th birthday celebration, sponsored by American Airlines.

Guests joined zoo staff just outside the building’s entrance to greet Cookie and sing a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” as he was presented with one of his favorite treats: a birthday cake the size of a muffin. The muffin was filled with some of Cookie’s favorite foods, such as carrots, apples, bananas, raisins, and eggs (including the shells for calcium).

The celebration continued with musical entertainment provided by Joel Frankel from The Old School Town of Folk Music. In addition, guests sent birthday wishes and greetings to Cookie by signing an enormous birthday card in front of his exhibit. Zookeepers were also available to answer questions about the birthday bird, and guests heard how Cookie is enjoying his time off exhibit.

“Cookie spends much of his retirement vocalizing and interacting with zoo staff and even enjoys an occasional outdoor picnic with his favorite keepers,” said Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “Reaching 77 is a significant birthday, whether you are a human or bird, and because Cookie has such a great following, we want to share this milestone with his fans.”

Since Cookie arrived at the zoo in 1934, 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 regularly receives fan mail and toys from his many admirers.

Cookie permanently resides in the keepers’ office at Perching Bird House, which allows him to retire in a familiar and comfortable off-exhibit setting. Late last 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, 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, zoo staff decided that it would be in Cookie’s best interest to “retire” him from his on-exhibit space in September.

The Bird Department keepers are providing Cookie with various enrichment items to occupy his time and stimulate his mind. These include providing a paper bag that he has to tear open to get seeds and other treats and providing him with a wide variety of toys, as well as lots of interaction with his keepers.

“As the only remaining member of the zoo’s original animal collection, Cookie is a beloved bird and has a special place in guests’ and keepers’ hearts,” said Snyder. “The Animal Care staff at Brookfield Zoo is dedicated to providing excellent animal care to all of its residents, and Cookie’s long life is a result of that commitment.”

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 life span for this species in a zoo setting is between 40 and 60 years.