Cockatiel: Bird Species Profile

Temperament, Diet, and Care Tips

Girl holding cockatiel

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Cockatiels are a popular choice for a pet bird. It is a small parrot with a variety of color patterns and a head crest. They are attractive as well as friendly. Due to their smaller size, cockatiel care and taming are easier than other parrot species. They are capable of mimicking speech, although they can be difficult to understand. They are good at whistling. You can teach them to sing along to tunes.

Species Overview

Common Names: Cockatiel, tiel, quarrion (quarrian), weiro (weero)

Scientific Name: Nymphicus hollandicus

Adult Size: 12 or 13 inches, weighing between 2 to 4 ounces

Life Expectancy: 15 to 20 years with proper care, and sometimes as long as 30 years though this is rare

Origin and History

In their native Australia, cockatiels are called quarrions or weiros. They primarily live in the Outback, a region of the northern part of the continent. Discovered in 1770, they are the smallest members of the cockatoo family. They exhibit many of the same features and habits as the larger bird. In the wild, they live in large flocks. 

Cockatiels became popular as pets in the 1900s. They are easy to breed in captivity. Their docile, friendly personalities make them a natural fit for home life. These birds can no longer be trapped and exported from Australia.

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Watch Now: How Are Cockatiels as Pets?

Temperament

These little birds are gentle, affectionate, and often like to be petted and held. They are not necessarily fond of cuddling. They simply want to be near you and will be very happy to see you.

Cockatiels are generally friendly; however, an untamed bird might nip. You can prevent bad habits at an early age by ignoring bad behavior. Never scold the bird; this can cause it to become timid around people. Reward good behavior and disregard the bad. These birds aim to please.

Cockatiels are intelligent birds. They can learn a variety of tricks over time. From waving and whistling to bell ringing, they're smart little birds that will enjoy a new challenge. Many cockatiels will even keep themselves occupied for hours talking to the "other bird" in a mirror.

Speech and Vocalizations

Cockatiels vocalize and whistle but are not as loud as some other parrots. By reputation, males have the upper hand for mimicking speech and whistles. However, females cockatiels are no slouch; they are good at mimicry, too. Either sex may repeat sounds from your house, including alarm clocks, phones, and even wild birds outside.

Cockatiel Colors and Markings

The wild cockatiel has a gray body with a yellow face and crest and orange cheek patch. The colors on the face are brighter and more vivid in the male. The female has bars on the underside of the tail feathers.

Bred in captivity for the pet trade, several color mutations developed over the years. The most common variations include:

  • Albino: Lack of feather pigmentation
  • Lutino: White bird with yellow mask, orange cheeks, and red eyes
  • Pied: Typical wild cockatiel colors are replaced with a yellow or off-white color
  • Pearl, laced, or opaline: Spotting of various colors that creates tiny "pearls" along its feathers
  • Cinnamon, fawn, or Isabelle: Gray feathers with a brown or warm tan color
  • Silver: Recessive silver and dominant silver cockatiel mutation; recessives have cool gray feathers and red eyes; dominants have a warmer gray tone and dark eyes

Other mutations include emerald, creamface, pastelface, whiteface, and yellow cheek cockatiels.

Differences between males and females vary by coloration. These differences can sometimes be hard to distinguish, especially in young birds. For definitive sexing, consider genetic testing.

Caring for the Cockatiel

A pair of birds will make good company for each other. But, they may not bond as well with you or mimic speech and sounds. Keeping a single bird is fine, but you need to spend a significant amount of time interacting with the cockatiel daily. If your lifestyle makes this impossible, get a pair of birds to prevent loneliness and self-harming behavior.

These birds are naturally messy. They produce powdery dust on their feathers. It is used in grooming and may leave a powdery coating on cages and accessories. Bathe or spray your bird with water once a week. Regular cleaning of the cage is necessary. Many cockatiel cages come with a removable bottom tray to make the task easier.

Cockatiels are active and playful and should have a large cage. Provide a cage that is at least 20 inches square and 26 inches tall. The spacing on the cage bars should be no more than 3/4-inches wide. You do not want the bird to get its head caught in the cage. Horizontal cage bars offer the best opportunity for the bird to climb and get much-needed exercise. The cage should have enough space to place a couple of perches at different levels. The bird should be able to easily move between the perches.

Clip your cockatiel's wings and nails twice a year. You can do it yourself, but you must learn the proper method, or else it is very easy for these birds to bleed to death. If you're uncomfortable with this, an avian veterinarian or breeder can do it for you.

Cockatiels are subject to a few household dangers. Avoid placing the bird's cage in drafty areas or near the kitchen. Cooking fumes from Teflon cookware can kill these birds.

Common Health Problems

The most common health issue affecting cockatiels is nutritional deficiency. Too often, they only eat seeds. The vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, and a pellet-based diet are essential for preventing malnutrition.

Cockatiels are prone to getting fatty liver disease, which results from diet issues, exposure to toxic substances, or an underlying metabolic disorder. To reduce the risk of your cockatiel getting this disease, make sure your bird gets a varied diet and keep it away from insecticides, pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables, and fumes from cleaning supplies.

Most birds are susceptible to respiratory diseases and psittacosis, a harmful bacterial infection that can cause respiratory symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge. At the first sign of illness, take your bird to an avian veterinarian. Acting fast can save your bird's life.

Diet and Nutrition

Variety is the key to a healthy diet for any parrot, including cockatiels. Seeds can be a nutritious part of the diet, but they are high in fat. Seeds should be no more than 30 percent of the bird's diet. Pelleted diets are often the right choice for birds as they are nutritionally balanced and birds can't pick out their favorite seeds and leave the rest.

To make sure that your bird gets all the nutrients it needs, offer a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. In general, a cockatiel eats about 1 tablespoon of food per day. This is why what goes into that tablespoon matters.

Provide a seed/pellet mixture every morning. Give as much as the bird will eat. Cockatiels are not inclined to overeat. You can put the food in a bowl or scatter it on the floor of the cage. These birds are natural foragers in the wild, where they eat grass seeds, fruits, and plants. Provide fresh fruits and vegetables in a bowl. Remove what they do not eat after an hour; do not feed your bird spoiling food.

If your bird prefers an all-seed diet, you will need to be persistent in getting them to eat from a more varied menu. Offer proteins such as hard-boiled eggs, legumes, and cooked meats in moderation. Sprouted seeds are also an excellent way to add variety to your bird's diet. Never feed avocados, chocolate, coffee, and salt; these items are toxic to birds.

Exercise

As with any parrot, activities will make a cockatiel happy and help maintain its physical and mental health. If your bird spends most of the time in a cage, be sure it's large enough for the bird to fly. Provide plenty of toys that can stimulate the bird's natural inclination to play. Perches, ladders, and toys should be plentiful but not to the point that it hinders the bird's movement around the cage.

If you can, give your cockatiel at least an hour outside the cage. Although this is not as crucial as it is with other parrots, out-of-cage helps with socialization and allows the bird to stretch its wings.

Pros

  • Smaller-sized parrot

  • Quieter bird that can learn to talk

  • Does not require a lot of outside-cage time

Cons

  • Can nip if not hand-raised or well trained

  • May not be affectionate or talk if housed with another cockatiel

Where to Adopt or Buy a Cockatiel

When choosing a bird, it is best to select a hand-fed baby or at least a young bird that has been handled regularly. Prices will vary with color, and you can expect to pay a bit more from a conscientious breeder. A well-handled young bird can cost $100 to $300.

Cockatiels are widely available at pet stores, but these birds may have an unknown history. As a result, they may be older, not used to being handled, and harder to tame.

Look for a bird that is bright, alert, and active. Avoid a bird that is sitting quietly with puffed feathers; it might be ill. The bird's feathers should be smooth and shiny and lay down flat on the body. The feathers around the vent/cloaca should be clean, dry, and free of fecal matter. The scales on the feet should be smooth. Make sure Its nails are in good condition, and Its beak is smooth and well-shaped. Its nostrils should be clear and clean.

Online rescues, adoption organizations, and breeders where you can find cockatiels include:

More Pet Bird Species and Further Research

If you’re interested in a similar species, check out:

If you want a bird with a talent for mimicry, take a look at some small talking birds that might be a good fit.