Cockatiel: The Ultimate Guide (2020)

Common name: Cockatiel 
Latin name: Nymphicus hollandicus 
Group name: Flock 
Diet: Herbivore 
Adult size: 12-13 inches long 
Adult weight: 2.5-4.5 ounces

Life expectancy: 16-25 years
Color: Gray
Sounds: Vocal communicator
Interaction: Highly social
Diet: Seeds, pellets, fruits, leafy greens
Origins: Australia

If you’ve been considering becoming a cockatiel parent, but you don’t know how much care and attention this type of pet bird needs, you’ve ended up in the perfect place. 

In this post, we will look at almost everything you want to know about this bird from its origin and history to its dietary needs, exercise requirements, and much more. Read on to find out if it’s the perfect pet bird for you!

Table of contents

Cockatiel

One of the first cockatiel facts you should become acquainted with is that they tend to live for a long time, with many of them reaching a life span of 20+ years. 

That means that learning how to care for a cockatiel is a long-time commitment. The most important reason cockatiels have become so popular over time is that they have an amazing cockatiel personality. 

They are comical, full of energy, and cuddly, so they tend to get along well with both other cockatiels, but also with their human friends. A cockatiel is a relatively small bird compared to other types of pet birds, especially large-sized parrots. 

Cockatiels can be trained to respond to hand gestures and other triggers, but they aren’t the best when it comes to teaching them how to talk. 

This bird is a whistler, which means that it will prefer to put together a whistling serenade if they love you or their companion rather than try to have a long conversation, instead. 

No matter the types of cockatiels you might have browsed through while trying to decide on one, you should know that they are very social birds and don’t do well when being left alone in their cage for many hours or days. (1)

Origin and history

Did you know that most cockatiels in the wild can be found in the Outback, a region in the Northern part of Australia? 

They came a long way from the end of the 18th century when they were first discovered and taxonomically classified, but they still exist in the wild. 

Cockatiels became popular as pet birds only at the beginning of the 20th century and they did so because of their docile personality. While Australia has banned their export, you can still find them up for sale in pet shops, but the birds come from captive stock these days.

The cockatiel was first described by Robert Kerr in 1893 and was then called Psittacus hollandicus. However, in time, the bird acquired its own genus, now being called Nymphicus hollandicus. 

Are cockatiels parrots? Not exactly. While they are larger than their distant parakeet relatives, cockatiels are not taxonomically classified as parrots but rather as Cockatoos (as they share many of their biological features with the Cacatuidae family). However, cockatoo and cockatiel are still two different birds. 

Although things have evolved a lot over the centuries, at first cockatiel owners had little to no idea of what care they had to provide them with, which is why only a few of the first individuals imported from Australia managed to survive. 

Native region and natural habitat

Where are cockatiels from? These birds are endemic to Australia, but they tend to prefer the Northern region of the continent, where the climate is both dry and hot. 

Cockatiels will scarcely be found in the coastal regions of the continent, and they also don’t live in Tasmania, either.

What’s interesting about this bird is that a wild cockatiel actually prefers arid farmlands and grasslands, where it tends to consume a variety of fruits, seeds, and plants. 

During the summer months, most tend to eat whatever else is available and compatible with their diet, which can range from insects and larvae to pollen or worms. 

Cockatiels are very active, social, and playful, which is why they tend to live in sizable flocks. There can be so many of them in certain regions that you might find that farmers in Northern Australia complain about them eating their crops and fruit trees. 

One detail that makes the difference between this species and others (including the parakeet) is that cockatiels do not tend to migrate to towns and cities even when food is scarce. 

They will make do with whatever they have available, and even if they fly for long distances to search for food and water, they will strictly avoid the coastal areas where most Australian cities are located. (2)

Temperament and personality

One of the first pieces of cockatiel information you might stumble upon is that cockatiels have a great personality. That is true, and this is the reason they’ve become one of the most popular pet birds in North America, but also in Europe.

The truth is that males and females have different temperaments, with the first being considerably noisier than their female counterparts. 

Girls tend to avoid communicating if they really have nothing to say, so if they’re still in the mood to interact with you or ask you for food, water, or treats, they will vocalize. But other than that, they aren’t going to make much noise. 

Regardless of their gender, cockatiels need a lot of social interaction to be happy. That’s why it’s a better idea to get a pair right from the beginning, either from the same pet shop or from the same breeder, so that the birds are acquainted with each other. 

Females tend to be more docile and sweet. The only time of the year when both genders seem to go a little crazy is during their breeding season. 

Females are a bit calmer than their male counterparts, but the latter can get a bit bitey and aggressive if you try to fend off their advances, whether on you or the objects in their living space. (3)

Behavior and training

Can cockatiels talk? Even though they are very social and they love spending a lot of time with their human or same-species companions, cockatiels aren’t the best pet birds when it comes to pronouncing human words. 

However, that doesn’t mean that during your pet cockatiel lifespan, you will not be able to train him or her to do tricks. If you use edible rewards, you can almost always teach them to respond to certain hand gestures or other visual signs. 

But before you start teaching your pet bird new tricks, you should focus on making them feel as safe and comfortable as possible. 

Long and tiring training sessions can often make a cockatiel frustrated, so it’s highly recommended that you tend to the task early in the morning, when the bird is well-fed and rested.

Additionally, your training sessions should take place in a quiet area, preferably right next to the cage, so that the cockatiel knows he or she can retreat to a safe space in case something happens. Two to three short, 10-minute sessions every day are better than a long one. 

Talk to the bird and offer plenty of praise, especially when the cockatiel manages to perform the trick you want them to. Have patience and dedication and always make sure your pet bird is at ease. 

Exercise

A cockatiel bird can get unhealthy and unhappy if he or she doesn’t get enough exercise throughout the week. The majority of cages that you will find available for sale these days aren’t capable of offering the amount of space that a cockatiel really needs. 

So while it is a good idea to get the largest cage possible, you should know that you will have to take your pet cockatiel out once a day or at least once every couple of days, so that the bird gets a bit of exercise by flying around the room. 

Leaving the cockatiel to fly on its own is one solution to the exercise problem, but you can also make things more interesting by dancing in the room, listening to music, or playing games with your cockatiel. 

Some birds will even want to play fetch, especially if they are rewarded with a treat. Others will play with some string and pull on it as you pull it towards you (much like a kitten would). (4) Try to play with your pet bird every day. 

While we wouldn’t advise you to take your cockatiel out for a walk in the garden, especially if the bird has never gone out of the cage before, you can create a safe space for play and exercise in a room in your house. 

Make sure that your windows and doors are closed, that there aren’t any holes or gaps the cockatiel might go into, and remove any hazardous items such as fans or glasses.

Speech and vocalization

One of the most important cockatiel facts you should become acquainted with after you’ve gotten your pet bird are the sounds they tend to make when they are happy, sad, unhealthy, and any other situation that could tell you that something is wrong. 

Here are some of the most common sounds cockatiels tend to make. 

  • Screaming
  • Chirping
  • Hissing
  • Singing (whistling)

A cockatiel can scream in cases of danger, overstimulation, sudden and powerful noises, and anything else that might be startling to the bird. For example, keeping your cockatiel cage in the kitchen might not be a good idea if you tend to do a lot of your housework there and it’s very noisy. 

Screaming is common in pet birds that are lonely or extremely bored, so this possibility shouldn’t be overruled, either.

As for chirping, most cockatiels make this sound when they are happy and feeling sociable. Your pet bird will most likely chirp when you come back home from work and start spending time with it. 

Hissing is a sound you will hear when the cockatiel wants to intimidate a person or another bird. In most situations, cockatiels make this sound right before they bite, so get to safety if you hear your pet bird hissing. 

Cockatiels whistle (sing) when they’re happy, they use a new and shiny toy, or when they are trying to get the attention of a potential mate. 

As you can see, these birds make a lot of sounds, and they can even be taught to imitate some of the words we, humans, pronounce. Males are better at mimicking human words than females. Since they do tend to make a little noise, these pet birds do not address the needs of potential pet parents who need a quiet bird. 

Characteristics and colors

When it comes to the standard cockatiel size, you should know that this bird isn’t particularly large, but most adults do end up having a body length between 12 and 13 inches. The bigger they are, the more space they need in their cage, so that’s one thing to keep in mind.

As for the typical cockatiel colors you will come across in most pet shops, they are a result of long-time genetic mutations. 

Males and females have been bred specifically based on their color characteristics, so there is a wider variety of color combinations present in cockatiels nowadays than they used to be. 

Color mutations are the result of both genetic inheritance, but also the amount of melanin and lipochromes present in the cockatiel’s body. 

Melanin is responsible for colors such as blue, brown, and gray, whereas lipochromes are responsible for red and yellow. A yellow cockatiel has more lipochromes than melanin. 

Color mutations can be dominant, sex-linked, or recessive. For example, if a cockatiel is a lime and platinum combination, he or she is the result of a sex-linked mutation. Recessive mutations are present in fewer individuals, as would be the case of lutino mutations, where the cockatiel doesn’t have any melanin in their plumage.

The two colors that are most often encountered in pet shops, for this reason, are silver and gray, as both of them are dominant mutations. The color of the pet bird does not affect their health, behavior, or personality or their ability to be trained. (4)

Cockatiel care

How old do cockatiels live to be? Well, since they tend to live for anything between 17 and 25 years, you’re effectively making a long-term commitment when you buy or adopt one or a pair. 

With the right type of care, it’s not actually uncommon for a cockatiel to live for as many as 30 years. 

Fortunately, cockatiels can be kept as pets even by people who do not have prior experience of owning and caring for birds. In terms of equipment, you will have to get a cage that measures at least 18 by 22 by 18 inches, and if you want to get a pair, you’ll have to double the size. 

There are plenty of sizable quality models on Chewy.com. Place the cage in a bird-friendly place such as a quiet room, bedroom, or your living room, and avoid setting it up in noisy or smelly places like the kitchen. 

The cage should be fitted with at least two perches that have different textures, thickness, and are positioned at different heights. Ideally, you should spend at least 30 to 60 minutes per day interacting with your cockatiel, especially if it doesn’t have a pair. 

Cockatiels are kept healthy by taking regular baths, so 1-3 times a week, give your pet bird a bowl filled with water or mist it with water using a spray bottle. 

Diet and nutrition

What do cockatiels eat? They tend to thrive on a varied diet, combined with regular exercise and plenty of social interaction. Here are some examples of what you can feed your pet cockatiel.

  • Fruits (12-13%)
  • Vegetables (12-13%)
  • Sprouting seeds and legumes (up to 25%)
  • Pellets and dry seeds (up to 50%)

In terms of vegetables, they can have anything from asparagus and cabbage to kale, parsnip, peppers, and potatoes. As for fruits, the ones you can give your cockatiel range from apples and apricots (no pits and seeds) melon and pears. 

A cockatiel diet should never contain the following ingredients:

  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • High amounts of fat
  • High amounts of salt

Most avian vets recommend avoiding cockatiel diets based on human foods. So, even if you run out of cockatiel food, it’s far better to cook some peas and beans and offer your pet birds a small amount of that rather than giving them commercial bread, chips, or any human snacks. 

Cockatiels are also known to enjoy nibbling on flowers, which is why you can offer your pet birds chickweed, young nettles, or dandelions once in a while, just to spice things up. 

Your cockatiel’s food and water bowls have to be cleaned on a regular basis, whether you tend to the task every day or once every couple of days. If you do not ensure this, they can become a health hazard as large amounts of bacteria and fungus can develop on them. (5)

Health and common conditions

What is a cockatiel most predisposed to developing, disease-wise? Like other pet birds, cockatiels can develop some medical conditions, especially if they aren’t properly taken care of, but they can also get them from other infected birds that they share their living space with.

The most common diseases that affect cockatiels are the following. (6)

  • Chlamydiosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Candidiasis 
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Reproductive issues

Cockatiels can be Chlamydia carriers even if they show no symptoms, and they shed the pathogen in their stool, so they can infect other birds. Most cockatiels that have this disease show respiratory signs and are generally lethargic. 

Giardia infections usually cause digestive problems, with pet birds suffering from diarrhea and being very irritable and itchy.

Gastrointestinal yeast infections cause symptoms such as diarrhea, weight loss, a lack of appetite, as well as frequent regurgitations. Fatty liver disease is most commonly encountered in cockatiels who aren’t fed an appropriate diet, especially those that have to rely on eating seeds more than anything else. 

As for reproductive issues, they can also be caused by diet-related problems, but the truth is that they do tend to affect this species more often than others. 

Cockatiels can suffer from reproductive tumors, oviduct prolapse, as well as other such issues, but they tend to be more common in pet birds who do not live in pairs. Pay attention to your cockatiels’ behavior to spot any alarming change and take them to the vet as soon as possible. (6)

Cockatiel as a pet

Getting a pet cockatiel is a responsibility that not everyone can handle. You need to make sure that the cockatiel diet you give your bird is healthy, that you clean their living space as often as possible, but there are many other things to consider.

Since cockatiels tend to be a little noisier than other birds and since they love being so social, they might not make the right type of pet for someone who doesn’t have a lot of patience, time, or who doesn’t handle bird noises, in general.

To make sure that you satisfy even the most basic cockatiel needs, you will have to make a financial investment that will involve purchasing a cage, accessories such as a feeder and waterer, toys that you will need to rotate every couple of days so that the birds don’t get bored, perches, and many other things. 

It’s also a good idea to take your cockatiel pair to an avian vet right after you’ve acquired it, just to make sure that you’re bringing home healthy pet birds. 

If you are already a cockatiel guardian and you want to get them a friend, let the birds get used to each other before moving them into the same cage. 

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