Cockatiels

Cockatiels are parrots. A cockatiel has a long, pointed tail and a crest of feathers on its head. A cockatiel’s body is small and lightweight. Cockatiels have feet with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward. These strong feet enable parrots to grasp fruits and nuts, to climb, and to hang from tree branches.

The sulphur-crested cockatooThe sulphur-crested cockatoo has a distinctive, retractable crest.

Cockatiels have a patch of orange on each cheek. The male’s cheek patch is a brighter orange than the female’s, and the rest of the male’s cheek is yellow. In the female, the cheek is mostly gray with a fainter orange cheek patch.

Over years of breeding (mating) cockatiels in captivity (among humans and not in the wild), people have developed different color patterns for cockatiels. Lutino (loo TEE noh) cockatiels are a very pale yellow all over and have red eyes. Pied (pyd) cockatiels are a patchy gray, yellow, and white. Cinnamon cockatiels are light gray all over with a brownish tinge. Pearl cockatiels have feathers that are either dark with a light border or light with a dark border.

Where Do Cockatiels Live in the Wild?

Cockatiels are native to Australia. Wild cockatiels can be found across the entire Australian continent, though they are now rare along the coastline.

Cockatiels generally live in open spaces. They prefer grassy areas near water. These birds eat seeds, fruit, and berries. Cockatiels also feed in grain fields. They may live in small family groups, but they sometimes gather in large flocks.

Like many other parrots, cockatiels make their nests in holes in trees. They lay their eggs in the soft, decaying wood that collects in the bottom of the hole.

What Kind of Personality Might a Pet Cockatiel Have?

A cockatiel’s personality depends on the individual. Some cockatiels may be bold and active. These birds might play energetically and explore their surroundings. Other cockatiels may spend more time sitting quietly on a perch or on the shoulder of a trusted person. Some cockatiels might be friendly with strangers. Others may allow only favorite family members to touch them. Some cockatiels enjoy gentle petting and caressing. Others do not like being touched.

As a rule, hand-fed cockatiels (those raised by people) are tame and gentle if treated properly. These birds are usually calm, and they do not make annoying, shrieking calls unless they are frightened. They tend to be affectionate and gentle, even with small children. They may, however, have a strong need for attention.Most cockatiels love to whistle, and some may learn to say a few words.

What Should You Look for When Choosing a Cockatiel?

The cockatiel you choose should be fully weaned, or able to eat on its own. This usually happens by the time a bird is 7 or 8 weeks old.

To make sure you get a healthy bird, look for smooth, clean-looking feathers and bright eyes. Make sure the eyes are not runny, the bill is dry, and that the vent (opening at the end of the digestive tract) is clean. Also, make sure the skin on the feet is smooth and not flaky. Healthy cockatiels are lively and active. Do not choose a bird that sits fluffed up in a corner; it may be sick.

The Australian government bans the export of wild cockatiels, so most pet cockatiels are hatched in captivity. You can buy a cockatiel from a pet store or from a private breeder, or you may adopt one from a rescue group. No matter where you get your cockatiel, make certain that the place is clean and the birds are well cared for.

What Does a Cockatiel Eat?

In the wild, a cockatiel, like other parrots, eats a mostly herbivorous diet (a diet of grasses and other plants). Cockatiels love seeds. But a diet that has only seeds is not healthy for your bird.

Along with seeds, cockatiels should eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Your cockatiel will also enjoy such healthful human foods as cooked grains and beans, tofu, sprouts, small servings of fish or chicken, and cooked or uncooked pasta.

Cockatiels, like humans, love junk food, and it is just as bad for them as it is for us. Avoid giving your cockatiel potato chips, french fries, and other salty, fatty fried foods.Never let your cockatiel eat such foods as chocolate, avocados, or coffee. And, make certain the bird is never allowed to drink from glasses that contain alcoholic beverages. All these things could make your bird sick, or even kill it.

Where Should a Pet Cockatiel Be Kept?

A pet cockatiel is safest in a cage. A cockatiel’s cage should be at least 18 inches (46 centimeters) wide, 16 inches (41 centimeters) deep, and about 18 inches (46 centimeters) tall. The bars of the cage should be less than 1⁄2 inch (1.25 centimeters) apart.

The cage should have a few perches—bars, branches, or anything else on which a bird can come to rest—of different shapes and sizes. Such perches help to keep your cockatiel’s feet healthy. The cage should have three bowls—one for water, one for dry food, and one for veggies and fruits. Provide safe toys made of plastic or wood. Cockatiels also enjoy mirrors and bells.

Most cages have a grate on the bottom and a tray under the grate. Line the tray with newspapers. The bird’s droppings and discarded food will drop through the grate onto the paper. Change the paper every day. Once a week, clean the cage bars with mild soap and water using a small scrub brush.

How Does a Cockatiel Groom Itself?

Like other birds, a cockatiel grooms its feathers every day. Feathers are made of hairlike structures, called barbs, which hook together. Through normal activity, the barbs become separated. Cockatiels use their beaks to “zip” the barbs on their feathers back together. This action smoothes the feathers. Smooth feathers are better for flying. Cockatiels also apply oil to their feathers from a gland on their lower back. This grooming of the feathers is called preening.

Birds also remove the cuticle from their new feathers. The cuticle is a papery covering that protects new feathers as they grow. When the feather is fully grown, the cuticle needs to come off. Cockatiels remove the cuticle from new feathers by nibbling that cuticle with their beaks. You can help your cockatiel remove the cuticles from feathers on its head by gently scratching its head with your fingernail. But do not remove the cuticle from a feather that is still growing. That is painful for your bird.

What About Training a Cockatiel?

A cockatiel may or may not be hand-tamed (used to being handled by humans) when you bring it home. And, even a hand-tamed bird may be shy at first. Approach a shy or untamed bird a little at a time until it learns to trust you. You can start by standing near its cage. If it appears calm, reach into the cage and hold your hand inside there for a few moments.

Some pet stores and breeders teach young cockatiels basic commands before they sell them. If, however, your bird has not learned these commands, you will have to teach them to your pet. One of the first and most important commands to teach your cockatiel is that command which tells your bird to step up onto your hand or finger. Place your finger against the bird’s tummy and gently push upward while saying, “step up” or “up.” The bird will soon learn to climb up onto your finger. Most cockatiels love to perch on a trusted human, so they usually learn this command quickly.

Can Cockatiels Talk?

Yes, some cockatiels can talk a little. Males usually talk more than females.

You can train your cockatiel to talk by repeating simple phrases to it in a clear voice. Cockatiels can also learn to say words and phrases on their own if they hear them every day.

But even if your cockatiel does not talk, it has ways of expressing its feelings. Your cockatiel’s crest says a lot about how the bird is feeling. The crest may lie flat against the head with only the tip curling up. This means the bird is relaxed. When your cockatiel raises its crest up, it is busy or interested in something. If your bird is upset, it may point its crest forward and stretch its neck.

What Kinds of Exercise or Play Are Needed?

Flying can be considered both exercise and play for a bird. But you will have to decide whether to have your bird’s wings clipped in order to hinder the bird’s flying or to allow it to fly. “Clipping” involves trimming feathers on the animal’s wings. It does not hurt the animal. If you decide to have your pet’s wings clipped, ask your vet to clip them for you.

A bird with clipped wings can fly only a few feet. This makes it less likely that a bird could escape through a door or open window. Once you clip your cockatiel’s wings, however, you may need to help your bird get exercise. Do this by letting it perch on your finger and gently raising and lowering your arm. The bird will flap its wings as it moves up and down.

A cockatiel has many other ways of playing besides flying. Cockatiels also like to chew and nibble and to climb and swing. Most cockatiels also really like baths and showers. They enjoy stretching their wings while being spritzed with a spray bottle.

How Do Cockatiels Care for Their Young?

A female cockatiel, or hen, lays 2 to 9 eggs. The hen and her mate—a male cockatiel, or cock—take turns sitting on their eggs. In 18 to 21 days, the chicks (young birds) hatch from these eggs. Newly hatched cockatiels are covered with soft, yellow feathers called down.

The parents feed the chicks with a thick liquid that they bring up from their crop. The parents feed the chicks for about 40 days. Toward the end of this 40-day period, the parents begin to feed the chicks less and less. The chicks begin to learn to eat on their own. After 7 to 8 weeks, the young birds are able to eat and drink independently of their parents.

Pet cockatiels can have young, as long as they have suitable nesting areas in which to lay eggs and raise chicks.

How Can You Keep Your Cockatiel Safe?

Cockatiels are active and curious, which means they can get into all kinds of trouble in their home. Here are some tips for protecting your cockatiel from dangers:

Never leave your bird alone with other pets.

Birds are very sensitive to chemicals in the air. Do not let your pet breathe in fumes from household cleaners, candles, or air fresheners. Keep your bird out of the kitchen when someone is cooking there.

Be careful about what kinds of plants you grow in your home. Some plants can be poisonous to small birds.

Be extra watchful about open doors and windows if your bird can fly. A pet can easily escape.