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Cockatiels: Your comprehensive guide

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What to expect from your Cockatiel

Cockatiels are relatively quiet, nondestructive, entertaining birds that are easy to care for. Because they are considered so gentle, they are excellent as companion birds for children. Even though they do not tend to bond with an individual person, they retain better companion bird qualities as a single bird rather than as a pair. However, several cockatiels may be successfully maintained in a single household with patience and attention to each individual. Cockatiels are limited talkers (males may be better), but some individuals are so good at whistling that their tunes are recognizable.

Vital statistics

  • Body length: 12.5 inches (32 cm)
  • Body weight: 75-100 grams
  • Age of sexual maturity: 6-12 months
  • Average life span in captivity: 10 years (max 32)

Is your Cockatiel a male or a female?

Immature grey cockatiels have yellow stripes under the primary wing feathers. A male loses these stripes around 9 months of age. Head and facial markings are brighter on males. Color mutations (lutino, pied, pearl) may not exhibit the same gender differences in feather pattern. Vocalization is the earliest means of sexing cockatiels — the male has a melodious call; females have more of a monotonous chirp. Cockatiels are prolific year-round breeders. Their offspring are easy to hand-raise but are reluctant to wean.

What should you feed your Cockatiel?

For a long, healthy life, cockatiels should be fed a high quality, toxin-free formulated diet with daily supplementation of very small amounts of chopped vegetables and fruit (according to manufacturer’s recommendations). Some cockatiels, especially those that are highly inbred or those with red eye color, may respond to a pelleted diet change with increased drinking of water and increased urination (called polydipsia and polyuria). In this case the bird should be temporarily returned to a seed diet and an avian veterinarian should be consulted for this condition.

What do Cockatiels do all day?

Cockatiels are playful and easily amused with simple toys. Because they love to chew, toys must be free of toxic metals, hooks, sharp objects or small, easily consumed components. Providing small diameter fresh-cut branches from nontoxic, pesticide-free trees is suggested for cockatiels. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations on locally available safe trees.

Are cockatiels tame?

Young, hand-raised cockatiels adapt readily to new surroundings and handling procedures. They should be exposed early in life to novel situations (car travel, hospital visits, multiple household visitors, other pets) so that they are well adjusted to these events. Some behavior modification techniques may be necessary to prevent biting by wary adult cockatiels.

How to identify your bird

One method used to permanently identify your cockatiel in case of loss or escape is for your avian veterinarian to inject a custom microchip under the skin. Although individually numbered leg bands or rings may be applied, this method is unreliable and may result in potential damage to the bird.

Why the wings should be clipped

Cockatiels that are allowed unrestricted freedom in the home can encounter numerous physical dangers or toxins; therefore, wing clipping is recommended. The goal of clipping the wings is not to make the bird incapable of flight, but to prevent it from developing rapid and sustained flight and to prevent escape. A cockatiel will require additional trimming 8-12 weeks after the start of a molt cycle.

How to keep your cockatiel healthy, happy and safe!

  • Give lots of attention.
  • Feed a fresh, high quality, toxin-free formulated diet with daily supplementation of small amounts of chopped vegetables and fruit according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Grit is not necessary with modern captive bird diets.
  • Provide clean, fresh uncontaminated water.
  • Remove and replace food and water containers twice daily to maximize activity in a healthy bird.
  • Provide an occasional opportunity for a bath, shower or misting (at least weekly).
  • Avoid spraying the house with insecticides.

Housing for your cockatiel should:

  • be as large as possible.
  • be clean, secure and safe and easy to service.
  • be constructed of durable, nontoxic material (avoid zinc).
  • contain variable-sized perches made of clean, nontoxic, pesticide-free tree branches.
  • have food and water containers placed at opposite ends of the enclosure.
  • avoid having perches located directly over food containers.
  • offer occasional opportunity for protected outdoor exposure to fresh air, sunlight (not through glass) and exercise.

Cockatiels are very curious and will investigate anything new in their environment. That is why it is important to prevent their access to:

  • ceiling fans
  • hot cooking oil
  • overheated nonstick-coated cookware
  • leg chains
  • sandpaper-covered perches
  • tobacco and cigarette smoke
  • chocolate, avocado, salt, alcohol
  • toxic houseplants
  • pesticides
  • toxic fumes
  • easily dismantled toys
  • dogs, cats and young children
  • cedar, redwood and pressure-treated wood shavings
  • sources of lead or zinc
  • plug-in air fresheners
  • heavily-scented candles

What your veterinarian looks for in a healthy cockatiel:

  • Dry, open nares
  • Clear, bright eyes (no discharge)
  • Smooth beak
  • Alert, erect posture
  • Body free of lumps and bumps
  • Smooth, bright feathers without color breaks, transparency or ragged edges
  • Even, reptilian pattern on the feet, and nails of appropriate length

Most common disorders of Cockatiels:

  • Obesity
  • Obstetrical problems (egg-binding)
  • Upper respiratory symptoms (sneezing)
  • Eye problems (swollen, runny)
  • Chlamydiosis
  • Feather picking
  • Yellow-colored feathers in lutinos
  • Difficult breathing (gasping)
  • Lead or zinc poisoning
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Injuries
  • Incoordination (especially in lutinos)

The most common disease conditions in cockatiels are often the result of malnutrition. Visiting your avian veterinarian for routine health checks will help prevent many of the above diseases and support you in having a long, satisfying relationship with your cockatiel. For help in finding an avian veterinarian in your area, contact the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

Background information

Cockatiels are medium-sized, trim birds that are native to Australia. They are one of the most popular companion birds. They adapt well to captivity and are easily bred when housed as pairs in colonies. Although color mutations are highly valued by some aviculturists, the inbreeding required to produce unusual colors has actually resulted in some negative genetic disorders, including decreased disease resistance, reduced life span and hatching defects. The cockatiels with red-colored eyes are probably the most afflicted, with balding on the head, a nervous disposition and other abnormalities. Cockatiels with black-colored eyes have the best chance for a relatively long healthy life.

Credit: Used with permission of the Zoological Education Network.  Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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