Cockatiel Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Mar. 24, 2023

In This Article


Cockatiel Overview

Cockatiels are intelligent, social, and affectionate birds, making them excellent pets for most households. When properly socialized, cockatiels bond easily with humans and enjoy daily handling. 

Female cockatiels are chronic egg-layers and often lay infertile eggs (when not housed with fertile males) every other day. Egg-laying can deplete vital minerals and calcium in female birds' bodies and cause egg binding, a serious condition in which the bird cannot pass an egg and should see a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Cockatiels have sensitive respiratory systems and should be kept away from products that potentially emit toxic fumes, such as appliances with nonstick coating, candles, air fresheners, and aerosol sprays.  


Difficulty of Care 


Average Life Span 

Up to 25 years with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

11–14 inches, from head to end of tail 


Grainivorous (grain-eaters) 

Minimum Habitat Size 

24” L x 24” W x 30” H 

Cockatiel Supply Checklist

To keep their cockatiel happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (at least 24” L x 24” W x 30” H) 

  • High-quality cockatiel food 

  • Millet spray (as a treat) 

  • Cuttlebone 

  • Cuttlebone/millet holder 

  • Treats 

  • Habitat paper or litter 

  • Food and water dishes 

  • Perches 

  • Toys 

  • Bird bath 

  • Grooming supplies 

  • UV light 

Cockatiel Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

The ideal cockatiel habitat should be at least 24” L x 24” W x 30” H for a single bird. The space between the cage’s bars should be a half-inch apart or smaller to prevent birds from escaping or getting their heads or legs stuck. The habitat should be large enough for the cockatiel to stretch and flap its wings comfortably. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Homemade habitats or any habitat made with wood or galvanized wire are not recommended. These materials can expose birds to toxic chemicals that can cause serious medical problems if ingested. 

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Setting Up Your Habitat 

Cockatiels are comfortable in average household temperatures between 65°F and 80°F. Pet parents should be cautious of extreme temperature changes. 

Keep your cockatiel habitat in a draft-free, well-lit area that is not near an air conditioner or accessible to other pets, including cats and dogs. Cockatiels can be raised alone or alongside other cockatiels in pairs or in a larger group. Pet parents should never keep different species of animals in the same habitat.  

Bedding & Lighting 

The bottom of a cockatiel’s habitat should have a removable metal grate so droppings can fall below the bird’s feet. Pet parents should line the tray at the base of the habitat with habitat paper or other paper-based bedding. This will help keep the environment clean and minimize dust. 

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Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to produce vitamin D in their skin, which allows them to absorb dietary calcium. Glass windows filter out UV light, so placing a cockatiel’s habitat next to an indoor window is not enough. Instead, birds can get natural UV exposure by spending time outside in an escape-proof outdoor cage when weather permits. Birds should never be left unattended while outside and should not be placed in direct sunlight. 

To supplement UV exposure, shine a full-spectrum UV light designed for birds on your cockatiel’s habitat for 10–12 hours each day. UV lights should be about 12–18" away from the bird’s perch. Replace lights every 6 months, as their potency wanes over time. 

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Décor & Accessories 

Perches: Cockatiels should have perches of assorted sizes, heights, textures, and materials, which will allow the bird to keep their feet in shape and prevent pressure sores. 

Wood, braided rope, and natural branches are all suitable perch materials; each perch should be at least 5” long and a half-inch in diameter. If a perch’s diameter is too wide, the bird will not be able to grip it properly. This can lead to falls and other serious injuries. 

Sandpaper perches and sanded perch covers can be abrasive on birds’ feet and are not recommended.

Do not place perches above the bird’s water or food bowl—waste droppings will land there.

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Toys: Cockatiels should have access to a variety of enrichment toys to reduce boredom and encourage mental/physical stimulation. Without mental stimulation, birds can grow bored and develop harmful habits, like feather-plucking. 

Toys may be made from cardboard, paper, soft wood, or a plastic that’s too hard for cockatiels to chew and ingest. Rotate toys regularly to prevent boredom. Hanging toys with clamps should be attached securely to the bird’s cage, as birds can remove the clamps and injure themselves. Toys should not have small parts that can be removed and swallowed.

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Water and Food Dishes: Dry food, fresh food, and water should all be offered in separate dishes. If more than one cockatiel is kept in the same habitat, each bird should have its own feeding station to discourage competition. 

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Cuttlebones: Cuttlebones are a calcium supplement. Calcium is a vital nutrient for laying eggs and making eggshells, so egg-laying cockatiels should always have a cuttlebone available. 

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Cockatiel Cleaning & Maintenance

Pet parents should spot-clean their cockatiel’s habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. Substrate, bedding, and habitat liners should be replaced at least once a week (or more often if more than one cockatiel lives in the same habitat). 

Pet parents should only use cleaning agents formulated for pets when cleaning their cockatiel’s cage, as birds’ respiratory systems are sensitive to aerosolized fumes. 

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To clean a cockatiel’s habitat, take these steps

  1. Move the cockatiel to a secure environment (such as another habitat or travel cage) in a separate air space. Remove any old substrate, bedding, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Use a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories.  

  1. After cleaning, rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate, bedding, and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the bird to the clean habitat. 

Cockatiel Diet & Nutrition

Cockatiels enjoy a range of foods, including birdseed, food pellets, vegetables, fruits, and the occasional treat. Cockatiels should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

Pet parents should never share food from their mouths or plates with their cockatiel. Human mouths have microorganisms that can cause illness in birds. 

A nutritious and well-balanced cockatiel diet consists of a high-quality pelleted food formulated for cockatiels; a nutritionally complete pelleted food should make up at least 60–70% of a cockatiel’s diet.

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Vegetables, fruits, and other table foods should be offered in limited quantities (not more than 30% of the total diet), with treats (including seed) not making up more than 10% of the total diet.

Cockatiels can eat most vegetables, except onions and garlic. Most fruits are fine for cockatiels, but pet parents should not offer avocados or any fruit seeds/pits.

Fortified seeds and millet can be fed as a treat; cockatiels remove the hulls of seeds before eating them, so pet parents do not need to supply a grit supplement to help birds break down whole seeds.

Pet parents should be sure to discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten.
Fresh, clean water should be changed daily.

Do not allow cockatiels to ingest chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as they are all toxic and can cause death or serious illness. 

Cockatiel Grooming & Care

Pet parents with birds should avoid nonstick cookware and other appliances with a nonstick coating (such as Teflon™). Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PFTE releases colorless, odorless fumes than can kill pet birds if inhaled. 

For pet parents interested in wing clipping: 

  • Wing clipping temporarily prevents a bird from gaining lift and flying away. 

  • A properly performed wing trim allows a bird to sail safely to the ground without lift.

  • Only a trained professional or someone who has been taught how to trim feathers should clip a cockatiel’s wing feathers. Improper trimming can cause severe injury. 

  • When done correctly, clipping the outermost “flight feathers” can help prevent birds from flying away and becoming injured. 

  • Before trying to trim a bird’s feathers, pet parents should consult an avian veterinarian for help. 

  • Wing clipping must be repeated every few months, as feathers grow back in. 

Bathing: Water dishes should be large enough for the cockatiel to bathe in. Pet parents can groom birds that do not regularly bathe themselves by gently misting them with warm water from a clean spray bottle a few times a week. 

Nail Care: Nails must be trimmed on an as-needed basis, which can range from every few weeks to months. Nails should be trimmed by a trained professional, avian veterinarian, or someone otherwise trained to trim birds’ nails to prevent injury. 

If bleeding occurs, a styptic powder can be used to quickly stop the bleeding.

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Most birds will not need to have their beaks trimmed as they should stay in good condition with daily use. Underlying conditions, such as liver disease or deformity from trauma, can cause abnormal beak growth and must be addressed by an avian veterinarian.

Cockatiel Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Cockatiels should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. A transport carrier or cage should be used and pictures of their cage and supplies at home can be shown to the veterinarian as part of the exam.

Signs of a Healthy Cockatiel

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean nostrils

  • Symmetrical, intact beak

  • Intact, clean feathers

  • Clean feet with strong and equal grip

  • Clean vent/cloaca

  • Full, equal range of motion of wings

  • Consistent droppings

When to Call a Vet

  • Eye discharge

  • Nasal discharge

  • Overgrown beak or fractures to beak

  • Feather plucking, bleeding feathers, uneven feather growth

  • Itching

  • Lack of foot grip and/or falling off perch

  • Foot sores

  • Moist feathers around cloaca or any discharge from cloaca

  • Runny, liquid, or abnormally colored droppings

  • Limping, unwillingness to use a limb or wing, or holding a wing abnormally

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hiding

  • Not vocalizing

  • Constantly fluffed feathers

  • Rapid breathing

  • Head tilt

Common Illnesses

  • Malnutrition (typically vitamin A or D deficiencies)

  • Egg binding

  • Chlamydia

  • Tyzzer’s (clostridium) Disease

  • Yeast (Candida)

  • Overgrown beaks

  • Trauma

  • Heavy metal toxicities

  • Teflon toxicity

  • Cancer

Cockatiel FAQs

Are cockatiels high maintenance?

Cockatiels aren’t high maintenance, especially compared to other birds, but it is important to note how much attention and variety they require to live long healthy lives. Improper care or diet can lead to health issues more rapidly than in other non-avian species, and they will be less tolerant of lulls in care.

What do cockatiels need in their cage?

Cockatiel enclosures need to include a variety of perches and swings, a food and water dish, a bird bath (unless you clean your bird daily elsewhere), and a variety of toys, especially foraging toys.

Do cockatiels like to be held?

Cockatiels are highly social and love spending time with their people. They generally love to go where you go and will spend lots of time on your hands, though typically they prefer perching on you to being held within your hands in a more cuddle type behavior.

Featured Image:

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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