With their vibrant colors, mohawk-style hair and cheeky personalities, cockatiels can certainly make wonderful pets—but do you know enough about this bird breed to take one home and care for them?
Despite their small stature, cockatiels need a lot of attention and nurturing, so it’s important to do your research before bringing home one of your own. Here’s what need to know about these beautiful birds to give your cockatiel the best life possible.
Where Do Cockatiels Come From?
Cockatiels are a species of parrot native to the semi-arid regions of Australia. According to Birdlife, Australia’s largest bird conservation organization, they prefer a range of environments—from open spaces where they can forage on the ground to thick rainforests.
The popularity of cockatiels should come as no surprise—they’ve been domesticated for years.
“The trend in the parrot industry has gone from larger birds to smaller birds,” says Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice) of the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics. “Because of their smaller size and quiet demeanor, cockatiels can often be boarded with more ease than other birds. This can make them more appealing to pet parents with an interest in travel.”
Cockatiel Temperament and Characteristics
The temperament of cockatiels may also contribute to its popularity as a companion.
“I recommend cockatiels as first birds for many families because they’re great starter birds,” explains Dr. Hess. “They’re big enough to have interactive personalities, and they can say some words if you work with them, but they’re also very social and love to hang out with their family members. Plus, they’re not so big that they’re scary for smaller children.”
“Cockatiels can also be described as playful and social,” said Dr. Kimberlee A. Buck, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Canine and Feline Practice), Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice). “These birds like to interact with people but should be handled gently because of their smaller size.”
Children should be supervised around cockatiels and taught to handle them gently.
Like most birds, the cockatiel lifespan is long—they can live into their twenties. So, it’s important to keep in mind that your new feathered friend will be in your home for quite some time.
If you already have another bird, you may want to think twice before bringing home a cockatiel, unless you plan to keep them living in separate cages.
“You can’t really generalize that any bird will get along with another bird, unless you’ve raised them together from when they were young,” says Dr. Buck. “They can be introduced to other birds, but I wouldn’t recommend having them live in the same cage.”
Caring for Cockatiels
Before bringing home a cockatiel, consider some of the ways that you’ll need to care for your new companion. This includes:
While it was once believed that birds needed a diet consisting only of seeds, bird specialists recommend cockatiels live on a diet consisting mostly of pellets made specifically for their breed.
About 70% of your cockatiel’s diet should be pellets, according to Hess. Outside of pellets, the other 30% of your cockatiel’s diet can be made up of fresh fruits and vegetables in small amounts. They may also have seeds (fortified and millet) as treats daily, as seeds are too high in fat to be considered a main source of food. Treats shouldn’t take up more than 10% of your cockatiel’s diet.
Cockatiels remove the hulls of seeds before eating them. Because of this, pet parents don’t need to give them a grit supplement to help them break down whole seeds.
“Cockatiels have high vitamin-A requirements, so bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are great to feed your bird in small quantities daily,” Dr. Hess says.
Pet parents shouldn't feed their cockatiels avocados, onions, anything with salt, chocolate, or caffeine, as these foods are toxic to birds. Always ask your vet before feeding your bird something new.
At the end of each day, pet parents should remove any fruits or vegetables that were not consumed. Ingestion of spoiled food may cause infection in cockatiels.
Your veterinarian must trim your cockatiel’s nails. The time frame in which your vet will need to see your cockatiel for nail trims varies. This is dependent on the rate at which their nails grow and other lifestyle factors, such as the perches they use. Typically, your cockatiel will need their nails trimmed every couple of months.
If you can feel your cockatiel’s nails when they stand on your arm, it’s probably time to visit the vet for a trim!
Wing trimming is optional and should be performed by your cockatiel’s veterinarian. This may be helpful to birds who accidentally fly into windows, mirrors, or out the door. If you choose to trim your cockatiel’s wings, feathers will grow back in three to six months.
Cockatiel parents should be on the lookout for reproductive issues in their birds. “Cockatiels are the most prolific egg layers we see, with the ability to lay eggs every 48 hours,” says Dr. Hess.
For domestic birds, this prolific egg-laying can lead to issues like egg binding (where the eggs get stuck in the reproductive tract) and other reproductive issues. These birds are also may develop other medical issues, including bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies, and kidney failure.
Make sure that you bring your cockatiel to the vet each year for a check-up with your vet. “As they get older, they have a higher risk of developing issues like atherosclerosis, gout (or kidney failure) and other diseases,” Dr. Hess explains. “It’s important to stay ahead of medical problems.”
Allowing your cockatiel to fly around is key in supporting their physical, mental, and emotional health. They should be allowed out of their habitat at least once a day for around two hours.
Your fluffy friend’s enclosure should be wide with a variety of perches of varying thickness, so they aren’t always putting pressure on the same spots on the bottom of their feet, according to Dr. Buck.
The ideal cockatiel habitat should be at least 24” L x 24” W x 30” H for a single bird. The space between the enclosure’s bars should be ½-in apart or smaller to prevent birds from escaping or getting their heads or legs stuck. The habitat should be large enough for your cockatiel to stretch and flap its wings comfortably—always provide the largest habitat possible.
Additionally, it’s not necessary to cover your bird’s cage with a towel or blanket at night. Most cockatiels will understand the difference between night and day.
In the wild, cockatiels prefer to keep busy. Because of this, these lovable birds should have toys to keep them happy and engaged. Some good toy options include things they can look under or lift to find their food.
They’ll also need exposure to an ultraviolet light for several hours a day, which you’ll need to change every six months to help them make vitamin D in their skin. This is essential in enabling them to extract calcium from their food.
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 your bird’s perch. Replace these lights every six months, as their potency decreases over time.
Your cockatiel may like to bathe, so placing a dish in their enclosure can help with their enrichment. They may jump into these dishes, or you can mist them daily with a spray bottle filled with warm water. Avoid bird shampoo, as this may strip the natural oils from their feathers.
Cockatiels love being social, so they may enjoy it if you leave the radio or television on when you’re not home.
Pet-Proofing Your Home
Fresh air and ventilation are important for your cockatiel, so their cage should never be placed in your kitchen. Additionally, you should stop using non-stick cooking pans for their safety.
“Birds are sensitive to the fumes of Teflon pans. If you’ve placed them in the kitchen, and you burn a non-stick pan, your bird could perish from the fumes,” warns Dr. Hess.
Where to Buy a Cockatiel
Once you’re ready to bring home a feathery friend, you’ll need to consider how much cockatiels cost, and find a place to buy or adopt them. While it may be easy to find a cockatiel in your local pet store, both Dr. Hess and Dr. Buck recommend looking into either a small breeder or a rescue organization first.
“Many of these birds are available for rescue, which is the best place to start,” says Dr. Hess. “If you want a young bird specifically, you can try a breeder, because birds tend to be healthier when raised in an individual’s home rather than exposed to many other birds of unknown health status in a store.”
Regardless of where you get your bird, one of your first trips should be to an avian (bird) veterinarian for a check-up. “Cockatiels can carry diseases that are transmittable to people,” Dr. Hess explains. “Your bird won’t necessarily have any signs of illness. Your bird will need some blood tests, a stool sample analysis, and a complete physical examination to check for underlying illness.”
Cockatiels are a very popular pet bird. With a dedicated, caring pet parent, they can provide many years of love and companionship. They are beautiful, friendly birds that are easy to train and relatively small so as not to take up too much space in your home.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Satephoto
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