Cockatiel (aviculture)

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15-year-old hand-reared and socialized wild type (normal grey) female cockatiel

Cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) are an Australian parrot that are generally regarded as good pets or companion parrots, having a sweet demeanour. Like most other pets, the manner in which the animal is raised, handled, and kept has a profound effect on temperament. Some birds are quite gregarious and sociable while others can be shy, retreating to the back of the cage when an unfamiliar figure appears. If handled often and if they have a patient owner, cockatiels will become tame very quickly compared to some of the other parrot species.


A pet cockatiel, Early, offering his head to be petted. Note, the cage shown is dangerous as the bird should not be able to fit its head through the bars.

Cockatiels are generally kept in a cage and allowed to exercise and socialise with their owners outside of the cage for a few hours a day (at least 1 to 2 hours). In a specially prepared household environment, cockatiels may be permitted to roam freely about a home or apartment, and owners may take certain precautions such as wing clipping or using a flight harness if the rooms have hazards that might pose a risk to the bird. As a social bird, cockatiels prefer areas with a lot of activity during the waking hours, and will return to a secluded area when it is time to sleep. Cockatiels may nap on or near their owners, including the owner's chest and shoulders if the owner is stationary for a long period of time.

Generally, well-socialized birds are gentle and friendly. Some cockatiels enjoy physical contact, lending themselves well to taming. Cockatiels and their owners often develop shared rituals such as petting, scratching and preening. A cockatiel that wishes to be petted will often lower its head or nibble at the owner's fingers to indicate that it wishes to have its head and neck scratched (two places it can't easily scratch on its own), and will emit a low squeak to show its pleasure. Cockatiels which are hand-fed from a young age often enjoy physical contact.

Some birds will emit a distinctive "hiss" when irritated, retreating or defending with pecking bites. This hissing may be coupled with the bird tapping its beak on a hard surface to generate additional attention while lowering its head and spreading its wings in a display of aggression.

Cockatiels do have a reputation for demanding attention of their owners on a regular basis. Their vocalizations range from soft cheeps to piercing cries, but they lack the screeching voice of other parrots; males are, however, louder than females.[1] A cockatiel permitted to roam freely will often seek out its owner, following him or her from room to room; or if the owner happens to be outdoors, going from window to window to keep the owner in sight.

Tamed cockatiels require a consistent few hours of quality time per day with a person or in a person's company and a good night's sleep in an area with very little noise or distractions. Following a natural daylight schedule is the best arrangement for sleep; contrary to the popular belief that all birds must have 12 hours sleep each night.[2] Another reason for allowing exposure to a natural dawn and dusk is that some birds will react badly to their cages being covered, or the light being switched off. In the wild, it would not suddenly become dark, and suddenly become light again, so when it does in captivity, some birds will get confused and scared and may start thrashing around in their cage.

If left on their own, quiet birds will make contact calls with their owners, that can be quite loud if the person is out of sight. Cockatiels can grow so attached to their owners that they may try to "protect" them from anyone who tries to come near them, such as a partner or family member, by biting or hissing. By keeping cockatiels in a shared household room, they are exposed to all family members equally and will not favour one person and feel the need to defend him or her as much.[3] Cockatiels must be acquainted with the entire family, in order to assure even temperament toward all.

A cockatiel and a budgerigar fighting in captivity.

Cockatiels can be bullied by smaller but more dominant birds such as budgerigars (budgies) and most particularly parrotlets (Forpus). However budgerigars may over-preen the cockatiel's plumage, causing bald spots.[4] It is not uncommon at all for a larger or smaller bird to maim the cockatiel, creating lifelong disabilities and potentially life-threatening injuries.

Cockatiels don't necessarily make good pets for very young children because they startle easily, and may bite if frightened by sudden hand movements; they can make good pets for well-behaved older children.[5] Once bonded with their owners, they will often cuddle and play, pushing their head against hands or faces, tossing small items about for the owner to retrieve as a form of "reverse fetch", or whistling a favourite tune.[citation needed] Cockatiels, like almost all other parrots, love to chew paper and may chew objects (like cardboard, books, magazines, wicker baskets, etc.) when left unattended.[6]

Most cockatiels enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors and will engage in the activity for hours. Cockatiels that are exposed to mirrors perceive their reflections as their mates. This can induce hormonal behaviour (aggression and self-stimulation in males, egg-laying in females) or frustration (due to the perceived non-responsiveness of the bird in the mirror) which can also lead to aggression. Upon seeing themselves once, cockatiels are likely to experience anxiety until they find the mirror again.[7]

The cockatiel is second to the budgerigar as the most popular pet parrot species. Today, all cockatiels available in the pet trade are captive-bred, as Australia no longer permits the export of native wildlife. As a result, the common way to acquire a cockatiel outside of Australia is to purchase one from a breeder or a pet store.

Often, a cockatiel sold through a pet store will have a toy in its cage when on display. Purchasing the toy to which the bird has become familiar helps comfort the bird as it adapts to its new surroundings. During times when the owner is in the room with the bird, the cage door can be left open and, once the bird has become comfortable with the owner's presence, the bird may exit the cage to investigate the owner. Forcing a bird to leave a cage if it's not ready may cause the cockatiel to be less trusting of the owner.


Although cockatiels in their natural-habitats of Australia eat mainly grass seeds, captive cockatiels feed on either dry, sprouted and/or soaked seeds. A diet of only dry seeds is inadequate for cockatiels and/or any parrot species' optimum health. Avian veterinarians recommend pet birds' diets be supplemented with foods such as:

  • Whole cereals and whole grains: amaranth, barley, couscous, flax, whole-grain pastas, oats, quinoa (truly a fruit but used as a cereal), whole wheat, wild rice, whole rices.
  • Edible blossoms and flowers: carnations, chamomile, chives, dandelion, day lilies, eucalyptus, fruit tree blossoms, herbs' blossoms, hibiscus, honeysuckle, impatiens, lilac, nasturtiums, pansies, passion flower (Passiflora), roses, sunflowers, tulips, violets. Note that the leaves of some of these plants are poisonous to cockatiels.
  • Greens and weeds:
    • mainly; bok-choi, broccoli or cauliflower leaves, cabbage leaves, collard greens, dandelion leaves, kelp, mustard leaves, seaweeds, spirulina, water cress.
    • occasionally and sporadically; amaranth leaves, beet leaves, carambola (starfruit), chards, parsley, spinach and turnip leaves. All of these feature high oxalic acid content which induces production of calcium oxalates (crystals/stones) by binding calcium and other trace minerals present in foods and goods with which they're ingested – possibly leading to calcium deficiencies and/or hypocalcemia in minor cases, liver and other internal organ damage or failure in more severe cases.
  • Fruit (except avocados which are toxic): all apple varieties, bananas, all berries varieties, all citrus varieties, grapes, kiwifruit, mango, melons, nectarine, papaya, peach, all pear varieties, plum, starfruit. Pits and seeds from every citrus and drupe species must always be discarded as they are toxic. However, achenes and tiny seeds from pseudo and true berries (bananas, blueberries, elderberries, eggplants, persimmons, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes) are all okay.
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnut, walnut, pine nut, pistachio, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seed.
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, tofu.
  • Grains, legumes and seeds sprouts: adzuki beans, alfalfa beans, buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. Caution with lima and navy beans' sprouts which are toxic.
  • Vegetables (except uncooked potatoes, uncooked onions and all mushrooms): beet, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, all cabbage varieties, fresh beans, fresh romaine lettuce, fresh peas, parsnip, all pepper varieties, all squash varieties, sweet potatoes, tomato, turnip, yams, zucchini.
  • Pellets specifically formulated for cockatiels, for Platycercinae (Australian grass parakeets) and small parrots are all healthy additions.
  • Other fat-free, healthy and nutritious human foods.

Adding these foods provides additional nutrients and can prevent obesity and lipomas, as can substituting millet, which is relatively low in fat, for higher-fat seed mixes. Adult cockatiels often do not always adapt readily to dietary additions, so care must be taken to introduce healthy diets as young as possible (ideally weaned onto fresh foods before introducing chicks to seeds). Cockatiels like any other parrots learn mainly by mimicry and thus most adult cockatiels will be easily encouraged to try new foods by observing another bird eating the food, or by placing the new food on a mirror.

Alcohol, avocado, chocolate, caffeine, products containing lactose, garlic and onions present a danger of toxicosis and should not be used as food.[8]


In more recent years, pellets or kibble have become very popular, especially in the United States. They offer an advantage over a seed based diet in that a parrot cannot pick out and eat only its favorite (usually fatty) seeds. However, although these offer an easy alternative to other foods, they are not the best for many species. Pellets are a very boring option for any bird, as the texture and flavour of each pellet is exactly the same. Although pellets may be advertised as a "complete diet", there are dozens of species of parrots commonly kept as pets, all with varying nutritional needs. There are still many birds which develop illnesses such as fatty liver disease or gout, despite being on a pellet based diet. A common mistake made by owners feeding pellets, is over-supplementing them with fresh food. As a pellet is, essentially, a supplemented grain, supplementing them even more "dilutes" the diet, making the pellets less efficient and the diet unbalanced.[9] A pellet based diet is better than an all seed diet, but seed supplemented heavily with fresh fruit and vegetables is the best diet for most pet parrots, and when patient, it is not hard to provide this diet.


Although cockatiels are part of the parrot order, they are better at imitating whistles than speech. They may learn to whistle different tunes. Although they can learn words, the only understandable parts of the words are the inflections, while the consonants are not easily discernible. Their whistles and other mimicking sounds such as "lip-smacking" and "tutting" are almost perfect imitations of the sounds their owners make.[specify]. Some cockatiels do learn to repeat phrases, though males are generally better at mimicry than females. It is said that some females cannot "talk" simple words and this is true, it mostly occurs in males.[specify] Cockatiel speech often comes out as a "whistle" when they do enunciate, the voice being soft in volume and difficult to make out. Cockatiels can mimic many sounds, such as the bleep of a car alarm, a ringing telephone, the sound of a zipper, the beeping of cell phones or microwaves, or the calls of other bird species such as blue jays or chickadees and loud weather like thunder. They can also mimic other pets such as dogs, occasionally barking back.

Although female cockatiels are not often known to speak, this is not an absolute. Females generally don't imitate speech, but tend to mimic sounds such as telephones, washing machines, toilet flushes, and other household noises.[citation needed] Cockatiels that do imitate speech will usually mimic frequently heard phrases, particularly of the individual to whom the bird feels closest.

Cockatiels can also recognize sounds, such as the sound of the owner's vehicle as it parks nearby or the jingling of keys before one unlocks their front door.[citation needed]


Mating in an aviary
Cockatiel egg
Cockatiel chick

Cockatiels are a popular choice for amateur parrot breeders along with budgerigars. Compared to other parrot species they are relatively easy to breed and the costs for equipment are also quite low. A clutch can consist of four to seven eggs, each approximately the size of one's thumbnail. Eggs are laid once every two days and incubated for 18–22 days. Hatchlings fledge when between 4 and 5 weeks old and wean between 8 and 10 weeks old. Babies may often be gently handled while in the nest or removed for hand-feeding at 2 or 3 weeks old to help them become more tame and trusting. Puberty (adolescence) is reached around 9 months of age while adulthood is reached around 21 months in males and 15–18 months in females.

In contrast to other parrots, male and female cockatiels both take part in raising their young. Cockatiels are the only members of the parrot family that do not feed their partner, therefore both male and female cockatiels incubate the eggs and raise their young together, where the male usually sits at night and the female during the day, but it can vary.

Some female cockatiels also lay eggs without fertilization, much as those of the chicken species used for food production. A cockatiel is getting ready to lay eggs when she makes her mating call, short chirps repeated rapidly. The bird will also get low to the ground, slightly spread her wings, and bounce as she chirps. Once the cockatiel has laid her eggs she will believe the egg holds a bird, therefore she will sit on it and protect it for about a week. Even the most even-tempered hen will attack to protect her egg. After about a week the cockatiel will realize the egg is empty and stop sitting on it. Laying can be prevented by keeping the cockatiel in more darkness per day by covering it earlier in the evening and leaving the cage covered longer in the morning and by rearranging/replacing cage fixtures and toys or moving the cockatiel's cage to a different location in order to make the cage appear less suitable to the hen as a nest site.[10] Like all parrots, cockatiels of either sex can grow to see their owner or a toy as a mate, engage in courtship and mating behaviour including territoriality.

Petting the back, stomach or underwing area of the female cockatiel may inadvertently sexually stimulate her, promoting egg-laying; owners seeking to avoid egg-laying should avoid this particular form of bonding.[10]

The cockatiel has been shown to be capable of hybridising with the galah, producing offspring described as "galatiels".[11]

Colour mutations

Pet cockatiel combining the opaline (or pearled) and ADMpied (harlequin cka or recessive pied) mutations
A whitefaced (blue) cockatiel sleeping

About fifteen primary mutations have been established in the species and enable the production of many different combinations.

Colour mutations are natural but very rare phenomenon that occur in both captivity and the wild, although most colour morphs are due to selective breeding, in an effort to produce a bird with a "perfect" appearance.


  1. ^ "Factsheets:Cockatiel". Australian Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  2. ^ Bentley, Evie (1999-09-23). Awareness: Biorhythms, Sleep and Dreaming. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 0-415-18872-5. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
  3. ^ Cockatiel Cages Archived September 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ McCaffrey, Eleanor. "Frequently Asked Cockatiel Questions". Cockatiel Cottage. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
  5. ^ McCaffrey, McCaffrey. "Life with a Cockatiel". Cockatiel Cottage. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
  6. ^ Cockatiel Common Problems Archived September 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "New Cockatiels, Advice for New Cockatiel Owners, How to Tame a Cockatiel, How to Teach Cockatiels to Talk, How to Teach a Cockatiel to Sing, Taming Cockatiels, Training Cockatiels,What to do When a Single Bird Lays an Egg, How to Tell if an Egg is Fertilized,Why Chocolate is Toxic to Cockatiels and Parrots". Retrieved 2015-05-10.
  8. ^ Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P. "Medical Conditions and Diseases of the Budgerigar and Cockatiel" (article). ExoticPetVet.Net. Retrieved 26 April 2006.
  9. ^ Malcolm Green. "Pellets – Yes or No". Retrieved on 2009-04-10.
  10. ^ a b McCaffrey, Eleanor. "Cockatiel Egg Laying, Egg Laying Process and Chronic Egg Laying". Cockatiel Cottage. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
  11. ^ Marshall, Lloyd. "World first, galah breeds with cockatiel". Talking Birds. Retrieved 2009-07-30.

External links

  • National Cockatiel Society
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