Cockatiels - General Information

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

General Information

The cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is likely the best known and most widely kept member of the parrot family, other than the budgerigar (commonly called a parakeet or budgie). These Australian natives, with their elegant long tails and crested heads, possess the exotic look of a cockatoo. They are graceful, gentle, and generally quiet birds, well suited for a household with children. Cockatiels make an excellent first bird for a family.

Larger than budgies and smaller than larger parrots, these birds are easy to maintain and provide endless hours of entertainment and companionship. A single bird may have better social interactions with human family members when they are the only bird in the house, rather than one of multiple birds. When given appropriate attention, these birds can live happily without other birds. They are wonderful whistlers and possess a limited ability to talk, although their voice is whistle-like. Male cockatiels tend to be better talkers than females.

"Cockatiels make an excellent first bird for a family."

They are beautiful flyers and enjoy lots of activity and play. Like all parrots, to be happy, these birds need to be entertained. Taking them out of their cage daily and providing them with a TV to watch or a radio to listen to helps keep them from getting bored. Cockatiels love to chew, so providing bird-safe toys will distract them from the unwanted destructive chewing they may otherwise do around the house. Non-toxic, untreated branches, pieces of wood, paper, and cardboard are good choices for cockatiels birds to chew on.

Obtaining a Cockatiel

Cockatiels may be adopted from shelters or purchased from a pet store or a reputable breeder. When selecting a cockatiel, try to choose a young bird, as it may be easier to tame and train. Older, wild-caught, colony, or parent-raised birds may prove more challenging to tame. Hand-raised babies often make better pets, since they have been completely socialized with humans. Young birds generally are easy to tame and adapt readily to new environments and situations.

It is important to expose your new bird to different events (young and old people, men and women, other pets, car trips, visits to the veterinarian, etc.) to help them be calm and well-adjusted. A lively, alert bird that is interactive and attentive is more likely to be healthy. After obtaining your new bird, have it examined by a veterinarian familiar with birds as soon as possible.

Veterinary Care

Like all birds, cockatiels require annual, routine veterinary health check-ups. Your veterinarian can perform a physical examination, grooming (including nail or wing trims, as necessary) and laboratory tests (including blood and stool analysis) to help ensure your bird is healthy. During these check-ups, your veterinarian can identify and discuss your bird's health, nutritional, and behavioral issues, and make recommendations for future care. Veterinary check-ups help prevent disease and help maintain a long-lasting, healthy relationship between you and your bird.

Characteristics and Husbandry

Color: Mature, wild type cockatiels have gray bodies with yellow faces and orange cheek patches, with white on the front part of each wing. Colors include lutino (white to lemon-yellow), pied, pearl, cinnamon, and many combinations of these. Mature coloring occurs after the first molt, around 9–12 months.

  • Mature males have solid gray coloring on the underside of the tail feathers and solid gray long wing feathers without spots on the underside; they have a bright yellow face and bright orange cheek patches.
  • Mature females have horizontal fine yellow stripes or barring on the underside of the tail feathers and yellow spots on the underside of the long wing feathers; they have a paler yellow face and duller orange cheek patches.
  • Immature male and female cockatiels have the same coloring as mature females.

Weight: Average 2.8 to 3.5 ounces (80 to 95 grams)

Size: Average 12.5 inches (32 cm) in length

Life span: 10 to 14 years (maximum 24 years)

Diet: Commercially formulated pelleted food should be provided as the base diet, supplemented with smaller amounts of vegetables and fruit, with seed as an occasional treat. Consult your veterinarian for specific recommendations for your bird’s age, health status, and activity level.

Breeding: Sexual maturity is reached at around 8 to 12 months of age. Cockatiels are prolific year-round breeders, but require large cages, lots of exercise, a large nest box, and privacy for successful breeding.

Clutch size: 4 to 8 cream-colored eggs hatch in 18 to 20 days; young leave the nest in 5 weeks. An egg may be laid every 48 hours.

Cage size: Minimum 2 feet x 2 feet x 3 feet (60 cm x 60 cm x 90 cm) per bird.

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