Bird Care Guide: Cockatiel

Cockatiels have great personalities and are easy to tame. They are good whistlers and mimics and are generally good for handling. They make a good choice for beginners.

These attractive little parrots are considered part of the cockatoo family. As a member of this family, they display their cute little erectile crests, as well as have their male/female colorings and their nesting behaviors. The adult cockatiel weighs 3 to 4 ounces and is 12 inches from beak to the tip of the tail. Male cockatiels generally have brighter yellow heads and check patches, as well as prominent crests. Most cockatiels live 10 to 20 years, though they can live as long as 20 to 25 years.

All cockatiels are native to Australia and live in the subtropics and temperate regions. They are found over most of Australia except the coastal areas. They are not found in Tasmania.

Care and feeding

Fresh food and water must be provided daily. Pelleted diets will provide a fairly balanced feed, however it does not contain the phytonutrients (antioxidant pigments) that are found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds. These will need to be supplemented with green foods such as dandelion leaves, weeds, carrot tops, celery, watercress, spinach, peas, seedling grasses, and millet. Various fruits will also be enjoyed such as apples, oranges, bananas and others. Proteins can be offered in the form of mynah pellets, dog food, and even mashed hard-boiled eggs. Cockatiels are notoriously finicky eaters; so starting them on a nutritionally complete diet right away is best for them and for your sanity. Try to avoid sugary treats for your bird; cockatiels have a high risk of diabetes. Do not feed avocado, as it can be toxic to birds! Although it was previously thought that grit was needed by cockatiels, it has been found that they do not need grit and can actually cause problems if given to cockatiels. Parrots that eat seed whole without shelling it first require grit, but cockatiels shell their seed before eating it so grit should not be provided. Cuttlebones are needed to help provide calcium and to help keep the beak trim.

Since cockatiels are fast flyers, it is important to keep their wings clipped, as this will prevent them from taking to the air and escaping. It will also facilitate you to tame the bird.


Cockatiels love roomy cages! They prefer to be outside of their cage so that they can explore and play. Their cage should be at least 36” long, 18” wide and 24” high. A chew resistant metal cage is important, as a wooden cage will easily be destroyed. A cage with horizontal bars on the sides is nice, as they love to climb. Provide one or two perches about ¾” in diameter and dishes hanging from the side for feed and water. Try to place the perches away from dishes so the food and water dish do not become soiled with bird droppings. Do not use plastic dishes because your cockatiel will chew and break the plastic and this can be hazardous. Fresh branches from trees and bushes such as oak, maple, and fruit trees will give hours of chewing and climbing pleasure while exercising and trimming the beak and nails. Change the branches once they start to dry out.

Cockatiels are messy eaters and their feathers are covered with a thin powder that prevents water from reaching their skin. A cage skirt or fine screen around the bottom of the sides will help lessen seed scattering. Be sure the spot you pick has good light and is well ventilated, though free from drafts. It should be away from doors and windows where direct exposure to sunlight can make it overly warm. Also, placing it at eye level or higher will make the bird feel more secure. Average daytime temperatures can range from between 60oF to 70oF with nighttime temperatures down to 40oF. As a rule of thumb, ambient temperatures comfortable for you should be adequate for your bird. Whether your bird is sick or healthy, be sure to watch for tell-tale signs of temperaturerelated discomfort: cold birds will often remain fluffed up for extended periods of time, and overheated birds will hold their wings away from their bodies and pant. Covering the cage at night is not necessary but will help to keep the bird calm and give it a greater sense of security.


The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Plain newspaper is fine on the bottom of the cage; be sure to change paper daily to prevent the spread of disease and illness. Weekly you should clean and disinfect the cage. With warm soapy water, wash and completely dry the perches and toys whenever they become soiled. You may also use 1 part bleach diluted with 32 parts water. Rinse very well. Do not use cat litter on the bottom of any cage, since birds can eat this and die.

Social Behaviors

Cockatiels are very docile and friendly to people as well as other birds. In the wild they live in groups of about twelve birds, however they will flock in the hundreds after breeding season and where food is plentiful. Consequently they can be housed very well with other small birds of the non-parrot family. They like attention and handling. Both males and females make equally good pets! Single birds will become very dependent on their owners. If you will not be able to provide the much required attention and playtime, your cockatiel will need a friend.


Very little time is required for training a cockatiel since they are very intelligent and easy to handle. It is easier to tame and train a single bird than two birds, as they will prefer the company of each other to you. Females are naturally quieter so males are easier to train to talk.

Taming and training is best done in a small room with few distractions. Training involves acceptance and trust between you and your cockatiel. Speak softly to the bird and always move slowly. Most training is accomplished with food rewards, similar to canine training. Some of the more advanced training includes climbing ladders, ringing bells, and spreading its wings. Cockatiels are more adept at learning beak tricks than claw tricks. They have high-pitched voices and are not the very best talkers, but they can be trained with patience and repetition.


Cockatiels love climbing and stretching their wings, as well as playing. Keep the quantity of toys and accessories in the cage light so that you don’t inhibit the bird’s movements. They enjoy a variety of toys such as seed treats, swings, ladders, bells, and mirrors. Tree branches and wooden chews provide excellent exercise and keep the beak trim. Bright shiny plastic toys are for parakeets, not cockatiels! Never give a cockatiel rubber toys!

A tame cockatiel will enjoy a parrot playpen outside of the cage. It makes a superior cockatiel toy and can be equipped with ladders, perches, swings and hanging toys. 10 to 12 hours of rest are needed each day for a healthy, well-adjusted cockatiel.

Potential Problems

The cockatiel is a very hardy bird. However, signs of illness to be aware of are lethargy, ruffled feathers, any signs of weight loss (weight loss can be quick and fatal). Some of the common illnesses and injuries your cockatiel could contract are broken wings or legs, cuts and open wounds, overgrown beaks and nails, lameness or sore feet, feather picking, feather cysts, weight loss, heat stroke, shock, concussions, egg binding, indigestion, eye disease, mites, watery eyes, colds, tumors, Psittacosis, coccidiosis, French molt, goiter, E. coli, Aspergillosis, conjunctivitis, constipation, diarrhea, arthritis and rheumatism. Contact your avian vet immediately if you suspect and injury or illness!

Sources: Jack Hanna’s Ultimate Guide to Pets, 1996

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