how to care for cockatiels

Everything You Need To Know About Cockatiels – A Care Guide!

The cockatiel is a small parrot that’s native to Australia. It goes by other names, such as the weiro bird or its scientific name Nymphicus hollandicus. They make loving pets, but you may not yet feel ready to care for a cockatiel yet.

Cockatiels are always chirping. Females are quieter than males, but they’re less likely to learn to say human words. Some males are able to talk in just 8-10 months. Cockatiels are gentle-natured, fun-loving, intelligent, and friendly birds. Their cage should be at least 20 x 20 x 24 inches and have horizontal bars.

A cockatiel is a good parrot for beginners. As long as you balance their diet, let them out of their cage for exercise, and apply the right training, they make affectionate pets. They’ll closely bond with their owners and prefer their owners over everyone else. They can even be toilet trained and learn to play basic games with you.

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Is A Cockatiel The Right Bird For Me?

You may be on the fence about getting a cockatiel. To help you decide, let’s explore this parrot’s qualities as a pet. Will one suit your personality and lifestyle?

Are Cockatiels Good Beginner Pets?

A cockatiel can be a good pet for you if you:

  • Want a talking parrot
  • Like birds and their intelligent behavior
  • Have the social time to dedicate to a parrot
  • Have the money to spend on a cockatiel’s cage, enrichment, and diet

Are Cockatiels High Maintenance?

Cockatiels are relatively low-maintenance, making them beginner-friendly. However, they can still be difficult for those who are not home often or are very busy. You must be able to:

  • Provide fresh food and water
  • Clean the cage
  • Socialize with your cockatiel several times a day

If you think you can handle this responsibility, then a cockatiel could be a good pet for you.

Are Cockatiels Noisy Birds?

Cockatiels aren’t as noisy as other birds, such as macaws or African greys. However, they’re still noisy. They’ll:

  • Chirp
  • Whistle
  • Coo
  • Call
  • Talk
  • Scream
  • Hiss

If the noise bothers you or you have thin walls, consider adopting a female cockatiel over a male. Females are a bit quieter. However, if you want to teach your cockatiel to talk, get a male as they’re more likely to vocalize.

Are Cockatiels Smart?

While not as intelligent as larger breeds of parrot, cockatiels are smart. They’re capable of learning basic tricks and picking up limited words. In fact, they may learn how to talk in 8-10 months. For larger birds, this takes 12+ months.

Are Cockatiels Friendly?

Cockatiels are friendly, affectionate birds. They aren’t aggressive and less likely to bite than other parrots. Cockatiels like to be held and petted. They also love to spend time with you.

are cockatiels high maintenance?

Are Cockatiels Messy?

Cockatiels can be messy. They throw seeds as they eat and may splash in their water dish.

In a way that’s unique to them, cockatiels produce a lot of dander. Their dander has the chance of aggravating allergies or asthma. To cut back on this, you can get a HEPA air filter.

How Often Do Cockatiels Poop?

Cockatiels poop every 15-20 minutes, so you’ll need to clean up droppings. If you don’t toilet train them to poop in their cage only, this will be an ongoing responsibility.  

How Often Do Cockatiels Sleep?

Cockatiels need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. You can put a dark sheet over its cage in the evening, so it can sleep while you’re still awake. The sheet will block out light so that the cockatiel isn’t disturbed.

How Much Do Cockatiels Cost?

A standard cockatiel costs around $150, but prices vary. Once you’ve made this initial investment, you’ll have to pay for supplies. A cage and the perches, toys, and food dishes can cost up to $1,000.

There will also be recurring expenses, such as food and vet visits. A seed-only diet isn’t healthy for most parrots, cockatiels included, so you may need to provide a formulated diet.

How Long Do Cockatiels Live?

The average lifespan of a pet cockatiel is 16-25 years. The oldest known cockatiel lived to 36 years old. Like all birds, cockatiels live for longer in captivity than they do in the wild.

Cockatiel Behavior Guide

Cockatiels have a variety of odd behaviors, like hanging upside-down or spinning in circles. Other behaviors, such as screaming or hissing, can indicate that your cockatiel feels scared or threatened. If your cockatiel seems sad or depressed, it could mean its social needs aren’t being met.

Cockatiels are social birds, so yours should spend time with you. An hour or two of time together a day is the minimum. If you work full-time and are busy, getting a second cockatiel might help as they can keep each other company. Regardless of how many cockatiels you have, you should still be spending time with them every day.

One solution is to eat your meals in the same room. You’ll then spend some time playing and talking to your cockatiel after the meal. You can do the same thing at dinner time.

You can also place your cockatiel’s cage in a social area, like a living room or family room. This will fulfill its social needs and make it feel like it’s a part of the family. While you’re at work, turn on the TV or radio so that it feels less alone. Of course, you’ll need to see how your cockatiel responds to everything.

How To Bond with Your Cockatiel

Cockatiels require time and attention if you’re going to build trust with them. To form a bond, the best approach is to:

  • Talk to your cockatiel
  • Hand feed it
  • Play with it

To play with your cockatiel, you can:

  • Teach it words or tricks
  • Dance and/or sing with it
  • Whistle
  • Play with bird toys, such as throwing a bell and having the bird retrieve it for you

If you have a pair of bonded cockatiels, you can bond with them. If they seem to be ignoring you, keep them in separate cages in the same room. This prevents separation anxiety while encouraging them to bond with you.

Cockatiel Behaviors and What They Mean

New owners might be confused by their cockatiels’ habits. Which cockatiel behaviors are normal and which are abnormal?

Are Cockatiels Cuddly?

Cockatiels are affectionate. Your cockatiel might perch on your shoulder or arm and snuggle against your body. It won’t appreciate having its wings pinned down or being held against your chest. Instead, cockatiels love to be petted or scratched on their head and crest.

Do Cockatiels Bite?

Cockatiel bites can break the skin and cause bleeding. Cockatiels won’t bite without reason, though. A bird’s natural instinct when provoked or threatened is to fly away. If they feel like they can’t escape, their last defense will be to bite.

Why Do Cockatiels Hiss Or Scream?

Cockatiels hiss or scream when frightened, distressed, irritated, or moody from breeding hormones. If your cockatiel is hissing, leave it alone until it calms down. If your cockatiel is frightened, you can try talking to it in soothing tones.

care for cockatiels as pets

Do Cockatiels Mate For Life?

According to Behavior, cockatiels are a monogamous species that mate/bond for the long term. The article explored the paired relationships of cockatiels and found they were likely to stay together after their offspring were grown.

Do Cockatiels Recognize Their Owners?

Cockatiels will single you out from other people. In fact, they’re prone to picking favorites. If you share the cockatiel with another person, it’ll choose a preferred owner and want that person’s attention more than anyone else’s. It might even try to protect you from other people by biting or hissing at them.

Do Cockatiels Like Music?

Cockatiels do like music, like most parrots. They may even dance or sing to a tune that they like.

Can Cockatiels Talk?

Cockatiels can talk and pick up words quickly. While their vocabulary will be limited, they can learn whole phrases or short songs. Teaching them to speak is a great way to bond with them.

When Do Cockatiels Molt?

A cockatiel will first start molting between 6-12 months old. After that, it will molt 2-3 times a year. It can take up to 10 weeks for a shed feather to be completely regrown.

At What Age Do Cockatiels Fly?

A cockatiel chick will start flying between 5-8 weeks of age. At this stage, they have all their flight and tail feathers. Natural instinct will make them take to the air in their first fledgling attempts.

How to Care for Cockatiels

Cockatiels aren’t difficult to care for. These birds are small, so you can accommodate a cockatiel even if you live in a studio apartment.

Cockatiel Cage Setup

A cockatiel should never be kept in its cage constantly. However, this will be where it eats, sleeps, and lives while you’re out of the house. Because of this, this mini home needs to be set up with the cockatiel’s comfort and space requirements in mind.  

How Big Should A Cockatiel Cage Be?

Cockatiels need a larger cage than you might think. The smallest cage you can get for a cockatiel is:

  • 20 inches (wide) x 20 inches (long) x 24 inches (high) (or 50cm x 50cm x 60cm)
  • There should be horizontal bars on at least two sides of the cage
  • The bars must be spaced ½ inch to ⅝ inch (or 1.25cm to 1.5cm) apart
  • If the horizontal bars are spaced too far apart, your cockatiel may get its head stuck between them

Ideally, your cage will be larger. If you intend on keeping the cockatiel in its cage most of the time, get as large a cage as possible. If you only plan on keeping the cockatiel inside at night or when you’re not home, then the minimum cage size will be acceptable. Cockatiels need a certain degree of space to:

  • Move around
  • Nest
  • Stretch their wings
  • Avoid feeling overly cramped

Additionally, cockatiels need extra room because of their head crest and long tails. As active birds, they like to fly around, climb, and play. If they don’t have enough space (and horizontal bars to scale), cockatiels will damage themselves and their feathers.

Plastic or Metal Bird Cage?

The cage bars need to be thick and sturdy because cockatiels have strong beaks. They should be made out of stainless steel or powder-coated steel. If it’s plastic or wood, your cockatiel will chew through it and escape. It might even hurt itself while crawling through a space it gnawed open.

Ideal Temperature for Cockatiels

Cockatiels are happiest in average household temperatures. The ideal temperature for cockatiels is moderate, so avoid extreme conditions, such as below 65°F (18.3°C) or above 80°F (26.7°C). In addition, keep the cage off the floor and away from any drafts, such as from windows or air conditioning, or heating vents.

Ideal Cage Shape For Cockatiels

Cockatiels also feel safer in cages with corners, so avoid dome-shaped cages. This makes it difficult for them to find a place to huddle down in. They will feel overly exposed.

What Should You Put In A Cockatiel’s Cage?

You need 3-4 perches for your cockatiel to sit on in the cage. There are a variety of perches that provide for different needs, such as:

  • Plain dowel perches. These come with the bird cage, but don’t usually provide much value to the cockatiel.
  • Pedicure perches. Also known as grooming perches or cement perches, these keep your cockatiel’s nails groomed due to the rough texture.
  • Rope perches. These are flexible.
  • Natural wood perches. Cockatiels like to chew on these, as well as perch on them.
  • Swing perches. These are entertaining since the cockatiel can swing on them.

Never get perches that are too small in diameter. Also, avoid plastic, sand, or sandpaper perches. Sand or sandpaper perches can be irritating to your cockatiel’s feet. Your cockatiel might chew on the plastic perch and ingest plastic.

are cockatiels good pets?

Dishes

The cage also needs a food and water dish, which should be placed at the opposite ends of the cage. They also shouldn’t be under the perches so that your cockatiel is less likely to poop in them.

There should be a perch next to the food dish so that they can perch while eating. You may need as many as three food dishes, depending on what you feed your cockatiel.

Toys And Accessories

Cockatiels are smart creatures that can get bored easily, so enrichment and entertainment are important. The cage should have a variety of toys, such as:

  • Swings
  • Cuttlebones
  • Shredding toys, such as paper
  • Wooden toys

A cuttlebone or mineral block can be beneficial as your cockatiel will gnaw on it and gain calcium.

What Food Can A Cockatiel Eat?

Cockatiels should be fed a balanced and varied diet of:

  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Greens

Cockatiels are prone to nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. When caring for a cockatiel as a pet, you should pay special attention to how it is eating.

Seeds or Pellets

Seeds should make up only a small part of your cockatiel’s diet. They are highly palatable but also fattening. According to the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, parrots tend to be selective if you feed your cockatiel a seed mix. They may only eat the seeds they prefer, leading to an unbalanced diet.

Formulated diets are one of the best ways to feed them. Pellets are nutritionally balanced specifically for birds, so you should make their daily diet 75-80% pellets.

One cockatiel should have no more than 1.5-2 tablespoons of seed a day. If you find leftovers at the end of the day, this could mean that too many seeds were given. You can reduce the amount the next day.

Fruits and Vegetables

The remaining 20-25% of your cockatiel’s daily diet should be made up of fruits, vegetables, and greens. Vegetables with high water content don’t offer much nutritional value to cockatiels, like:

Feed your cockatiel dark green and other colorful vegetables, like:

Cockatiels are not big fruit eaters, so they might not want to eat as much fruit as vegetables. Beware of strawberries and grapes, since these spoil faster than other fruit. Your cockatiel could get sick by ingesting any mold from them. Healthy fruits for cockatiels include:

Don’t feed your cockatiel the same fruit and vegetables every day. Some vegetables, like spinach and parsley, contain high amounts of oxalic acid. This blocks the absorption of calcium.

In addition, carrots and sweet potatoes are high in sugar, which can lead to yeast infections. Therefore, it is recommended to only serve these foods once or twice a week.

Carbohydrates And Proteins

Cockatiels can also eat carbohydrates, such as cooked pasta, rice, beans, oatmeal, or toast. You can also give them fresh corn and peas. These should be served in moderation since they are high in calories (and not entirely necessary if you feed your cockatiel pellets). Cockatiels can be fed small amounts of freshly cooked (not reheated):

They can also eat lactose-free dairy products, like yogurt and cottage cheese. Parrots lack the enzyme required to digest lactose. Avoid giving them dairy products, like milk and soft cheese.

You can give your cockatiel treats if you like, especially if you are trying to train them. They should be fed about 1-2 treats a day.

Water

Give your cockatiel fresh water, and clean their food and water dishes daily. If your tap water has lead or zinc in it, do not give it to them. This will cause heavy metal poisoning.

According to the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, although some owners put vitamin supplements in the drinking water, it is not recommended. Vitamin A and D toxicoses have been found in many parrots, including cockatiels, due to vitamin supplements in water.

What Cockatiels Can’t Eat

There are many foods cockatiels can’t eat. The following foods are toxic to cockatiels and can make your bird sick or even kill it.

  • Avocados
  • Chocolate
  • Sugary, salty, and greasy foods (anything we consider junk food)
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Leaves and stems from potato plants, as well as raw potato
  • Rhubarb
  • Alcohol, coffee, tea
  • Milk and cream
  • Moldy food
  • Seeds or pits from fruits like apples, plums, cherries, and peaches
  • Toxic houseplants

If you are unsure if a food can be served to your cockatiel, consult with your vet. If your cockatiel has ingested any of the above foods and shows any symptoms, take your cockatiel to the vet. Bad signs include:

  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
are cockatiels friendly?

How to Calm Down Cockatiels

These birds are easily frightened, so it’s important to know how to calm down cockatiels. They can become scared of you if you make sudden, loud noises or forcibly reach in and grab them from their cage. They can also get frightened by the movement and/or sound of:

  • Fans
  • Machines
  • Other pets
  • Other people
  • The weather

When scared, a cockatiel might scream, hiss, or try to bite.  To calm your cockatiel down, you must first figure out what is making it upset. You can then:

  1. Remove whatever startled it, such as a fan or another pet
  2. Talk to it in a soothing voice
  3. If the bird will let you touch it, pick it up and let it sit wherever it’s comfortable. This may be on your shoulder or hand
  4. If it’s too distressed, place it in its cage. Be aware that it might try to bite you.
  5. Isolate the cage away from other frightening things. For example, with fireworks or thunder, place it in a well-insulated room that’s quiet.
  6. Stay within sight and speak calmly.
  7. If the cockatiel remains upset, divert its attention with toys.

Another common issue is night fright. This happens when a cockatiel gets scared by something at night and flaps around in its cage. There might have been a sound or movement, like a predator. To calm it down:

  1. Turn on the light
  2. Talk to it calmly
  3. Don’t try to touch it when it’s in this state. It may try to bite you.
  4. Do not let it out of the cage until it has become docile. It may fly around more frantically or feel threatened by something in the room
  5. Once it’s calm, pet it gently and offer a treat

Care Tips For Cockatiels

Now comes the day-to-day care of your cockatiel. Here are the best tips to ensure that your life with your new friend is happy and well-balanced.

How to Clean A Cockatiel’s Cage

To clean your cockatiel’s cage every day, you should:

  • Replace the liner of the cage. You can use newspaper or other paper liners at the bottom of the cage to catch droppings. Avoid colored ink, because that could be toxic.
  • Wash the food and water dishes in hot, soapy water and let dry. Having two or more sets of dishes is recommended, so you can replace them while you clean the others.
  • Remove poop from perches and toys. Use white vinegar to sanitize them, and let them air out before your cockatiel uses them.
  • Sweep or vacuum the area around the cage. This removes debris that has fallen out of the cage. You can cover the area with a cage apron or plastic mat to make it easier to clean.

Every week or month, depending on how many birds you have in the cage and your birds’ needs, you should do a deeper clean:

  • Remove the bird(s) to a safe area. This is away from any fumes as a result of the cleaning supplies.
  • Remove everything from inside of the cage.
  • Clean the cage, perches, and toys with hot soapy water and let them air dry.
  • Clean the cage apron and area around and under the cage.
  • Put everything back in the cage.

How to Take a Cockatiel Out of Its Cage

After your cockatiel has been tamed, you can easily train it to go on your hand on command. To do so:

  1. Slowly slide your hand on the ground until you reach your bird’s feet.
  2. Encourage your bird to step up onto your finger by touching its feet
  3. Say a command, such as “Up.”
  4. Once it steps on your finger, reward it with a treat or petting on the head.

After your cockatiel has learned how to step onto your finger on command, you can remove it from the cage in this way. You should take your cockatiel out of its cage at least once a day for exercise.

If you are home often, you can keep it outside of its cage for most of the day while it’s awake. Put your cockatiel in its cage whenever you aren’t home, or if you’ll be in a different room where you don’t want the cockatiel to go.

How to Train A Cockatiel to Poop in Its Cage

Cockatiels poop every 15-20 minutes. If you keep your cockatiel outside of its cage most of the time, you will likely have to clean poop around your house. However, it is possible to toilet train your cockatiel:

  1. Figure out the signs for when your cockatiel is about to poop, such as when it squats or backs up.
  2. Pick up your cockatiel right before it’s about to poop
  3. Bring the bird to where you want it to poop. This could be in its cage, over a trash can, or on some newspaper.
  4. Say a simple phrase (something like “Go” or “Poop”) and wait for the bird to poop.
  5. Praise the bird after it poops with a treat or petting it on its head
  6. Bring it back to its perch or wherever you want it to be.

How to Bird-Proof Your House

If you plan on keeping your cockatiel outside of its cage, you need to ensure that your home is safe. At the least, the room where you’ll allow your cockatiel to roam must be bird-proof. Here’s how:

Windows

Cover the windows with curtains or blinds. This will prevent your cockatiel from flying into the glass. You can also clip its wings to prevent it from injuring itself.

Fans

Turn off ceiling fans while your cockatiel is out of its cage. This helps it avoid flying into the fan and getting injured. Plus, you should keep the cage away from fans since this creates drafts that may harm your cockatiel’s health.

Cords And Wires

Keep electrical cords out of sight or cover them with sturdy material. Your cockatiel might chew through them, which can cause burns or electrocution.

Suffocation Or Crushing

Watch where you’re walking or sitting, as your cockatiel might sneak onto your seat. Don’t sleep with your cockatiel to avoid crushing it. Make sure there are no small areas where the bird can get stuck behind.

Kitchen

The kitchen contains countless hazards to birds, such as:

Therefore, avoid letting your bird in the kitchen in general.

Bathroom

If you keep the bathroom door open, ensure the toilet seat is down. The cockatiel could fall in and drown. The bathroom is as dangerous as the kitchen, so make this room off-limits.

Laundry Room

Ensure your cockatiel isn’t in the washing machine or dryer when you load and unload the laundry. Don’t iron clothes near it because of the fumes and the potential to be a burning hazard.

Small Metallic Items

Jewelry, buttons, pins, and coins are attractive to cockatiels. However, it could cause them to injure their mouths if they chew on it or lead to choking if swallowed.

According to Acta Scientiae Veterinariae, a cockatiel experienced poisoning after heavy metal intoxication, so you should also keep heavy metals like lead and zinc away.

Fumes

Smoke and chemical or toxic fumes are all dangerous. If you can smell it, it has the potential to harm your cockatiel. Dangerous fumes include:

  • Those from heating a nonstick pan
  • Scented candles
  • Cigarettes/cigars
  • Paint
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Perfume
  • Hairspray
  • Room deodorizers

Poison

Insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, and rat poison are all toxic. If you need to treat your home, be sure it’s nowhere near the cage. You may need to remove the cockatiel entirely during any treatment times.

Oils

You should avoid putting anything on your cockatiel except for vet-approved substances.

BMC Veterinary Research has a case study of a pet cockatiel that convulsed, vomited, and then went comatose 30 minutes after its owner applied 3 drops of tea tree oil directly on its right wing. The cockatiel survived due to being hospitalized and treated immediately.

Cockatiels are relatively low-maintenance parrots that are good for beginners. As long as you care for your new pet properly, it will be your friend for decades.