The cockatiel is a small parrot with distinctive features that is native to Australia. It’s also known as the weiro bird or by its scientific name Nymphicus hollandicus. These parrots are much-loved pets. Even still, you may not feel prepared to care for one of your own. Not without understanding more about its health, diet, and social disposition.
Cockatiels are very talkative parrots, happy to chirp and pick up words. They’re gentle, intelligent, like to cuddle, and are very friendly. They sleep for 10-12 hours, poop every 15-20 minutes, and need a formulated diet. Their cage should be 20 x 20 x 24 inches in size (at the least) and have horizontal bars. They’re prone to night fright and may need to be calmed down when frightened.
Even still, cockatiels are a good choice for beginners. As long as you balance their diet, let them out of their cage often, and apply the right training, they’re lovely pets. They will closely bond with their owners and prefer you over everyone else. They can even be potty trained and learn to play basic games with you. Let’s explore everything you need to know about cockatiel care, so you can enjoy a companion for decades.
Is A Cockatiel Right for You?
You may be on the fence about getting a cockatiel. To help you decide, let’s explore this parrot’s greatest attributes as a pet. Will one suit your lifestyle?
Are Cockatiels Good Pets?
A cockatiel can be a good pet for you if you:
- Want a talking parrot
- Love birds and their intelligent behavior
- Have the social time to dedicate to a parrot
- Have the money to invest in a cockatiel’s required cage size and diet
Are Cockatiels High Maintenance?
Cockatiels are rather low-maintenance, making them beginner-friendly to bird owners. However, they can still be difficult for those who are not home often or who are very busy. You must be able to:
- Provide fresh food and water
- Clean the cage
- Socialize with your cockatiel every day
If you think you can handle this responsibility, then a cockatiel can be a great pet for you.
Are Cockatiels Noisy?
Cockatiels aren’t as noisy as other birds, such as macaws or African greys. However, they do still make some noise. They will:
- Some of them will also talk if you teach them to do so
- They might occasionally scream or hiss if they are frightened or lonely.
If the noise bothers you or you have thin walls in your apartment, you may want to consider adopting a female cockatiel over a male. Females are a bit quieter. However, if you want to teach your cockatiel to talk, it’s best to get a male. They are more likely to vocalize.
Are Cockatiels Smart?
While not as intelligent as larger breeds of parrot, cockatiels are smart. These birds are capable of learning basic tricks and picking up limited words. In fact, they may even learn how to talk in 8-10 months. For larger birds, this takes 12 or more months.
Are Cockatiels Friendly?
Cockatiels are friendly, affectionate birds. They are less aggressive and less likely to bite than other parrots. With that said, an untamed cockatiel might bite you. Cockatiels love to be held and petted. They also love to spend time with you and be in the same room as their owners.
Are Cockatiels Messy?
Cockatiels can be messy. They throw seed as they eat and may splash in their water dish.
In a way that’s unique to them, cockatiels produce a lot of dander. They might leave trails of dust wherever they go, meaning you need to sweep, vacuum, and dust your home often. 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 will have to clean up a lot of droppings. If you do not potty train them to poop in their cage only, this will be a large 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 are 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 some are priced higher or lower than that. Once you’ve made this initial investment, you’ll have to pay for the bird’s supplies. A cage, as well as the perches, toys, and food dishes, can cost up to $1,000 altogether.
There will also be recurring expenses, such as food and trips to the vet. A seed-only diet isn’t healthy for most parrots, cockatiels included, so you may need to invest in a formulated diet. The good news is that cockatiels aren’t prone to illness, so vets will be a limited fee.
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. If you’d like a pet to enjoy the coming decades with, then a cockatiel might be just right.
Cockatiel Behavior Guide
Cockatiels have a variety of odd behaviors, like hanging upside-down or spinning in circles. These are completely normal and healthy. In fact, most owners find it to be the most charming part of cockatiels.
Other behaviors, such as screaming or hissing, can indicate that your cockatiel is feeling scared or threatened. This should be treated with caution. Likewise, if your cockatiel seems depressed, it could mean its social needs are not being met.
Cockatiels are very social birds, so yours should spend a lot of time with you. An hour or two of time together a day is the minimum. If you work full-time and are very busy, then getting another cockatiel might help, so they can keep each other company. Regardless of how many cockatiels you have, though, you should still be spending time with them every day.
An easy solution is to eat your meals together. You can wake up a bit earlier and eat breakfast together. You’ll then spend some time playing and talking to your cockatiel after the meal. You can do the same thing at dinner time. Just don’t eat dinner too late, since cockatiels need 10-12 hours of sleep a night.
You can also place your cockatiel’s cage in a busy, social area, like a living room or family room. This will help fulfill its social needs and make it feel more like it’s a part of the family while it’s in its cage. While you’re at work, turn on the TV or radio so it feels less alone.
How to Bond with Your Cockatiel
Like all parrots, cockatiels require time and attention if you’re going to build trust with them. To help form a bond, the best approach is to:
- Talk to your cockatiel
- Hand-feed it
- Playing with it
To play with it, you can:
- Teach it words or tricks
- Dance and/or sing with it
- 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 still bond with them using the above methods. If they still seem to be ignoring you, keep them in separate cages but still in the same room. This prevents separation anxiety, but encourages them to bond with you more easily.
Cockatiel Behaviors and What They Mean
New owners might be confused by their birds’ habits. Which cockatiel behaviors are normal and which are concerning?
Are Cockatiels Cuddly?
Cockatiels are very affectionate and will love to cuddle. However, they won’t display this like cats or dogs. Your bird 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, however. 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 they are 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.
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 very likely to stay together after their offspring were grown.
Do Cockatiels Recognize Their Owners?
Cockatiels will be able to single you out from other people. In fact, these birds are very prone to picking favorites. If you share the cockatiel with another person, it will 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 they like.
Can Cockatiels Talk?
Cockatiels can talk, and pick up words rather 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 rather small, so even if you live in a studio apartment, you can accommodate a cockatiel. It just needs to be provided with:
- A proper cage
- An appropriate diet
- Enough social interaction
Let’s explore what you need in more depth.
Cockatiel Cage Setup
A cockatiel should never be kept in a cage full-time. 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. In fact, the larger the cage, the better. 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. This is dangerous.
Ideally, your cage will be even larger than this. If you intend on keeping the bird in it most of the time, try to invest in as large of a cage as possible. If you only plan on keeping the cockatiel inside at night or when you are not home, then the minimum cage size will be acceptable. Like all parrots, cockatiels need a certain degree of space to:
- Move around
- Stretch their wings
- Avoid feeling overly cramped or limited
Additionally, cockatiels need a little 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 very 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 nook 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 you can buy, which 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.
Don’t get perches that are too small in diameter. Also, avoid plastic, sand, or sandpaper perches. Sand or sandpaper perches can be irritating to your bird’s feet. Your cockatiel might chew on the plastic perch and ingest plastic. Since it can’t be digested, this could lead to health problems.
The cage also needs a food and water dish. These should be placed at the opposite ends of the cage. They also shouldn’t be under the perches, so the bird can’t get poop in them.
There should be a perch next to the food dish, so they can perch while eating. You may need as many as 3 food dishes, depending on what you feed your cockatiel.
Toys And Accessories
Cockatiels are smart creatures that can get bored easily. Therefore, enrichment and entertainment are important. The cage should have a variety of toys, such as:
- Shredding toys (such as paper)
- Wooden toys
A cuttlebone or mineral block can be beneficial to your cockatiel, because as they gnaw on it. That will help supplement their calcium needs.
What Food Can A Cockatiel Eat?
Cockatiels should be fed a balanced and varied diet of:
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. Let’s explore what foods cockatiels can and can’t eat.
Seeds or Pellets
Seeds should make up only a small part of your cockatiel’s diet. They are highly palatable but also fattening. Likewise, if you feed your bird a seed mix, according to the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, parrots tend to be selective. 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 bird 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 try reducing 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:
- Iceberg lettuce
Feed your cockatiel dark green and other colorful vegetables, like:
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet peppers
Cockatiels are not big fruit eaters so they may 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 exact 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):
- Lean meat
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 in moderation though, with about 1-2 treats a day.
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.
- Sugary, salty, and greasy foods (anything we consider junk food)
- Leaves and stems from potato plants, as well as raw potato
- 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:
- Rapid or labored breathing
- Loss of appetite
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:
- 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.
- Remove whatever startled it, such as a fan or another pet
- Talk to it in a soothing voice
- 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
- If it’s too distressed, place it in its cage. Be aware it might try to bite you.
- Isolate the cage away from other frightening things. For example, with fireworks or thunder, place it in a well-insulated room that’s quiet.
- Stay within sight and speak very calmly. The sound of your voice alone is important, so remain talking and don’t seem rushed.
- If the bird remains upset, try to 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 some kind of movement that looks or sounds like a predator. To calm it down:
- Turn on the light
- Talk to it calmly
- Don’t try to touch it when it’s in this state. It may try to bite you.
- 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
- 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 2 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. They must dry completely, ideally in the sun.
- 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:
- Slowly slide your hand on the ground until you reach your bird’s feet.
- Encourage your bird to step up onto your finger by touching its feet
- Say a command, such as “Up.”
- 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. You should 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 do keep your cockatiel outside of its cage most of the time, you likely will have to clean poop around your house. However, it is possible to potty train your cockatiel.
- Figure out the signs for when your cockatiel is about to poop, such as it becomes antsy and squats or backs up.
- Pick up your cockatiel right before it’s about to poop
- Bring the bird to where you want it to poop. This could be in its cage, over a trash can, or on some newspaper.
- Say a simple phrase (something like “Go” or “Poop”) and wait for the bird to poop.
- Praise the bird after it poops with a treat or petting it on its head
- 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 make sure 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:
Cover the windows with curtains or blinds. This will prevent your bird from flying into the glass. You can also clip its wings to help prevent it from injuring itself in this way.
Turn off ceiling fans while your bird 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 be harmful to your bird’s health.
Cords And Wires
Keep electrical cords out of sight or cover them with a 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 your bird. Make sure there are no small areas where the bird can get stuck behind.
The kitchen contains countless hazards to birds, such as:
- Toxic fumes from cooking
- Water in the sink
- The hot stove
Therefore, avoid letting your bird in the kitchen in general.
If you keep the bathroom door open, make sure the toilet seat is down. The bird could fall in and drown. The bathroom is as dangerous as the kitchen, so it’s recommended to also make this room off-limits to your bird.
Make sure your bird isn’t in the washing machine or dryer when you load and unload the laundry. Don’t iron clothes near the bird, because of the fumes and potential burn hazard.
Small Metallic Items
Jewelry, buttons, pins, and coins are attractive to birds. However, it could cause them to injure their mouths if they chew on it.
According to Acta Scientiae Veterinariae, a cockatiel suffered from poisoning after heavy metal intoxication, so you should also keep heavy metals like lead and zinc away from your bird.
Smoke and chemical or toxic fumes are all dangerous for your bird. If you can smell it, then it can harm your cockatiel. Dangerous fumes include:
- Those from heating a nonstick pan
- Scented candles
- Cleaning supplies
- Room deodorizers
Insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, and rat poison are all toxic for your bird. If you need to treat your home, be sure it’s nowhere near the cage. You may even need to remove the bird during any treatment times.
You should avoid putting anything on your cockatiel except for vet-approved substances.
For example, 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. Even if something can be applied topically to humans or other animals, this doesn’t mean that it can be used on your pet cockatiel.
Cockatiels are low-maintenance parrots that are good for beginners. As long as you care for your new pet properly, it will be a friend for decades.