A guide to Pet Cockatiels

Nymphicus hollandicus

They will entertain you for hours with their intelligence and are suitable for people of all ages and experience. Easy to handle, train and maintain its no wonder Cockatiels are our most popular hand raised bird.  We highly recommend Cockatiels for families with young children, elderly or anyone looking for a delightful companion.

Cockatiels are the second most popular cage bird to the budgie. They are easy to care for, house, train and make excellent pets when hand raised.

First Described: Originally described by Scottish writer and naturalist Robert Kerr in 1793 as Psittacus hollandicus, the cockatiel (or cockateel) was moved to its own genus, Nymphicus, by Wagler in 1832.

Distribution: Native to Australia, they are found in arid or semi-arid areas, but typically close to water.

Lifespan: Up to 20 years in captivity

Description: Cockatiels are the smallest member of the Cockatoo family. In the wild, both males and females have a grey coloured body, yellow head with red cheek patch, a crest that can become erect when excited or startled. Females also have some barring under their tails.

Mutations: There are over 15 described colour mutations in Aviculture and many more combinations.

Cockatiels should be fed a varied and balanced diet. They are prone to becoming obese so a correct diet from the start will help your Cockatiel live a long and healthy life.

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What we (Queenslander Aviaries) feed our Cockatiels:

Staple pelleted diet – Vetafarm Nutriblend Mini Pellet, Vetafarm Parrot Essentials Pellet. Ratios are changed during times of breeding. Pellets are offered 24 hours a day;

Sprouted seed – Adzuki, Barley, Black eye, Black turtle, Blue peas, Corn, Linseed, Mung, Northern, Soya, Wheat and small amounts of Sunflower. Ratios are changed during times of breeding;

Fruits, Vegetables and Cooked Foods – Corn, Celery, Apple, Kale, Apple and seasonal others. See safe foods; and

All our Cockatiels are offered cuttlebone, mineral blocks, fine grit, egg/ biscuit and the occasional millet spray and nuts.

See list of safe and toxic foods

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Pellets:

We feed all our birds the Vetafarm brand of pellets. We have used this brand with confidence for many years. Consumption and waste are easier to manage as they are much cleaner. We have the peace of mind knowing our birds are getting all the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential oils. We recommend feeding Cockatiels - Vetafarm Nutriblend Mini and Parrot Essentials.

Supplements:

All Cockatiels should have access to cuttlebone, grit and a mineral block; you can purchase these at any good pet or bird store. If you own a female Cockatiel cuttlebone or a calcium block is essential to avoid egg binding and bone deficiencies.

Seed:

If you wish to feed your Cockatiels on a seed diet, always ensure the mix is varied, clean and nutritionally balanced. We highly recommend Birdzone Cockatiel Blend. Never change the diet of a young Cockatiel that is already weaned onto a particular diet straight away. If you want to change a Cockatiels staple diet (e.g. from seed to pellets), wait at least six months.

Sunflower seed has a very high-fat content, approx. 51g to every 100grams. Some birds can also become addicted and only want to eat them. Providing your Cockatiel with a balanced staple like Birdzone Cockatiel Blend may help reduce health problems later on.

Fruit and Vegetables:

Cockatiels can be fussy when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Celery, Spinach, Kale, Corn, Apple and Chilli are all relished by our Cockatiels. See a full list of safe fruits and vegetables here. 

Safe Plants and Branches:

Cockatiels love to chew branches. Native plants like Eucalyptus, Lillypilly and Bottlebrush are safe and make excellent perches. See a full list of safe plants.

Sprouts:

Sprouts are germinated seeds and legumes that are soaked and allowed to start growing, packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and chlorophyll they are the simplest way to provide your Cockatiel with nutritional greens.

  Choosing a Cage:   Buy the biggest most practical cage you can afford, preferably the cage should be new, or if using a second-hand cage, it should be thoroughly disinfected with bird safe cleaner.   ood quality cages have stands, metal seed catches and some styles have an open top. They don't like round cages, look for a cage with at least four corners.The minimum size cage would be 60cm x 60cm.  Cockatiels should have enough room in the cage to turn around, stretch their wings and fly a small distance freely. Don’t overcrowd the cage with toys

Choosing a Cage:

Buy the biggest most practical cage you can afford, preferably the cage should be new, or if using a second-hand cage, it should be thoroughly disinfected with bird safe cleaner. 

ood quality cages have stands, metal seed catches and some styles have an open top. They don't like round cages, look for a cage with at least four corners.The minimum size cage would be 60cm x 60cm.

Cockatiels should have enough room in the cage to turn around, stretch their wings and fly a small distance freely. Don’t overcrowd the cage with toys

  Perches:   If you buy a cage that comes with smooth dowel or plastic perches, throw them in the bin. Always use natural wood with varied widths and textures. This also helps exercise the Cockatiels feet and help keep toes nails short. Eucalyptus, Bottle-brush and Lillypilly are all safe to use as long as they have not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals. You can also buy readymade mineral perches that are also suitable to use. Do not use sand perches; these will damage your Cockatiels feet.

Perches:

If you buy a cage that comes with smooth dowel or plastic perches, throw them in the bin. Always use natural wood with varied widths and textures. This also helps exercise the Cockatiels feet and help keep toes nails short. Eucalyptus, Bottle-brush and Lillypilly are all safe to use as long as they have not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals. You can also buy readymade mineral perches that are also suitable to use. Do not use sand perches; these will damage your Cockatiels feet.

  Cleaning:   Cages cage trays and feed dishes should be cleaned weekly with a bird safe disinfectant. Newspaper is fine to use in the tray. Rubbing your finger around a bowl is not considered cleaning it. 

Cleaning:

Cages cage trays and feed dishes should be cleaned weekly with a bird safe disinfectant. Newspaper is fine to use in the tray. Rubbing your finger around a bowl is not considered cleaning it. 

Wing Clipping:

Deciding to clip your Cockatiels wing is entirely up to the situation in which you want to keep it. If the Cockatiel is a child’s pet or you live in a multi-pet household wing, clipping would be ideal. Fully flighted Cockatiels are strong flyers and can easily slip through an open door or window. Consider wing clipping as a last resort, safety and wellbeing precaution.

NEVER have an inexperienced person or vet clip your Cockatiels wings. Incorrect wing clipping can result in injuries and damaged feathers. Both wings should be clipped but still allow the bird to glide to the ground, not fall directly. We recommend your Cockatiels wings be clipped by an Avian Vet.

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Nail Clipping:

Calcium and natural wood perches should help keep your Cockatiels toenails trim. If not, ask your local vet or pet store to cut them for you. Cut in a similar fashion to that of a dog's nails, just enough of the end to avoid cutting the quick. If bleeding occurs dip the toe in flour, this should help stop the flow. 

Dangers Around the Home:

Toilets, sinks, flower vases, dishwashers, washing machines, stove tops and other household appliances are all potentially dangerous. If your Cockatiel is having some out of cage play time they must be supervised at all times.

Bathing:

Cockatiels LOVE a bath. You should offer a shallow bowl of water for your Cockatiel to bath in at least once a week especially in the warmer months. If you cannot accommodate that type of bathing method you can also use a fine mist spray bottle, these can be purchased from most grocery/hardware stores cheaply. NEVER re-use old spray bottles you have previously used for chemicals.

Shower perches are a great way for Cockatiels to bath. They usually have suction cups that can be pushed onto tiles or a shower screen. NEVER leave your Cockatiel unsupervised when using a show perch. Shower perches can be purchased at any good pet or bird store.

Toys:

Toys are a great way to keep your Cockatiel entertained when you’re not around. Providing your Cockatiel with appropriate foraging toys will also help reduce boredom related behaviour problems like screaming or feather picking.

We do not recommend using rope or fabric toys for Cockatiels; they are notorious for ingesting fibres that will eventually block your Cockatiels digestive system.

Foraging Toys: 

In the wild Cockatiels spend many hours a day foraging for food, this is a natural behaviour you can replicate by offering toys designed to keep them stimulated for hours. Rotating your Cockatiels foraging toys will help keep them guessing, swap foraging toys every week.

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Happy Hut Alternatives:

Cockatiels will chew anything put in their cage, hence Happy Huts are not suitable. Alternatives made from natural untreated seagrass mats are safer. You can buy them with attached toys from any good pet or bird store.

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Fruit Kabob Holder:

A fantastic way to hang your Cockatiels favourite fruits and vegetables. Easy to clean and can be hung in hard to reach places for added stimulation.

Parasites:

All birds are susceptible to parasites; Cockatiels should be treated every three months with a Mite and Lice Spray. We recommend and use Vetafarm Avian Insect Liquidator. Always spray the Cockatiel on a warm day and ensure you spray under the wings and tail. Vetafarm Avian Insect Liquidator is also safe to use on cages and has an Insect Growth Regulator to prevent mites and lice breeding.Mites and Lice are harmless to humans but an infested Cockatiel may show signs of feather damage or constant irritation, scratching etc.

Worming:

All birds are susceptible to intestinal worms. We recommend and use Vetafarm Wormout Gel, repeating treatment every three months. Common signs your Cockatiel may be affected by worms included a stained/dirty vent or a sharp protruding keel bone. Prevention is better than cure, combining your worming and mite control routine it will ensure you never forget. Check out this video from Vetafarm for some handy tips when worming your Cockatiel. 

Training:

Easy to train and respond well to positive training methods. We highly recommend buying a copy of the "Good Bird" book. They can be harnessed trained; we recommend using the Aviator Harness. Always refer to the Harness manufacturers instructions and tips to get you started.

Good Bird by Barbara Heidenreich - An easy to read step-by-step guide that uses positive reinforcement for teaching parrot’s acceptable behaviour. Professional advice from animal behaviourist that will help you deal with screaming, biting, feather-picking, bonding and other difficult behaviours.

Egg Binding

A serious condition when the egg becomes “stuck” near the cloaca (vent/anus) or inside the reproductive tract of a female bird. Egg binding is common in female pet Cockatiels, especially those who may have low calcium levels or are continuous egg layers. Low temperatures can sometimes cause egg binding. Further risks from egg binding include infection and internal tissue damage especially if the egg breaks; if left untreated may cause death.

Female Cockatiels will usually show late term symptoms of end binding. If you suspect egg binding may be the cause always consult your local Avian Vet for advice.

 Egg bound Cockatiel

Egg bound Cockatiel

Symptoms include:

  • Fluffed up on the bottom of the cage;

  • Blood or excessive straining;

  • Excessively wet or unable to pass droppings;

  • Prolapse or bleeding from the cloaca (vent/anus); and

  • Abnormal bulging around the cloaca.

If you suspect a female may be egg bound you can try the following methods, especially if the female is a chronic egg layer or has a history of egg binding.

Heat: Place the female inside a hospital cage on a damp towel. Ensure the hospital cage is preheated before placing the bird inside. The stream produced may help the egg pass. If you don’t have a hospital cage, you can quickly construct one yourself using a similar method to the hospital cage.

You will need:

  • Medium sized box – large enough to have cold and warm sections;

  • Heat Mat or Lamp – Place the heat mat under half of the box. Heat lamps can be clamped or hung over one side of the box. Maintain a temperature of 28-32 degrees Celsius and 60% humidity. Use common sense, high temperatures or faulty equipment may cause a fire;

  • Towels – Place a slightly dampened towel on the heated side of the box. This should create some humidity or steam;

  • Spark – If possible orally administer a small amount of Vetafarm Spark with a syringe 0.5-1ml at a time. Spark contains carbohydrates and electrolytes to help support birds during times of stress;

  • Monitor - Keep a good eye on her throughout the treatment process. If her condition deteriorates contact your avian vet; and

  • Warm Bath - If you can safely handle the bird without crushing the bound egg, bath the female in luke warm water. Then place the female into a heated hospital cage or warm place to properly dry.

Prevention: A quality diet and year round access to calcium like cuttlebone should help prevent egg binding. If a female is a chronic egg layer she may require additional calcium supplements. Your avian vet can advise on the best method of calcium intake, in some cases injections may be required.

Chronic egg laying:

Female Cockatiels don’t require a mate to lay eggs (obviously infertile) some may become a chronic egg layer upon maturity, during and before egg laying females will need calcium supplements.

Hypocalcemia (Low Levels of Calcium):

If a female has low calcium levels Hypocalcaemia may cause the uterine muscles to contract not allowing the female to pass the egg, causing egg binding. Birds that suffer from Hypocalcaemia are more prone to bone fractures and seizures.

How to prevent/manage chronic egg laying:

  • Excessive Sunflower seed can make the problem worse. If you are using Birdzone Cockatiel Blend we recommend switching to Birdzone Diet Small parrot. This blend has less sunflower. Reducing high fat seeds may discourage birds from entering the breeding cycle;

  • Remove all nesting or nesting like materials – Nest boxes, Happy Huts or bird houses;

  • Provide her with fake eggs. If she begins that lay eggs on the bottom of the cage, which is common do not remove them. If you do, she will simply lay more. Ensure she has easy to access to food and water and monitor her weight. Some females may sit on their infertile eggs up to 4 weeks. If you are worried the eggs may become rotten, plastic fake eggs would be a suitable alternative. Swap the eggs by moving the female away from the nesting area;

  • Separate the sexes – If you have a male/female pair of Cockatiels and do not want them to breed and the hen has started chronic egg laying, separating them may help.

Psittacosis

The most common disease to affect Cockatiels in Australia. This common disease often affects birds during times of stress. Often seen in hand raised Cockatiels, some can have the disease and never show symptoms, others may show signs a few days after taking the bird home which is usually a stressful time.  Psittacosis is a zoonotic disease meaning it is transferable to people. These days Psittacosis is easily tested and diagnosed in birds and humans as long as it is quickly and corrected diagnosed.

Symptoms:

  • No appetite;

  • Lethargy;

  • Nasal discharge;

  • Weight Loss; and

  • Wheezing.

Treatment: Doxycycline for 45 days. Often mixed into drinking water. Always consult your Avian Veterinarian for dosage levels. It is more cost effective to buy this product yourself. In emergencies often injections are given. See more about Psittacosis.

Are Male Cockatiels Better Pets?

This is the most asked question we receive, both sexes have their pros and cons but both can still make excellent companions. Males Cockatiels are well known for their ability to mimic hence the second most asked question is “I want to buy a male”.

Cockatiels reach sexual maturity between 1-2 years, at that time some mutations (colours) can be sexed visually. The only way to accurately sex a young Cockatiel is by DNA sexing. Most breeders will not do this as the price of DNA testing becomes more expensive most breeders will opt not to DNA sex their young birds. Some breeders may offer this service but would always be at the cost of the buyer.

Female Pros and Cons

Less noisy than males

Less likely to talk

Less dominant than males

Will lay eggs

Susceptible to egg binding

Male Pros and Cons

More likely to mimic words and tunes

Outgoing personalities

Noiser then females

May display unwanted mating behaviour

Can be repedative

Choosing a Pet Cockatiel

If you decide a Cockatiel would best suit your lifestyle, it's best to buy one that is hand raised, as they are raised from a young age to be tame companions. Choosing the healthiest most active bird is not all you will be looking for, use the guide below to help you through the process.

  • Allow enough time to observe the Cockatiels in their cage, this is where they are most comfortable and will show their true colours;

  • Always ensure they are fully weaned (eating independently, no formula). At least two weeks from weaning is ideal. Young Cockatiels are well known for regressing so get confirmation from the hand raiser/breeder/staff that they are eating and drinking independently. If you observe the Cockatiels eating in their cage, that is a good sign. Don’t be tempted to buy a Cockatiel that is not weaned correctly or too young as it will only end in disaster. Young Cockatiels cry (screech) to be fed when being raised, a fully weaned bird should not do this;

  • Look for a bright, active and tight feathered Cockatiel. Don’t choose the mutation (colour) over the overall look of the bird. If the bird shows particular interest in you and has bright clean eyes, clean beak (mouth) and vent (bum), this would be the best Cockatiel to consider taking home;

  • Whenever buying a Cockatiel, take particular interest in their living conditions. Cages should be clean, brightly lit and have no smell. Any animal kept in overcrowded, damp dirty conditions are more susceptible to disease and a sign of poor husbandry;

  • Request as much information about the bird from the breeder/hand raiser/staff which includes exactly what brand food they are feeding, health routine (worming etc.), age and any temperament observations. Any good breeder/hand raiser/staff will have some idea of each Cockatiels temperament;

  • Never buy a hand raised bird you have not handled. Every bird has their own likes/dislikes and temperament. A good hand raised Cockatiel will sit on your hand/shoulder with little fear. This is also a good time to inspect the birds physical condition; eyes/beak/feet/vent;

  • Always ensure you buy the exact brand of food whether it be seed or pellets that the Cockatiel is currently eating. Staying on the same food will ensure a smooth transition to its new home and reduce the risk of the Cockatiel regressing and unnecessary stress. NEVER change the diet of a young Cockatiel that is already weaned onto a particular diet straight away. If you want to change the Cockatiels staple diet (e.g. from seed to pellets) wait at least 6 months;

  • Ensure you have the necessary accessories before picking up your new Cockatiel. If you are buying a Cockatiel from a breeder or store that does not sell accessories, at least ask what brand of food they are feeding and have it ready;

  • When transporting your new bird home ensure they are properly contained, most good pet stores will sell bird transport cages/boxes.

Cockatiel Shopping List

Please note: These products are recommended when buying a Cockatiel from Queenslander Aviaries.

Essentials:

  • Vetafarm Nutriblend Mini Pellets
  • Birdzone Soft Soak/Sprouting blend
  • Vetafarm Wormout Gel (Worming Gel)
  • Vetafarm Avian Insect Liquidator (Mite and Lice Spray)
  • Cuttlebone or Mineral Block
  • Cage

Recommended:

  • Millet Spray (Treat)
  • Calcium Perch
  • Vetafarm Avicare Cage Cleaner
  • Vetafarm Deli Stock (Best of both worlds - not the seed type)
  • Play Gym or Stand
  • Aviator Harness
  • Shower Perch or clean new spray bottle
  • Grey-Stripe Sunflower seed for foraging toys
  • Birdzone Nuts and Seeds Little Bits for foraging toys

Toys and Enrichment – Toys are rotated every week

NO ROPE OR FABRIC TOYS

Week 1

  • 1 x Foraging Toy
  • 2 x All day Toys
  • 1 x Chewable Toy

Week 2

  • 1 x Foraging Toy
  • 2 x All day Toys
  • 1 x Chewable Toy

Everyday:

  • 1 x Sea Grass Hut
  • 1x Foraging tray to go on a play gym or stand
*Information offered here is to provide guidance and is not intended to be a substitute for the good advice provided by your own avian vet. When in doubt always consult your own veterinarian.