About Cockatiel Birds

Teach your cockatiel to whistle; he'll imitate almost any tune.
Teach your cockatiel to whistle; he'll imitate almost any tune. (Image: khamlin14/iStock/Getty Images)

The cockatiel is one of the smaller members of the parrot family. While many parrots are difficult to handle and intimidating with their large bite-your-finger-off beaks, the cockatiel is approachable, affectionate and easy to train. Like many parrots, he thrives on attention and quickly learns to mimic whistles and calls. He's more accessible to first-time bird owners than other captive bird types due to his lower cost. Cockatiels live as long as 25 years -- a prospective owner must be prepared to make a long-term commitment to this feathered friend.

Cockatiel Appearance

Cockatiels have a range of color varieties:

Grey cockatiels have traditional coloring that consists of bright yellow face and orange cheek spots on an otherwise dark gray body. You’ll see a varying amount of white on cockatiels’ gray wings.

Pied cockatiels have a mix of gray, white and yellow feathers all over their bodies. They’re often more yellow than gray.

Pearl cockatiels are missing pigment in the middle of their gray feathers, which gives them a scalloped appearance. Females keep their scallops; males typically revert to solid gray feathers following their first molts.

Silver cockatiels are a lighter version of the gray. They have red eyes and pink beaks and feet.

Lutino cockatiels have a gene that prevents darker pigmentation. Their feathers are white with a yellow tint.

Cinnamon cockatiels have light brown feathers in all the spots that appear dark gray on regular grey cockatiel. Their coloring is similar to cocoa.

It’s difficult to distinguish the sex of a cockatiel until first molt around 9 months of age. After adult plumage comes in, check the tail feathers. Females have a striped pattern on the underside of their tail feathers; males will have lost their stripes and have solid gray coloration.

Give Your Cockatiel Room to Play

Though they’re small birds, cockatiels like to have plenty of room to play. Invest in a cage that’s at least 3 feet long and 2 feet high. Choose a stable spot in an area where your cockatiel can socialize with you. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and drafts.

Hang interesting toys and treats from the bars of your cockatiel’s cage. She’ll enjoy climbing on ladders or knotted ropes and pecking at fresh-cut branches from trees or bushes. A sprig of millet is a tasty treat.

Cockatiels are nervous at night. Unexpected noises, shadows and passing cars can cause night terrors, during which a cockatiel screams, flaps his wings and crashes around his cage. If this happens, spend a few moments petting your bird and speaking calmly to him. To avoid night terrors, cover his cage at night.

Feed Your Cockatiel Fresh Produce

Provide your cockatiel fresh food and water every day. Offer commercial pellets or cockatiel seed mixes, as well as a variety of fresh produce. Try dandelion, watercress, spinach and romaine lettuce, carrots, broccoli, tomato, yams, pumpkin, corn on the cob, apples, berries, cantaloup, mango, oranges, grapes and bananas.

Foods to avoid feeding your cockatiel include avocado and fruit seeds; they can be poisonous. Wash produce thoroughly before feeding. Wash food and water dishes with warm, soapy water several times per week to avoid bacteria.

Cockatiels do not have good table manners and are sloppy eaters. Be prepared to dust and vacuum around your bird’s cage frequently.

Handle Your Cockatiel Daily

Have your cockatiel’s wings clipped for his safety and to facilitate taming. Spend plenty of time handling him daily. Some cockatiels like to be petted all over; others do not like to have their backs touched. Talk to your bird; place him on your shoulder during part of your daily routine. Your cockatiel will imitate your whistles; males are particularly prone to whistling.

Cockatiels bond closely to their owners when they live alone in their cages. However, two cockatiels keep each other company during the day and can live happily together, especially if introduced while both are young birds.

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