Which Makes a Better Pet: Parakeet or Cockatiel?

Both parakeets and cockatiels need a lot of attention -- either from you or from a feathered companion.
Both parakeets and cockatiels need a lot of attention -- either from you or from a feathered companion. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Parakeets and cockatiels alike are playful, vocal and inquisitive birds, which explains why they are the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular pet birds in the United States, respectively. They share characteristics, and they have unique qualities, too, that may make you prefer one over the other.

Care Required

The daily care required for parakeets and cockatiels is similar. Veterinarians recommend alternating a diet of seeds and pellets; cockatiel mix is different from parakeet mix. Seeds are fattening and don't provide a well-rounded diet, while pellets are fortified with the vitamins and minerals the birds need. Add variety by giving fruits and veggies daily, but avoid avocado and fruit seeds and leaves, which can be toxic. Both birds tend to be messy, so their water dishes can catch seeds and feather pieces. Changing their water several times a day is a good idea. Offer a bird bath for both birds -- whether they like to bathe in it depends on the individual bird -- or spritz them with water.

Noise and Talking

Cockatiels and parakeets are not as loud as their larger parrot relatives. They chirp and squawk equally, and will imitate sounds of other animals and humans. Some say cockatiels are better at learning human words, while others say 'tiels are better whistlers than talkers. Many 'keet owners have taught their birds lots of words, though males of both types are usually better talkers. Neither bird is a guaranteed talker, however; teaching either bird to talk takes lots of patience, time and repetition. Both birds will let you know when they're scared, upset or lonely by emitting their own form of yelling.

Play and Affection

It's hard to find more entertaining birds than 'tiels and 'keets. Since they're small, they can flip and twirl and hang upside down, even while eating and drinking. Both are curious and love hanging toys, especially noisy ones. Both birds will become attached to their owners, especially if they don't have a bird companion. Most like to come out of their cages to play and explore, but they require close supervision. While both birds may perch on your finger or shoulder, 'tiels are more affectionate.

Interaction Needed

Both parakeets and cockatiels require interaction with their owners, especially if they don't have a bird companion. Plan on at least two interaction times with your bird daily, lasting about one hour each. Cockatiels, being slightly more independent birds, can amuse themselves a bit more than parakeets, but 'tiels still need a minimum of two play periods per day. If you don't have the time or desire to do that, you'll need two birds so they can interact. It's not advisable to have one of each, as parakeets are more aggressive and may pick at the more laid-back 'tiels. Choose your two 'keets or two 'tiels at the same time -- watch to see which ones are already sitting together and preening each other -- to ensure your two will get along. Parakeets, especially females, can be aggressive, even with other parakeets.


The initial cost to purchase a parakeet is around $20, compared with an average of $100 for a cockatiel. This may explain why more people have parakeets than cockatiels as pets. Their recommended cages, food, and toys are the same, however, so upkeep is the same. Both birds should see an avian vet annually. Cockatiels live longer, on average -- 15 to 35 years vs. 8 to 15 years for 'keets.

Potential Problems

People with animal allergies are often surprised to learn that birds produce dander, too. Their preening and high activity levels cause allergens to fly and infiltrate the air. Cockatiels are "powder down" birds and produce a powdery dander that puts even more allergens into the air. Misting them daily and cleaning the cage regularly keeps dander down. Females of both birds are prone to excessive egg-laying, which can also cause egg binding, and cockatiels are more at risk for this.

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