Is he a parrot, a cockatoo or a parakeet? In ornithology, the question of how to scientifically classify the cockatiel has long been a controversial topic. Ultimately, it could be defined that the species belongs to the cockatoo family, within which the cockatiel forms its own genus, but without any further subspecies. In other words, these animals have a unique selling proposition that makes them unique, especially in aviculture. Our following article explains how this is expressed in the keeping and care of the cockatiel.
A funny bird, this cockatiel
Gray to white plumage, a yellow head with red cheeks, short beak, long tail feathers: the Nymphicus hollandicus. But when a cockatiel like this gets going, one thing catches the eye in the first place: its fanned feather hood, which it raises and closes as it pleases and whims. This sometimes gives the bird an unusual appearance that it also knows how to stage in a funny way. Whether in time to the music, while he is “talking” or out of sheer excitement: the little punk among the birds always creates a good atmosphere. The behavior can be observed both in the natural environment and in the aviary.
In the wild
Cockatiels originally come from Australia. In the dry, partly desert-like areas inland, the game population is still described as stable. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, however, the swarms migrate through almost all forms of vegetation and adapt optimally to the local conditions. Only during the breeding season up to 50 animals per swarm settle down in a fixed place. During the migration they join together again in hundreds and go together in search of food and water.
Some specimens that have escaped from captivity prove to be capable of surviving and occasionally colonize urban regions, for example in Tasmania. In this country, however, a cockatoo would not really have a chance in the wild.
In the aviary
Because of their adaptability, cockatiels have been, and continue to be, prized as pets. Even under sub-optimal housing conditions, they breed, are not particularly susceptible to disease, and are not overly demanding in terms of care.
However, species-appropriate swarm or at least pair keeping is very important. Cockatiels are extremely social and dependent on bonding with others of their own species. Keeping them alone or clumsy attempts to socialize individual specimens are therefore an absolute no-go. The animals would experience extreme stress, self-mutilation, and long-term misbehavior such as aggressiveness, screaming, or apathy.
If an animal dies, the remaining animal must definitely get a new one of the same age as possible and the two must slowly get used to each other. If the cockatiels are in the majority, coexistence with budgerigars, Bourke’s parakeets, and Lineolated parakeets also works. However, keeping only species is always the best choice.
With the right attitude and care, cockatiels can thrive and be a delight for bird lovers.
What must be considered before purchasing cockatiels?
If you consider that cockatiels are basically nomads and would therefore fly long distances in their natural environment, it quickly becomes clear: An aviary is needed here, not a tiny bird cage, as was perhaps the case in grandparents’ times.
With a body size of up to 32 cm, a weight of around 70 to 100 grams and a life expectancy of a good 25 to 30 years, the precautions should be chosen to be sufficiently stable, large-scale, planned for the long term and particularly species-appropriate. If you only want to try out a pet for a few years, a cockatiel is not a good choice.
Rather, this hobby is tantamount to an obligation that accompanies you through several phases of life. The birds become an integral part of the family and it is not uncommon for the keepers to become wholeheartedly attached to them. But a permanent place in the heart alone is not enough.
The perfect aviary for cockatiels
There are various ways to meet the birds’ urge to move, whereby ultimately the space available on site, the desired size of the flock and the personal preferences of the keeper are decisive.
The following variants are generally recommended:
- For 4 to 6 animals, we recommend a complete bird room with a sleeping cage that is open at all times, optionally with a nesting box.
- A large indoor aviary (at least 200 x 100 x 200 cm, the larger the better) would also be possible for 4 to 6 animals, provided that several hours of free flight per day are also guaranteed.
- A medium-sized aviary (at least 150 x 70 x 100 cm, the larger the better) is sufficient for 2 animals, as well as several hours of free flight per day.
- Significantly larger, frost-proof outdoor facilities (so-called shelters or outdoor aviaries) in the garden are ideal, with the possibility of nursing sick animals indoors if necessary.
The location must also be dry, protected from drafts and shielded from stress factors as far as possible. In addition, it must provide shade in direct sunlight. Outdoor aviaries do not necessarily have to be heated in winter as long as they are well insulated. They must be specially secured for this purpose so that martens, foxes and the like do not stand a chance.
If necessary, glass fronts should be marked with stickers or similar protective measures to prevent bird strikes (both foreign and your own). Although you want to get a lot of insight into the aviary yourself and at the same time give the birds as many impressions of the environment as possible, safety always comes first.
Establishment of the bird paradise
Cockatiels are known to be very curious, attentive and above all intelligent. In other words, they want something meaningful to do. A bird that is neither physically nor mentally balanced would wither away.
And so the furnishing of the bird room or the aviary plays an important role. Optimal are:
- Different levels, which still offer enough space to fly (Warning: Cockatiels are not whiz kid!). It is important to have branches of different strength and overgrown that spring easily, such as hazelnut, maple, willow and other deciduous and eastern trees.
- Nest boxes should only be offered if there are breeding intentions.
- Suitable litter on the ground, such as bird sand, hemp litter, beech or corn granules, also special bird soil that can be used at the same time for growing fodder plants.
- Natural materials for nibbling, climbing and sharpening claws. Strong ropes, hanging roots, small suspension bridges and bird swings are particularly great.
- A bathing area is also essential for the daily body care of the cockatiels. This can be a flat wide bowl that is grippy but not slippery. Clay, for example, is very suitable.
- If necessary, a night light should be on in the dark, better still an open window so that at least the moon shines on the animals, which tend to panic quickly and could injure themselves, especially in the dark.
Besides all this, the birds find great pleasure in suitable toys for cockatiels. Small vessels in which something makes a noise when you poke it are very popular, for example. Be it self-made cardboard rolls with grains inside or a kind of baby rattle with a bell – the main thing is that the materials are non-toxic, free of harmful substances and varnishes.
Nibble sticks, pasture balls and brain teasers with hidden treats are also considered varied activities and keep the little two-legged friends mentally and physically in a good mood.
Before purchasing, not everything should be in the aviary at once. It is better to refresh the offer little by little and thus find out little by little what the birds particularly like.
Incidentally, mirrors, plastic birds, cuddly toys, individual parts that can be swallowed, sandpaper, badly galvanized or plastic-coated grids are not species-appropriate.
Poisonous indoor plants must also be inaccessible, as must sharp-edged sources of danger.
The cockatiels and their husbandry and care
In the first few moments and days, it is important to get the animals used to it as patiently and as stress-free as possible. 10 hours of night’s rest should be granted all year round, if necessary by darkening the room or the outdoor aviary.
A fixed routine helps to make the daily routine comprehensible. Cockatiels are quite capable of learning, they quickly know when food is available, what tunes the owners are whistling and even learn to recognize and imitate vocal ranges.
With the right attitude and care, even beginners soon have a relationship with the animals, up to and including learning from each other.
Diet of Cockatiels
First of all, it should be said that a fixed location with a feeding bowl is ideal for feeding, as well as prepared hiding places and distributed places that first have to be found.
Both variants can also be excellently combined. After all, birds in the wild do not get their food served, but spend the whole day looking for food. That keeps you fit.
The cockatiel’s diet includes a variety of grain mixtures with seeds, kernels and grasses as well as fresh food in the form of fresh buds, but also vegetables such as peppers, carrots, lettuce and apples. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds should only be fed occasionally as a treat.
Since they are very fatty, they may otherwise lead to obesity. Also delicious, but to be enjoyed with restraint, are millet sprays, sprouts and cooking food. The latter allegedly encourages breeding. Avocado, on the other hand, is highly toxic to birds and should never be fed.
The amount of food depends on the number of animals, whereby there should always be a supply of food available. Several feeding points also depolarize any food envy or hierarchy fights.
During the moult, special attention must also be paid to the quality of the feed. Sometimes special feed additives help with moulting:
- Vitamin supplements for cockatiels
- Mineral pick stones (e.g. grit)
- high-quality protein supplements
In addition to all this, fresh drinking water must be available every day. Ideally, the birds separate their drinking bowl and bathing area. It is ultimately in your own interest that the drinking water is always fresh and clean. If necessary, you have to help, for example by using vessels of different sizes.
The be-all and end-all of bird care
On the one hand, the birds mostly groom themselves or each other. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of the keeper to keep the aviary and bird room in good condition so that this is possible.
This includes regular cleaning of the bedding by replacing it completely, disinfecting the facility (i.e. containers, panes, toys) and treating drinking water, bathing areas and feeding stations. Cleaning agents must be chosen with care and used away from the birds so that they do not inhale toxins.
Help with claw care, moulting and beak care is rarely necessary with a corresponding range of natural materials. Diseases, on the other hand, must be treated immediately in the sensitive animals.
Apathy, torn feathers, skin infections, parasites, persistent diarrhea and injuries must be clarified with the veterinarian as soon as possible. Treating cockatiels is a real challenge and should never be attempted on your own at random.
Proper handling of cockatiels
As with all birds and small animals, the stress factor plays a major role in keeping them. Loud noises, other pets such as dogs and cats, high-spirited children, New Year’s Eve bangers and much more put a strain on the cockatiel’s already vulnerable stress level. They are also prey animals and need appropriate retreat options. They usually look for a favorite spot in the thicket of their home. A nesting place in the bird room is quickly misused, even if it is a niche on the cupboard. Here it is important to observe the behavior of the birds closely, which preferences they have or even dislikes.
Experienced keepers also repeatedly report success in training cockatiels with a clicker. Similar to dogs, the clicking sound is associated with a reward and behavior patterns are confirmed, reinforced and recalled if desired. With a lot of patience and dedication, you can definitely earn the animals’ trust, teach them melodies, let them land on your shoulder when called and much more. A big advantage if the transport to the vet is due, a move or something similar.
Owners should generally show a certain degree of empathy towards the birds. Cockatiels aren’t toys, but they’re not purely show objects either. They have a strongly developed social behavior that can definitely be reconciled with that of us humans.
They also make it easy for their owners by emphasizing their mood by setting up and putting on the spring bonnet. Head feathers are a signal of aversion, shyness or reluctance. If the crest is raised and the feathers fan out, this speaks for curiosity, open-mindedness and well-being. Cockatiels swaying to the music are sometimes celebrated as stars on the internet – although of course everyone has their own taste in music. The only thing that helps is trying it out, dancing along and hopefully hitting the right note.
So everyone can have a lot of fun with their cockatiels for a long time, listen to their songs, watch them courtship and play, spoil them and take them to their hearts.