Temperament: usually affectionate, individuals can vary
Cost: from $20-$100 for pets, more for show quality
Lifespan: 15 years
Recommended for: beginners and families
Cockatiels are small to medium sized native parrots (slightly larger than a budgerigar) weighing around 90-120 grams and measuring about 300-330mm in length. Cockatiels in the wild are grey in colour. They are dimorphic (the adult hen and cock can be visually sexed according to colour and patterns). The cock has a bright yellow head and crest with an orange ear patch whilst the hen is a duller grey in colour, although she does have areas of orange on the head.
As a result of captive breeding efforts Cockatiels are now available in a wide variety of colours, patterns and combinations. These include Pied, Lutino, Albino, Pearl, Cinnamon, Silver, Platinum, Fallow, Whiteface, Yellowface and Lacewing
Cockatiels enjoy human contact and can be petted. However, their personalities vary greatly and not all birds make good pets. Hand-reared birds are the best choice. They are intelligent birds, and unless they receive regular attention and companionship they can get frustrated and develop behavioural problems such as shrieking for attention, and feather plucking.
The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is the smallest member of the cockatoo family. It is also known as the Quarrion or the Weero. It was first recorded in 1781 during Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia. Dr John Latham, one of Cook’s officers, described it as a ‘Crested Parakeet’. This Australian native bird is generally recognised as a nomadic (wandering) species, which can still be found in the wild in most parts of Australia (particularly in inland regions).
The French are said to have started breeding Cockatiels in captivity sometime prior to 1850.
Health and lifespan
Cockatiels are hardy birds with few health problems, providing they are properly looked after. They must have access to fresh water and their cage should be kept out of draughts, as they catch colds easily. Ideally birds should be let out of the cage for regular exercise but they should be caged at night for their own protection. They live for about 15 years.
Cockatiels should be fed a good, small parrot seed mix and receive a regular supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. They love corn on the cob, which is high in Vitamin A. Celery, pumpkin, carrots, beans, apples and peas are all suitable. Native foods such as eucalyptus, wattle, casuarina, bottlebrush and melaleuca are also enjoyed by Cockatiels. They should have access to water, as well as cuttlefish and/or calcium and iodine bells at all times. Care should be taken to locate food and water away from perches to avoid fouling.
These birds are prolific breeders and will breed at just about any time of year. Hens over twelve months old are mature enough to breed, but only a maximum of two clutches per year should be allowed and breeding in the heat of summer should be avoided. Cockatiels lay between five to seven eggs, usually on alternate days. Both the hen and cock share the incubation, which lasts from 18 to 21 days. After hatching the chicks grow rapidly. They fledge at around five weeks of age, and can generally feed themselves by the time they are seven to eight weeks of age.
Enid Robinson, Secretary of the NSW Cockatiel Club, says that the cost of a Cockatiel is determined by the colour, the age of the bird (breeding aged hens cost more than younger birds) and whether it has been hand reared or not. Grey cockatiels are the least popular and are therefore the cheapest. Prices start around $20 and go up to $100 for the more popular colours. Some common colours today were rare and very expensive a decade or so ago (for example a whiteface cock – a male – until recently could cost $1000). The rare mutations (such as the green, blue or pastel faced) can still fetch up to $1000 amongst enthusiasts.
Tame birds can be released to fly inside the house after the necessary precautions have been taken. These include turning ceiling fans and heaters off, removing hot pans from the stove, closing laundry and bathroom doors and putting other pets out. Cockatiels moult and drop feathers in Autumn. When they groom themselves they produce a soft down and a white powder. Some people may be allergic to this powder.
Space and exercise
Cockatiels can be housed in single pairs, in large colonies or with mixed collections of parrots and other birds. They live in flocks in the wild, so a solitary bird is not usually very happy. The tall, narrow cages which are sold in pet shops are not suitable, because birds fly horizontally. Cages around 80cm x 60cm x 60cm with horizontal rather than vertical bars are recommended. These can be homemade from aviary weldmesh. If possible pet Cockatiels should be allowed out of their cages regularly for exercise. If this is not possible, the size of the cage is more important and should be larger than those of birds who get regular exercise.
Cockatiels are usually affectionate and enjoy the company of people. They make suitable pets for just about anyone, and are well suited to people who live in flats or nursing homes where space is limited.
Cockatiels whistle rather than talk. Cocks are usually easier to teach to talk, although the ability to talk and mimic varies from bird to bird. Having two birds will not affect their ability to learn to talk.
The Australian National Cockatiel Society Inc.
PO Box 1248
Fortitude Valley, QLD, 4006
The Native Cockatiel Society of Australia Inc.
121 The Boulevarde
Oak Flats NSW 2529
Phone: (02) 4256 0989
Mob: 1412 696 777
Victorian Cockatiel and Aviary Bird Society Inc.
PO Box 116
Yinnar, VIC, 3869
Phone: (03) 5122 1235