Breed: Cockatiel, hand raised
Temperament: usually affectionate, individuals can vary
Cost: from $20-$200 for pets
Lifespan: up to 30 years
Recommended for: beginners and families
History and habitat
The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is a native of Australia. Also known as the Quarrion, an Aboriginal word, it is the world’s smallest cockatoo.
Cockatiels are a common aviary bird the world over and are particularly popular for hand raising. Hand raising of birds occurs generally for one of two reasons;
- To raise artificially incubated, weak or orphaned chicks.
- To ‘imprint’ young birds for pets so they are ‘humanised’ and encouraged to be more accepting of their human owner, forming a closer bond.
Slightly larger than a budgerigar, the cockatiel’s original colour is a plain grey with a little bit of yellow around the head and perhaps orange coloured ears. These days cockatiels appear in a wide range of colours, including Pied, Lutino, Albino, Pearl, Cinnamon, Silver, Platinum, Fallow, Whiteface, Yellowface and Lacewing. Although regarded as dimorphic, where the adult hen and cock can be visually sexed according to feather colour and patterns, the advent of these more extreme colour mutations has altered the characteristics of some adults, sometimes making it difficult to distinguish between males and females. Normally, 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.
The hand raising process begins with the breeding of two adults. Prolific breeders, cockatiels will breed at just about any time of year once reaching sexual maturity. However, breeding in the heat of summer should be avoided. Hens lay between five to seven eggs and share the incubation with the cock, which lasts from 18 to 21 days. Chicks grow rapidly after hatching and are ready to fly (fledge) at around five weeks of age. Hand raised cockatiel chicks are removed from the nest at around seven to 10 days. The chicks are then hand fed, using a syringe with special chick feeder, for between one to six weeks. Breeders say that more effective bonding occurs if the birds are hand fed for up to six weeks by an experienced person before the bird is sold. When hand feeding, normal feeding patterns are duplicated, with feeding occurring up to five or six times daily. As the birds grow, the feeds are decreased until they are five to six weeks old and starting to feed themselves.Defrosted frozen peas and corn kernels are a particular favourite. Once reaching seven to eight weeks, the bird will generally be able to feed itself.
Adult cockatiels should be fed a good quality, small parrot seed mix plus a regular supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Celery, pumpkin, carrots, beans, apples and peas are all suitable. Native foods such as eucalyptus, wattle, casuarina, bottlebrush and melaleuca are also enjoyed. Constant access to water, cuttlebone and/or calcium and iodine bells will also help provide a balanced diet.
Any chick removed from its mother to be hand raised and sold as a pet is a potential ‘juvenile delinquent’. Cockatiels in particular are a bird that enjoy human contact and are generally accepting of the hand-rearing process. Compared to other parrots, such as rainbow lorikeets, they are a fairly quiet and sedate bird. Lorikeets are much more animated and gregarious and may demand more interaction with their humans. They may become quickly bored with their environment, eventually exhibiting behavioural problems like biting and shrieking. Although hand raised cockatiels may be more forgiving of a novice owner’s limitations, they are intelligent birds, and unless they receive regular attention and companionship, can still get frustrated and develop behavioural problems such as shrieking for attention and feather plucking. Although one may expect the hand rearing process to result in a completely ‘humanised’ bird, one must remember that their personalities vary greatly and not all will make good pets.
Birds, unlike dogs and cats, are not fully domesticated creatures. Captive birds are only relatively few generations removed from their wild ancestors and simply hand raising a cockatiel should not be seen as ‘domestication’. A domesticated cat or dog, despite being removed from its specie’s natural, wild state, is still able to express many of its natural behaviours in the domestic environment. However the pet bird’s domestic environment is so far removed from its natural environment that it is often at odds with the animal’s natural instincts, leading to behaviours regarded as unpleasant by their owners. At Burke’s Backyard we do not support cruel treatment of birds in cages. The cage should be a home base only and, as much as possible, the bird should be integrated with your family.
Hand raised cockatiels have the potential be more accepting of humans as part of their social group and their domestic environment than those raised with little human contact. However they are still exposed to an environment so foreign to their species, that, particularly once reaching sexual maturity, they can still prove to be more difficult to manage than what their carer bargained for. Although hand raised birds can make wonderful pets, prospective owners should be aware of the limitations of the process and the basic requirements of caring for a bird. It is best to obtain birds from those people who are experienced in the rearing process.
Most hand raised cockatiels crave contact with the individual caring for it. Prospective owners must maintain close contact with the bird but must also be aware of how the relationship with their bird is maintained. An owner’s own behaviour can encourage a bird to become introverted, aggressive or domineering.
Cockatiels rarely talk, but they are very musical whistlers. In general, males are far better mimics than females. Start communicating with your cockatiel from day one. As you arrive home (or come in from the garden) emit a wolf whistle (or whatever) from the distance. Soon your bird will whistle back. This establishes a firm bond with your bird and soon you will have all sorts of songs that you sing together. Normally birds start mimicking at about six months of age.
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 should be caged at night for their own protection. They can live to around 25-30 years, but are usually lost after flying away. Some owners prefer to not have their bird’s wings clipped, although breeders do recommend clipping in order to protect the bird from flying at speed into windows or objects.
Space and exercise
Ideally, hand raised cockatiels should be allowed out of their cages regularly for exercise. If this is not possible, the cage size should be increased. When not at home, don’t leave the cage door open as birds are notorious for investigating where they don’t belong. When the bird is allowed to fly inside the house follow simple precautions such as turning ceiling fans and heaters off, removing hot pans from the stove, closing laundry and bathroom doors and putting other pets out.
An ideal cage has a front that opens up completely (as well as the traditional door) so that the bird can come and go easily.The easier it is to get the bird out, the better the birds life will be and the better pet you will have.
The price of a cockatiel is determined by its colour, age and whether it has been hand reared. If buying a hand reared bird from a breeder, expect to pay between $80.00 to $130.00. Pet shop birds will cost between $100 to $200.00. Non hand-raised varieties can cost as little as $20.00, whilst rare mutations can fetch up to $1000 amongst enthusiasts. Other start-up costs will include the cost of a cage, bowls, toys, seed mix, grit and calcium supplement, around $250.00 total. It will cost around $140.00 to maintain a bird each year.
Cockatiels are usually affectionate and enjoy the company of people. They make suitable pets for just about anyone who has time to interact with their bird and are well suited to people who live in flats or nursing homes where space is limited. Cockatiels moult and drop feathers in autumn. When they groom themselves they produce a soft down and a white powder to which some people may be allergic.
We filmed this story in Sydney with cockatiel breeder Lesley Filipowicz. For more information on cockatiels and availability call Lesley on phone (02) 9821 4888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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