Cockatiels, also known as the miniature versions of the larger and considerably louder cockatoo bird, are the second most popular caged bird and one of the most popular pets in aviculture, noted for their (arguably) less abrasive vocalizations and personalities!
The average cockatiel’s lifespan, when considering all other species in the equation, is about 10 to 14 years in the wild, whereas in domesticity the average expected life span is 20 years. However, these numbers vary according to not only diet and exercise, but across subspecies of cockatiel as well. The pied cockatiel is about 10-14 years, the pearl cockatiel ranges from 15-30 years, the cinnamon cockatiel and whiteface lutino cockatiel at 16-25 years.
For more information regarding the many facets of caring for a cockatiel from feeding, to the providing of toys and cage maintenance, please read on!
Caring for Your Cockatiel
As one of the most social birds and famed for their cuddliness and intelligence, a cockatiel will crave and require constant daily attention from family members, as they form a quite strong and tangible emotional bond with those two-leggers they trust.
Cockatiels are not birds you can just leave a drape over and keep contained in their cage all day or leave in the house alone! A neglected bird will result in a depressed bird, which can manifest negative behavior from aggression to destructive ones such as plucking out its own feathers.
For extensive information regarding nutrition for your bird, please see the next section “Your Cockatoo’s Diet.”
The Cage Size and Setup
One of the most important things you’ll have to purchase immediately alongside your cockatiel pet is its cage, as it will determine the cleanliness as well as emotional wellbeing of not just the bird but the owners who maintain it.
Never buy a cage that isn’t big enough for your cockatiel to spread its wings fully. A general rule of thumb is to buy the largest cage one can afford, but a minimal range to fall into are the dimensions of 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 24 inches high.
Cage heights need to be high, not so much to provide area to fly, as owners are obliged to let their cockatiels out regularly to satisfy their flight exercise, but to accommodate their high head crests.
A good cage will also have horizontal bars for the bird to hook their talons onto, as cockatiels enjoy climbing. These bar spaces should be no longer than 3.25 to 4 inches to prevent injury.
Understand that you will need to use warm water and soap to clean your bird’s cage daily, from removing waste to cleaning its food and water dishes. Once a week, take your bird out of the cage to disinfect the entire cage with bleach and leave to dry in the sun.
Toys and Perches
When introducing new toys to your cockatiel, you can leave it outside the cage for a day for it to get used to the sight and presence of it. Rotate toys when your bird becomes uninterested in them, on a weekly cycle.
The best cockatiel toys are ones that promote their instinctual behavior natural in the wild, such as foraging and chewing. Cockatiels enjoy toys that offer lots of mental stimulation, and toys which provide a sort of texture as they shred the material with their beaks seem to particularly delight them.
The amount of toys a bird gets should be abundant, and shouldn’t be overlooked in the owner’s shopping list. They aren’t exactly something to be bought and forgotten, left to collect dust or filth at the bottom of the bird cage.
Toys should be an equal mix of both indestructible and destructible toys. Indestructible toys are those such as textured balls for them to chew on or metal “bird-sized” pans for them to bang on to produce noise.
Destructible toys are meant to be, as their name implies, to be trashed, and discarded and rebought. Obviously, toys and any accessories damaged need to be replaced and removed as soon as possible to prevent injury to your bird.
An example of a cheap and easy to make destructible toy is a crumpled piece of paper. Cockatiel owners have reported their birds delighting in tearing apart the piece of paper with their beaks, and some even surprise their birds by hiding a treat inside the crumpled paper for them to find.
It’s a good and healthy sign if your cockatiel is regularly destroying these kind of toys, as it helps wear down their beak, as well as providing a healthy outlet for their avian aggression.
As for the perches in the cage, provide at least two to three perches for it to rest upon or sleep on at night. These perches need to be of the correct thickness so that it can stand upon them without losing balance, with the smallest perch being no less thick than 3.25 inches.
Good perches help keep your bird’s feet healthy and strong! You can choose perches made from a variety of materials, from wooden dowels, natural wood branches, to rope. In fact, bonded sand or concrete can help keep your bird’s nails trimmed.
Cockatiels can thrive in normal room temperature, and shouldn’t be exposed to heat sources that are either extremely hot or too cold. Therefore it’s best to place the cage away from places like air vents or a window when it’s blazing hot outside.
You may be interested to learn that birds can catch colds, just as humans do, especially when their feathers are wet after a bath, therefore exposing them to wind directly after doing so is discouraged. Instead, waiting for them to dry in a warm area until being dry is optimal.
Regarding sleeping, you may be interested in investing in a sleep cage for your bird if it is unable to sleep in its larger cage during naptime. Quietness is tantamount to a cockatiel’s environment during sleep.
Cockatiels should have at least 8 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and if draping covers over the cage is unable to do the job due to even low volume noises keeping it awake, a sleep cage may just do the trick.
Your Cockatiel’s Diet
Cockatiels enjoy a wider range of food in the wild than they do in captivity, as they have all of nature (and some unfortunate farmer’s crops) at their disposal. It’s best to mimic this variety in their feeding, but take care that some cockatiels can develop into picky eaters!
If you see your pet habitually favoring one type of seed or fruit over another, don’t be afraid to curb the amount so that it gets a balanced nutrition and diet. Don’t forget to always make fresh water accessible to your cockatiel at all times of the day.
The information provided here is not intended to substitute for professional veterinarian advice, and it is best to consult your veterinarian before ever deciding to commit to a new diet or trying out a new food for your pet bird.
Please keep in mind that the food listings below are included with intention for adult cockatiels, for which baby and chick cockatiels will require a different list of foods.
Good Bird Seed to Feed Your Cockatiel
There’s nothing wrong with a seed diet, so long as the owner provides a variety of seeds. In their native home continent of Australia, cockatiels are known for their foraging of seeds, yet due to their fattiness should only consist of thirty percent of their diet as a pet.
Once birds eat the seeds they will often leave the hulls behind, for which the owner will have to clean up regularly and daily.
One of the best bird seed mixes are Higgins Sunburst Gourmet Blend, which comes with a bonus of added dried fruit and nutritional supplements. For one of the best seed blends that don’t contain sunflower seeds (either your pet favors or dislikes them), take Sweet Harvest’s Cockatiel Bird Food.
Protip: When you buy bird seed from the pet store, you can keep it in the freezer to prolong its freshness and to prevent bugs from settling in.
Good Pellets to Feed Your Cockatiel
The best pellets in terms of quality and nutrition are Harrison’s Adult Lifetime Pellets, which are organic and sealed for freshness and flavor.
If your cockatoo is partial to fruits in their pellets, the best pellets would be the ZuPreme FruitBlend Flavor pellets.
The most affordable bird nugget on the market as of this writing are Kaytee Exact Natural Bird Food for Cockatiels, which is cheaply priced and delivers balanced nutrition per bite for your bird.
Fruits That Your Cockatiel Can Eat
When feeding your cockatiel fruits, take great care to remove the seeds of the fruit as they can be extremely toxic to your bird (see below “Foods to Never Feed Your Cockatiel”). This is especially so regarding the consumption of cherries, whose pits contain cyanide.
Fruits such as mangos, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, nectarines, papayas, apples, and bananas, grapes and oranges are all game to your bird. Remember to always wash your fruits to cleanse it of any surface pesticides and any other chemicals.
Business Insider rated Lafeber Classic Nutri-Berries as the best cockatiel food overall.
Good Nuts to Feed Your Cockatiel
Oilseed nuts, such as peanuts, cotton seeds, soybeans and sunflower seeds are safe and okay foods for your cockatiel to eat. In fact, it has been observed that when offered a variety of foods, the cockatiel would pick out sunflower seeds usually!
Tree nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and brazil nuts are also acceptable for your bird.
Vegetables That Your Cockatiel Can Eat
Vegetables can be given simply by chopping fresh veggies into peck-sized pieces or buying dehydrated, dried bits from the store. Dehydrated food can be better for your bird for their crunch, which can assist in wearing down their beaks as well as the added pleasure of texture.
Most fascinatingly, some cockatiels are observed deliberately tossing their dehydrated veggies into their water containers to partially rehydrate them.
Many green vegetables, from sprouts, to mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, chicory, bok choy and kale are all possible for your cockatiel to eat. Dried tomatoes, corn on the cob, and even pumpkins and yams are edible (especially once they’re cooked, which some birds prefer over raw pumpkins or root-vegetables).
Interestingly, cockatiels can eat spices that many humans deem too rich to stomach, such as chili peppers, turmeric, ginger, coriander and black pepper!
However, since they originate from a desert and arid continent, some cockatiels may show no initial interest in fresh, fleshy veggies or even fruits. Giving them bite-sized introductions as well as shewing a true bird lover’s patience is key to getting them to try these foods.
Treats to Feed Your Cockatiel
While seeds and pellets will form the bulk of your cockatiel’s diet, as stated above, cockatiels seem to have a particular fondness for sunflower seeds, which can be used as a luring treat during training for tricks.
Millet spray is another treat that is quickly known to be devoured and disappear’d once scattered in the cage, and can be a quick way to show some extra love to your bird!
If you’ve taken careful notes on what your bird appears to delight in when offered a variety of fruit, you can rely upon that particular fruit as a treat as well.
And, of course, if you run out of ideas, you can always go find prepackaged cockatiel treats, usually based off of dried fruits at the pet store.
Foods to Never Feed Your Cockatiel
Despite the impression of cockatiels as being pure vegetarians, they are actually omnivores and can eat tiny bits of protein, such as yogurt, cheese, cooked eggs and even chicken.
However, you must absolutely take care to avoid foods such as chocolate, avocadoes, any kind of fruit seeds, mushrooms, onions, garlic, honey, rhubarb, high-sodium, high-sugar, caffeine or both uncooked and cooked beans. These foods all pose varying lengths of toxicity for your pet.
In fact, avoid foods advertised as “sugar free,” as these foods can contain Xylitol, which have been associated with liver damage and hypoglycemia.
Also avoid eggplants and green potatoes. And, while we did say “dried tomatoes” are okay above, tomato leaves are a whole other issue, and are potentially lethal if consumed due to the alkaloid content in them.
Again, when in doubt, please consult your local veterinarian concerning what foods your cockatiel can or cannot eat.