Guest Author - Heather Thomas
The cockatiel is a small bird with a big bird attitude. It originates in Australia but has been domestically bred for many years, since Australia placed a ban on all bird exports in 1960. Cockatiels have a crest that resembles their larger cousin, the cockatoo. They typically weigh between 80-120 grams and measure from 10-14 inches in length. An average lifespan is between 15-20 years, but with a good diet have been known to live close to 30 years.
In the wild, gray is the most common color. However, as with other species kept as pets, breeders have been successful in producing a variety of color variations.
Lutino - describes an all yellow or white bird.
Pied - refers to a mottling of gray and white.
Pearl - indicates a speckled pattern over the back and wing area.
Gray - is still the most common color even among pet birds.
Normal gray cockatiels are considered dimorphic, meaning you can visually tell the difference between male and female. All grays appear the same until their first molt. At that time, the male bird’s face begins its transformation to bright yellow with orange cheek patches. The female’s face remains gray with very faint orange cheek patches. It is also possible to determine the sex of pearl cockatiels. Male birds loose their distinctive pearl pattern after their first molt; only females retain the trait. Pieds and lutinos must be determined by DNA testing for 100% accuracy, but usually sex can be determined by observing their behavior over time.
Behavior and Ability
Cockatiels are affectionate and social birds. Males will often learn to whistle and talk in a whistling voice. Many males will learn their first human-like vocalizations before finding their first home. They also typically tap on the bars of their cage and it is not uncommon for them to masturbate on items such as perches and food dishes in the cage. Females, although not know for their talking ability, can learn how to talk or whistle but it is not common. They love their head preened and will be quite insistent if placed in a cage with a male bird. Cockatiels are flock birds, normally living in pairs or small groups in the wild. So, if your cockatiel is going to be an only bird, you must provide it with adequate interaction to fill that need in its life.
Housing and Care
Because of their small size, cockatiels do not require a very large cage. A minimum cage size would be 24”x24”, but larger is better. Bar spacing should not be more than ˝ inch, to prevent them from sticking their head through the bars and becoming stuck. Cockatiels thrive on a diet of seed, pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables; and require fresh water daily. For a healthy bird, provide lots of variety. Bathing should be provided often; cockatiels are known for being dusty, very similar to cockatoos. Either mist with a water bottle or provide a shallow dish for bathing 2-3 times per week to keep this dust under control.
Cockatiels make great pets and are often recommended as a first bird. They require little in the way of expense, but provide huge returns in the form of love and affection.
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