Choosing a cockatiel - What you need to know - cockatiel information feeding cage breeding
Choosing a cockatiel - What you need to know - cockatiel information feeding cage breeding

Choosing a cockatiel - What do you need to know?

Cockatiels, with their sweet character, soft voices and graceful appearance, make ideal pets for people of all ages. These birds have been domesticated for over 100 years. They have been carefully selected over many generations for characteristics that make them exceptional companions. They have an ideal size for a pet bird: 28 to 30 cm long.

They can be trained to speak in soft, squeaky voices, but their main vocal talent is whistling and they quickly learn to imitate tunes. Males have a love song that they sing while doing a shuffling dance to win their chosen hen.

Although they are often thought of as miniature cockatoos, cockatiels are actually the only representative of a particular genus. They are widely distributed throughout Australia and are often found in large groups, usually in dry and semi-arid areas. They are nomadic and seasonal, following rain and the availability of food in flocks of up to 1000 birds, and feed mainly on grass and tree seeds; occasionally on insects.

Falcon parakeets, known by their scientific name Nymphicus hollandicus, are readily available and are usually modestly priced - around €30 - although some colour mutations can be quite expensive.

Falcon parakeets occasionally live up to 20 years, but the typical life span is around 15.


When buying a cockatiel, make sure that you buy a young bird. They have dark, almost black eyes, but the eye colour of normal adults is also dark brown. In young birds, the orange cheek patch will be less prominent and they are usually slightly smaller than in fully grown birds.

The wild species grey cockatiel is a slender, elegant bird with a stately posture, an erect crest - which lifts even higher when the bird is alert - and a long, tapering tail.

They are a soft, powdery grey. Both sexes have a round orange ear patch, but males also have a large bright yellow cheek patch with a white border that covers the face and extends to the top. Both sexes also have a white wing bar which is visible in flight. The bill is grey and the eyes are brown.

Varieties of colour

  • Lutino. A predominantly white bird with a bright yellow tinge. This mutation retains the orange cheek patch of the wild grey type and has black eyes. Lutinos often have a hereditary bald spot. They are also prone to night terrors and fatty liver.
  • Albino. A true albino is completely white and has red eyes. These birds are generally less hardy than grey cockatoos. To keep offspring strong, albinos should not be bred together.
  • Cinnamon. The body colour is a soft cinnamon colour, but otherwise the bird is coloured grey. A similar mutation called vomit is a lighter beige colour; these birds, like albinos, have red eyes.
  • White face. This mutation has lost the yellow and orange colour on the face and the yellowish tinge of the body feathers.
  • Piedmont. Pied cockatoos have lost pigmentation in spots scattered over the body.
  • Pearl. The hidden feathers of the wings each have a spot which makes it look as if the bird has been spotted. Both sexes will be seen as juveniles, but males will look like normal greys after being bored into their adult plumage.
Choosing a cockatiel - What you need to know - cockatiel information feeding cage breeding

Skin care

Falcon parakeets are skilled flyers and need more feathers than heavier-bodied birds. Cut all the primary feathers (outside 10 stroke feathers) and two to three secondary feathers (10 stroke feathers closest to the body). Do not cut the inner secondary feathers closest to the body. For best results, both wings should be clipped evenly.

Many people keep their bird in full flight; if you choose to do this, bear in mind the possibility of accidents (often associated with ceiling fans, pots on the stove, etc.) and escapes.

Falcon parakeets have special feathers, called powders, which produce a powder that cleans the feathers. This can be a problem for people with allergies. Regular bathing of the bird will help to keep it under control. The birds enjoy bathing and should be bathed twice a week to maintain an excellent plumage.

Overgrown nails can be dangerous; clip them with fingernail clippers, watch the vein in the nail. The nails of most cockatoos are white and the vein is easy to see.


Cockatiels can live on a seed diet alone but will eventually develop nutritional deficiencies, especially if they breed. Feeding only a pelleted diet to cockatiels often results in kidney problems as the bird gets older.

The best way to feed cockatiels is to mix a pelleted feed made for cockatiels, half and half, with a good clean cockatiel seed mix that contains relatively little sunflower.

Cockatiels are reluctant to accept new foods and will accept few fruits and vegetables. They usually enjoy wholemeal bread, grated carrots, boiled eggs and grated vegetables, and these items are an excellent supplement for breeding birds.

They often eat apples and love broccoli. However, broccoli should not be fed daily because of its oxalic acid content, which can lead to kidney and calcium metabolism problems.

Grit must not be offered. Vitamins and minerals must be supplemented if more than 50 per cent of the diet consists of seeds.


Cockatiels must be given plenty of room to move around. The cage size must be at least 50 to 65 cm wide. They must have at least two perches that are far enough apart for them to jump or fly between. Natural branches make ideal perches and chewing material.

Do not use perch covers made of rough paper, these are very painful for the feet. A small rope stick is also nice. Toys must be provided to keep the cockatiel busy.

The cage should be placed so that it is not directly under an air conditioning vent or in direct sunlight, but in an area of the house where there is a lot of activity.

Cockatiels are very sociable and like to be the centre of attention.

If you keep your cockatiel in the kitchen, you should always be aware of the dangers of Teflon poisoning (from overheating), cleaning chemicals and oven cleaners.


Falcon parakeets can start breeding when they are 1.5 years old. They will breed almost all year round but need to rest so that they do not become exhausted. If they are bred outside, they need to rest in summer as the chicks will not tolerate the heat well and will develop health problems, especially the weaker mutations.

The hen can lay three to eight eggs, but usually four to five. Incubation period is 21 days.

Both parents care for the young and are ready to fledge when they are 6 weeks old.

If you have several pairs, you can reduce the burden on a single hen by moving eggs or chicks between nests. It is best to raise only four chicks per hen. Chicks will fledge at 4-5 weeks and, if allowed, will stay with their parents for another month. If hand-fed, chicks will wean at 6-7 weeks.

If you choose to hand feed your chicks, it is best to leave them with the parents until they are about 3 weeks old. At that age, they can be hand-fed three to four times a day. More information on hand-rearing baby birds.

Common diseases and disorders

Cockatiels are relatively healthy birds, but are prone to the following:

  • Psittacosis or parrot fever
  • Polyoma virus
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Protozoal
  • Liver disease
  • Bacterial infections
  • Bordetella avium
  • Yeast
  • Internal parasites
  • Excessive egg laying
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Traumatic accidents and accidental poisonings

More about the cockatiel on Wikipedia

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