Written by Nicole, Oh Mowsie
The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is the second most popular bird kept as caged pet, next to the Budgerigar (aka budgie, parakeet). Both types of birds hail from Austrailia, though the cockatiel is more closely related to another Australian bird, its cousin the Cockatoo. Of all the parrot species, the cockatiel is by far one of the easier parrot species to train and maintain. Its generally social personality, charm, flexible attitude and intelligence make it a prime choice for one who is not very experienced with birds but would like the "parrot" experience. In captivity, cockatiels generally live to about 20 years old, but with recent advances in avian science and medicine, cockatiels are living longer and longer. Some have been reported to live into their upper 20's and 30's.
The cockatiel can be distinguised easily by its crest feathers which form a plume or "mohawk" atop its head, and most mutations (there are many) and genders have at least visible if not very noticeable orange cheek patches. From the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail, the cockatiel averages from 11 to 13 inches long.
Out of Australia
In its native Australia, the cockatiel thrives on wild grass seed, grains (often times the crops of unlucky farmers) and forage on the ground for small insects. They are nomadic and flock where the best food supplies are found. In the wild, cockatiels are monogamous, often mating for life. They make their nests in hollowed out trees or in deadfall and the hen will lay a clutch of about ten eggs. She and her mate will take turns incubating the eggs and both rear the young. The male cockatiel in its natural habitat has a gray body, with a bright yellow face and crest upon maturity, and bright orange cheek patches. The hen will look similar only her face will be much more subdued in color, lacking the bright yellow features, and she will have only faint orange cheek patches. Some of the hen's tail feathers are yellow with black bars whereas the male has solid gray tail feathers. Juvenile cockatiels look female until after their first molt at about six months of age.
In Our Homes
In captivity, cockatiels eat a variety of different foods. The most recent studies have proven that cockatiels are the healthiest when encouraged to eat a well rounded diet consisting of high quality pellet (no preservatives), vegetables, whole grains and seeds. Some cockatiels will eat fruit as well though most don't favor them, preferring vegetables. Though the standard or "wild gray" color is still very prevalent among captive pet birds, selective breeding, beginning back in the 1940's brought about a revolution of sorts in the cockatiel industry. Now there are many different colors and varieties of cockatiels to choose from. These are known as "mutations". A lutino for instance, has no gray coloring at all. Its feathers are either all yellow or white, and it has red eyes. There are pearled cockatiels, pied cockatiels, whiteface cockatiels (this particular mutation lacks the yellow and orange pigment so that it does not have the orange cheek patches), and there are cinnamon cockatiels, just to name a few. In some of the mutations, (such as cinnamon and whiteface) there are visible differences between the males and the females upon maturity but in many of the mutations, there is no way to visibly distinguish between the genders (in particular, the pied mutation). In order to tell, a DNA test must be done or the bird must reach sexual maturity. It will either display gender traits or breed and that will be the only way to know for certain.
Tall Tales and the Real Tiels
As a companion to four of these delightful birds, I can sort out many of the facts from fiction you may have heard about cockatiels. Though it is true that cockatiels can learn to talk, they are not known for having extensive vocabularies. Many folks purchase a cockatiel having the misconception that they are wonderful talkers. Tiels are excellent mimics though, and can whistle up a storm. Most tiels that do learn to talk have a breathy, almost whistly quality to their voice, which is hard to discern to the untrained ear. Often, your pet cockatiel may be talking and you don't recognize the word until you've heard it several times. Even then, you may know what he's saying, but others may not. The only two words my males know is "Birdy" and "Pretty Birdy" and not everyone who hears them understands them. They can however, mimic the sound of a wild Robin, the telephone and some tunes from video games. Many other cockatiels owners have similar stories. Between males and females, males are much more apt to be vocal. Hens generally have a few vocal chirps to express themselves, but aren't known for bursting out in song or learning to talk. (There are exceptions to the rule however). Males, because they use song to woo their mates, are more apt to vocalize extensively. In fact, early vocalization is one hint tiel owners use to guess gender before the adult molt begins.
Even though cockatiels are not considered large by any standard, they are still very intelligent. They can be trained to do many tricks. One of my tiels (my hen Apache) can play basketball. They need a lot of stimulation, just as a large parrot does. That means they need toys in their cage as well as exercise out of the cage. There is no difference in genders when it comes to intelligence or affection. Out of my four birds, all of them have their cuddly moments and preferences in manner of playtime. Cockatiels love to chew so providing them with shredable toys they can chew up will delight them. Things made of palm, untreated wood, etc. They are also very curious birds, so outside of the cage time should be supervised at all times, as with any bird. Cockatiels are not known for being the most graceful or acrobatic of birds, so cages should be spaced horizontally as opposed to vertically, and provide ladder for ease of mobility as well.
Cockatiels, like their cousin the Cockatoo, throw off a dust, which is known as dander. Though it's not quite as bad as the cockatoo, it can irritate the allergies of those who are sensitive. To alleviate the amount of dust, try misting your cockatiel with warm water from a misting bottle (that has never been used for anything else) or provide a shallow dish of water for your tiel to bathe in. Most cockatiels love their bath and many tiel owners take their bird into the shower with them. It's quite comical to watch a tiel spread her wings out and duck her head into the water, fluffing her feathers to get every drop onto her that she can. Bathing is essential to keep the dust down, but it also moistens up their skin (they bathe in the wild, so why not in captivity), and it helps provide comfort during uncomfortable molting times.
There is much to know about cockatiels, but one article cannot possibly cover everything about these wonderful creatures. This message board is packed with much more information about them should you decide to investigate further. They are vibrant, cheery birds with a lot of personality packed into a mid-sized body. They provide endless hours of companionship and entertainment to those who share their homes with them.