Having a pet bird can mean having a playful, dependent companion. Cockatiels, out of all the parrot breeds, are a great starting point for those who wish to have pet birds. They are the smallest of all cockatoo species, and are relatively easy to care for. Although they are simpler to care for, they still have specific diet and husbandry needs, as well as common problems that often arise. Here are a few of the specifics in reference to caring for cockatiels:
Cockatiels have a naturally diverse diet of grass seeds, grains, berries, and fruits, and therefore they naturally prefer these foods over others. . However, in a domestic setting, too much of these items can lead to obesity. In general, a varied diet leads to a decreased likelihood of obesity. In order to vary a cockatiel’s diet, feed your bird 5% seeds, and 10%-30% vegetables/fruit. Allow for the remaining 65%-85% of the diet to be made up of feed pellets formulated to care for the bird’s needs. A seed-only diet commonly leads to deficiencies in protein, calcium, and Vitamin A; feeding your bird formulated pellets will make up for common deficiencies. While you can feed a 100% pellet based diet, things like seeds, vegetables and fruits can provide behavioral enrichment. Ensure your cockatiel can eat these supplementary foods safely before feeding. Also, keep in mind that cockatiels do not require grit. These birds use the hulls from the seeds in their diet in this way, and supplying a grit source can lead to impaction of the crop, which we will discuss later on.
Husbandry for cockatiels is fairly simple. Being quite sociable birds, they are very capable in their own daily activities. Therefore simply supplying a few things for your bird will go a long way. Make sure the cage you put your bird in is at least 20” long by 20” wide, with a cage bar spacing of ½” to ¾”. Within that cage, place at least 2 perches (with a diameter of roughly 1 inch) far enough apart that the bird can fly or glide back and forth from, for exercise and activity. Remember to not use sandpaper perch covers, as this may harm their feet.
Don’t be afraid to allow your bird out of the cage where you are comfortable so they can bond with you and any other pets you may have. However, use caution and common sense if you also own naturally predatory pets, such as cats and dogs. Exposing them to your daily activities will increase the bird’s bond with you and keep them entertained. Providing frequent water baths for your bird will maintain a good skin and feather quality. By placing a shallow bowl with luke-warm water in the cage, your cockatiel will bathe themselves. Do this 2-3 times per week to keep your bird clean, happy, and healthy.
Cockatiels are very sociable birds and require regular interaction with their owner. Raising your bird from a young age with constant interaction will generate a stronger bond, and teach your bird to become more tame. While very playful, they are relatively quiet compared to most parrot species.
Due to their playful and interactive nature, supplying them with “busy” toys is a great way to ensure they are occupied while you are gone for the day. Foraging is an important part of a cockatiel’s daily activity. Setting up forage stations with seeds and puzzle feeders with their main food source teaches them this behavior and gives them another way to be interactive when you are not around. The average lifespan of a cockatiel is 6 years, making them a great companion once they have bonded with their owner.
Just like every animal, cockatiels do have some problems that commonly arise. As mentioned before, without the proper diet obesity can become likely. Also impaction of the crop can occur, keeping food from moving into the esophagus, causing numerous issues. By feeding your bird the proper diet, this can all be avoided. If enough toys or interactive activities are not supplied, cockatiels will often pick their own feathers, leaving their skin exposed and decreasing their overall well-being. With age, kidney and liver disease can arise in your bird, but a properly supplied diet can also reduce the possibility of this.
Lastly, female cockatiels can experience chronic egg laying, which quickly depletes their calcium reserves. If you have a female cockatiel that lays some eggs, do not remove them. If they are removed, the bird may lay more eggs to replace them and begin chronically laying eggs. Instead, wait until your hen has finished laying her entire clutch (~4-6 eggs), then replace the real eggs with fake ones. You can remove the fake eggs one by one after about 20 days. Either make sure the formulated feed you give your bird contains a percentage of calcium or provide supplements such as cuttlebone, especially for females.
Cockatiels make a great companion for those just beginning to care for pet birds. They have few specific needs, but simply caring for your bird in the facets that they need keeps them happy and healthy.
This article was written by Brock Riggs, Joseph Gendreau and Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.