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Cockatiel Care Sheet

Nymphicus hollandicus
Developed with and approved by qualified veterinarians

Native to Australia, cockatiels are small members of the parrot family known for the tuft of feathers on top of their head, called a crest. Cockatiels raise and lower their crests depending on their mood—raised when they are excited or curious and pressed flat against their heads when they are stressed. A relaxed cockatiel typically holds their crest feathers somewhere between raised and flat and may gently grind their beak when content.

Typical cockatiel appearance and behavior 

  • Cockatiels are known for their generally gentle and affectionate nature, but they can also be feisty and curious when they want to be
  • The feather color of the common cockatiel is gray, but many feather color and pattern mutations have been bred, including pearl, white-faced, white-faced pearl, lutino (yellow), pied, albino and other variations; common gray cockatiels also have a patch of orange feathers on each of their cheeks
  • With the common gray cockatiel, males and females can be distinguished. Males have deeper gray body feathers and brighter orange cheek feathers than females, who are a more muted orangish gray. Females also have gray barring (horizontal stripes) on the undersides of their tails. Barring is present in both genders until six months of age; after that, only female cockatiels retain it. Males also have solid-colored gray feathers on the undersides of their wings, and females have feathers that are gray with white or yellow spots
  • Cockatiels are known for mimicking repetitive sounds and noises; they commonly chirp and whistle. While they are not known for their talking ability, they can learn to whistle back in response to being whistled at. They bond easily with their human companions and become cuddly pets if they are properly socialized
  • Parent-raised cockatiels require more time to acclimate to human handling than those who are hand-fed
  • Females are prolific egg-layers and may lay an infertile egg (when not housed with males) every other day; proper diet (including adequate dietary calcium and vitamin D) is critical to prevent egg binding, which is when eggs get trapped in the birds’ bodies

Cockatiel characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span Up to 25 years with proper care
Average Adult Size 11–14 inches, from head to end of tail
Diet Herbivorous
Minimum Habitat Size 24” W x 24” D x 30” H

Habitat 

Habitat size

Provide the largest habitat possible for your cockatiel. The minimum size of habitat for one cockatiel is approximately 24” W x 24” D x 30” H, with metal bars spaced no greater than 1/2” apart so that birds can’t escape or get stuck. Commercially available habitats are generally made with stainless steel bars (either with or without a nontoxic coating). Homemade habitats or those made of wood or galvanized wire are not recommended because birds can chew on them and ingest potentially toxic chemicals.

Setting up your habitat

Cockatiels acclimate well to average household temperatures between 65°F and 80°F; be cautious of extreme temperature changes. Habitats should be placed off the floor in a well-lit area away from drafts and inaccessible to other pets, including curious cats and dogs. Ensure no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, other potentially toxic heavy metals, lead-based paints or galvanized parts, as these can cause serious medical issues if birds ingest them.

  • Perches: Perches should be at least 5” long and 1/2” in diameter; provide a variety of perch sizes so your cockatiel can exercise their feet and help prevent pressure sores from developing on their soles. Sandpaper covers on perches are abrasive to the bottom of feet and are not recommended. Providing perches made from different materials, such as wood, braided rope and natural branches, allows birds to choose which surface they stand on 
    • To avoid contaminating food dishes with droppings, do not place food or water containers directly under perches
  • Toys: Cockatiels are very intelligent, so they need to be able to forage for food and other objects, as well as play with toys for enrichment. Toys for foraging and chewing offer cockatiels important mental stimulation. Size-appropriate toys may be made from cardboard, paper, soft wood or plastic too hard for cockatiels to bite off and swallow. Without proper stimulation, birds get bored and may pick at their feathers or develop other destructive habits, so rotate toys regularly. Ensure toys are strongly attached to the habitat because birds can unscrew the C-clamps that are typically used to hang toys and become injured. Toys also should not have small parts that birds can easily pull off and ingest
  • Liner and litter: A metal grate over the habitat bottom will enable droppings to fall away from birds’ feet and keep the habitat cleaner; the tray in the habitat bottom should be lined with habitat paper or other paper-based products to ease cleanup and minimize dust
  • Lighting: Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to make vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium. UV light is filtered out by glass in windows, so placing the habitat next to a window is not sufficient; UV lights designed specifically for birds should shine on the habitat 10–12 hours a day and be changed every six months when their potency wanes
  • Bathing: Water dishes should be large enough for birds to bathe in. Birds who don’t bathe regularly can be misted a few times a week with warm water from a plant mister to help maintain healthy plumage

Cleaning your cockatiel’s habitat

Spot clean the habitat daily, removing discarded food and droppings on perches. Thoroughly wash and dry food bowls daily. Replace substrate or habitat liner weekly or more often as needed, especially if the habitat houses more than one bird. 

Regularly clean and disinfect your cockatiel’s habitat and perches by:

  • Moving your cockatiel into a secure place (such as another habitat or travel carrier) in a separate air space
  • Washing the habitat, perches and toys with a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution, being sure to thoroughly rinse all trace amounts so there is no residue to which your bird could be exposed
    • NOTE: Do not use any cleaning agents not specifically made for pets around your bird because birds’ respiratory tracts are very sensitive to anything aerosolized, and fumes from cleaning products can be harmful
  • Thoroughly drying the habitat and its contents
  • Replacing the substrate or liner, perches and toys
  • Returning your bird to their habitat

Replace perches, dishes and toys when worn or damaged; rotate new toys into the habitat regularly to help avoid boredom.

Feeding 

What to feed your cockatiel

To feed your cockatiel a well-balanced diet:

  • Nutritionally complete and balanced pelleted food specifically formulated for cockatiels should make up 60–70% of your bird’s diet, plus fresh vegetables, fruits and small amounts of fortified seeds as an occasional treat
  • Clean, fresh water should be changed daily
  • Egg-laying female cockatiels should always have access to cuttlebones, which are excellent sources of calcium, a nutrient essential for making eggshells and laying eggs
  • Do not feed birds avocados, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these are toxic and can cause illness and death in birds, and avoid sugary, fatty and salty treats

Things to remember when feeding your cockatiel:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within a few hours should be discarded
  • Treats should not exceed 10% of total food
  • Provide separate food dishes for dry food, fresh food and water; if housing more than one cockatiel in a single habitat, provide multiple feeding stations to reduce competition
  • Although cockatiels are social and like to eat when their flock mates eat, never share food from your plate or your mouth; people have microorganisms in their mouths that can cause illness in birds
  • Since cockatiels remove the hulls of seeds before eating them, they do not need to be fed grit to grind up food

Cockatiel care

  • Bird pet parents should avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with nonstick coatings; when heated, these can release colorless, odorless fumes that typically kill birds when inhaled
  • Birds should be allowed out of their habitats and gently handled daily to socialize them
  • Birds need regular grooming, including nail trimming every few weeks to months; nails should be trimmed by a trained person to prevent injury to the bird
  • Beaks should not need regular trimming in most birds, unless the bird has an underlying condition (such as liver disease) that causes abnormal beak growth; birds’ beaks normally maintain in good condition with daily use
  • When done correctly, clipping the five outermost flight feathers can help prevent injury or escape; consult an avian veterinarian on what is best for your bird

Where to buy a cockatiel

Cockatiels are available at select Petco stores. Call your local location ahead of time to ensure availability.

Habitat mates 

Cockatiels can be kept alone to bond with their pet parent or in pairs or larger groups to bond with each other. Different types of birds should not be housed together. 

Cockatiel health 

Signs of a healthy cockatiel

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks and passes stool throughout the day
  • Dry nares and bright, dry eyes
  • Supple skin on feet and legs and smooth beak
  • Clean, dry vent
  • Smooth, well-groomed feathers

Red flags (contact your veterinarian if you notice these signs)

  • Fluffed, plucked, or soiled feathers
  • Sitting on the habitat floor for an extended period of time
  • Wheezing, sneezing or coughing
  • Open-mouthed or labored breathing and/or tail bobbing
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Runny, bloody or discolored stools or no stool production
  • Straining to pass droppings
  • Favoring one foot when not sleeping
  • Ocular or nasal discharge
  • Red or swollen eyes
  • Persistently closed eyes or sleeping during the day
  • Crusty skin around face and feet
  • Loss of appetite

Common cockatiel health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Chlamydiosis (psittacosis or parrot fever) Symptoms or Causes Appetite loss, fluffed feathers, nasal discharge, lethargy, swollen abdomen, sneezing, labored breathing, lime green feces, conjunctivitis Suggested Action Seek immediate avian veterinary attention
Health Issue Conjunctivitis Symptoms or Causes Red eyes, tearing, closed, puffy eyes; may be due to bacterial, viral or other infectious organisms Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and wipe your bird’s eyes with warm water
Health Issue Diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Fecal portion of stool not formed; has multiple causes, from change in diet to internal parasites Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian and ensure proper diet
Health Issue Egg binding Symptoms or Causes Swollen abdomen, straining to pass droppings, bloody droppings, lethargy, decreased appetite, labored breathing, laying soft-shelled or shell-less eggs Suggested Action Seek immediate veterinary attention
Health Issue Night frights Symptoms or Causes Episodes of violent, uncontrolled wing flapping and screeching at night Suggested Action Turn on the light and speak softly to bird to help calm them; call your veterinarian if your bird’s episode does not stop or if episodes are frequent
FAQs

A cockatiel can live up to 25 years with proper care and nutrition.

Cockatiels primarily eat a nutritionally complete and balanced pelleted diet made for cockatiels, plus smaller amounts of vegetables and fruits, with seeds as an occasional treat.

Cockatiels can eat most vegetables except avocados, onions and garlic.

Cockatiels can eat most fruits, except fruit seeds and pits.

By speaking softly to and gently handling your cockatiel daily, as well as rewarding them with their favorite food and treats for stepping on to your hand, you can socialize your cockatiel and create a bond over time.

Wings should be trimmed only by a trained professional or person taught how to properly trim feathers; otherwise, your bird may become seriously injured. To clip a cockatiel’s wings properly, the outermost 5 primary feathers should be trimmed to a level just below the covert feathers on the inside of the wings. The goal is to trim short enough so that the bird does not get lift but not so short that it drops like a weight. Newly emerged feathers (called blood feathers because they have blood in the shaft, which eventually recedes as the feather matures) should not be trimmed, or the bird will bleed.

Water dishes should be large enough for birds to bathe in. Birds who don’t bathe regularly can be misted a few times a week with warm water from a plant mister to help maintain healthy plumage.

With the common gray cockatiel, males and females can be distinguished. Males have deeper gray body feathers and brighter orange cheek feathers than females, who are more muted orangish gray. Females also have gray barring (horizontal stripes) on the undersides of their tails. Barring is present in both genders until six months of age; after that, only females retain it. Males also have solid-colored gray feathers on the underside of wings, versus the gray with white or yellow spots in females.

If an egg is fertile, it takes an average of 20 days for a cockatiel to incubate (sit on) it before it hatches.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco’s selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All private brand products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all birds are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as chlamydiosis (also called psittacosis or parrot fever), always wash your hands before and after handling your bird or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for birds and should consider having a pet other than a bird.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about birds and disease.

Note: The information in this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian.