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Cockatiel – Pictures, Facts, Personality, Food & Care Guide

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler


Cockatiels are one of the most popular pet birds and for a good reason. Their affectionate and curious nature, coupled with their sunny and easygoing personality, make them a fantastic option for first-time bird owners and any potential bird parent looking to expand their flock.

Cockatiels typically live around 15 years but can live as long as 25 years when provided with a safe environment and a healthy and nutritious diet. Since they have such long lifespans, adopting a cockatiel is not a decision that should be made spur of the moment.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this species before you take the leap and welcome one into your home.
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Species Overview

Common Names: Cockatiel, weiro bird, quarrion
Scientific Name: Nymphicus hollandicus
Adult Size: 11–14 inches
Life Expectancy: Up to 25 years

Origin and History

Blue Cockatiel
Image Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH, Shutterstock

Cockatiels are part of the cockatoo family native to the semi-arid regions of Australia. They primarily live in the Outback in the northern part of the continent and are always found close to water. They seem to prefer wide open environments over dense rainforests like other birds.

Wild cockatiels are nomadic and will move wherever food and water are readily available. They are often seen in pairs or as part of a small flock. Cockatiels will sometimes combine into large flocks while traveling to their feeding areas.

Cockatiels were initially discovered in the 1700s when Australia was still known as New Holland. This is why “hollandicus” is part of its scientific name.


Cockatiels make fantastic family pets thanks to their gentle and affectionate demeanor. They are great “starter” birds for anyone looking to dip their feet in the world of bird ownership because they’re so interactive and social. They love to be held and doted on but prefer being near their humans over cuddling.

Cockatiels are very friendly, but an untamed bird can bite. You can discourage this behavior by not reacting when bitten. Cockatiels are extreme people pleasers, so they will do everything they can to get positive reinforcement from you. Always reward their good behavior and don’t react when they do something bad.

Cockatiels are very intelligent and can be taught a wide variety of tricks.

  • Social and affectionate
  • Easy to train
  • Long lifespan
  • Cage has a smaller footprint
  • Beautiful
  • Can be noisy
  • Can demand attention
  • Not as chatty as other birds (could be a pro)

Speech & Vocalizations

Like most parrots, cockatiels are nature communicators. That said, you must realize that cockatiels are not African Grey or Budgies, so you shouldn’t expect them to have the same vocabulary. They are capable of speaking and whistling, though not every cockatiel will do it.

If you’re hoping to adopt a bird that will be vocal, we recommend adopting a male and adopting when it’s as young as possible. Males are far more likely to vocalize than their female counterparts as it’s in their DNA to attract a mate through talking and singing.

Repetition is key when training your cockatiel to speak. The more you talk to your bird, the more likely it is to pick up some of your words and phrases.

Cinnamon cockatiel
Image Credit: AnnJane, Shutterstock

Cockatiel Colors and Markings

There are several different cockatiel mutations to be aware of.
  • Normal: No mutation, gray body with white wings and orange cheeks
  • Pearl: Body has a unique pattern throughout. Females retain these patterns while males typically lose them after their first molt
  • Lutino: Yellow-white body with orange cheeks and red eyes
  • Whiteface: Gray body without any yellow or orange hues
  • Albino: Completely white body and red eyes
  • Pied: Body has patches with no pigmentation and stray white or yellow feathers
  • Yellowface: Gray bodies with yellow cheek patches
  • Cinnamon/Fallow: Body has a soft brown tinge that can lean more towards yellow with reddish-tinged eyes
  • Silver: Gray feathers have a warm or cool silvery tinge and can have white markings on the wing or tail feathers.
  • Olive: Light gray body with a yellow tinge that results in a green-ish appearance

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Caring for the Cockatiel

Cockatiels make excellent birds for beginner bird owners. They’re easier to care for than their larger parrot counterparts and require much less space. They are an active species and need a fair amount of space to burn off energy. You should be prepared to invest in a cage that’s, at the bare minimum, 20” square and 26” tall. Ideally, there will be enough room in the cage for a few perches, toys, food bowls, and extra space for your bird to flap its wings without hitting anything.

Cockatiels are easy to keep entertained with simple toys that provide environmental enrichment. They love toys like foraging stations and puzzle feeders and find mirrors fascinating. Invest in a handful of toys you can swap in and out of your birds’ cage weekly.

Cockatiels do well in pairs. You can certainly keep a solo cockatiel, but you must be prepared to spend additional time with it daily to prevent boredom. A bored cockatiel can become lonely and may begin displaying self-harm behavior such as feather plucking.

Like many other bird species, cockatiels can be subject to grave household dangers.

Teflon is one of the biggest concerns that not many are aware of. Teflon is a compound that can show up in several areas of your home, but the most common place you’ll use it is in the kitchen. This compound is used in the lining of non-stick pans and can produce a clear and odorless toxic gas when heated. Teflon toxicity is a silent killer and must be taken seriously. The only way to prevent your cockatiel from poisoning is to remove all items in your home that contain the Teflon coating.

Two Cockatiels sitting on a branch
Image Credit: Katrin B., Pixabay

Common Health Problems

Like other bird species, Cockatiels are commonly afflicted with respiratory disease thanks to the Chlamydophila psittaci bacteria. Cockatiels can carry this organism without showing any signs. It can be shed through their stool and respiratory secretions to other birds in your home. This bacteria can cause your cockatiel to develop respiratory symptoms or lethargy and can cause an enlarged liver.

Cockatiels can also be prone to an internal parasite known as Giardia. Birds infected with this parasite will have gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and can be excessively itchy, which may cause them to attack themselves aggressively.

One of the biggest health concerns for female cockatiels is that they can become chronic egg layers. Laying eggs can not only deplete her body of essential minerals and calcium, but it can also cause egg binding, where she cannot pass the egg. Many females will need additional calcium in their diets to make up for this.

Males and females can both be affected by nutritional deficiencies. Many first-time bird owners may only offer their cockatiels seeds, but they need the vitamins and minerals found in fruit, vegetables, and a pelleted diet to prevent malnutrition.

Cockatiels are also prone to fatty liver disease. This is one of the most common nutritional diseases and is primarily due to a high-fat seed diet.

Diet and Nutrition

Variety is essential for the diet of any bird in captivity. Cockatiels in the wild feast regularly on fruits, legumes, seeds, and flowers. Seeds, while a favorite of most cockatiels, can be a part of a nutritious diet, but they’re high in fat and should not account for more than a small percentage of their daily diet.

Since cockatiels are vulnerable to obesity and severe nutrient deficiencies, it’s essential to ensure you’re feeding them a whole diet. You should offer a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and a pelleted diet to ensure your cockatiel gets the nutrients it needs to thrive. Pellets have been developed to provide your bird with all the necessary nutrients and should account for the bulk of your cockatiel’s diet.


A cockatiel that doesn’t get the appropriate amount of exercise and playtime per day can become unhappy and unhealthy. You should expect to take your cockatiel out of its cage as much as possible throughout the day to give it time to explore and exercise. Let your bird fly around the room but be sure there are no potential hazards nearby (e.g., other pets, open windows, candles, etc.).

By buying an appropriately sized cage, you can ensure your cockatiel gets the exercise it needs inside its cage. Ideally, your bird will have enough room inside its cage to flap its wings. Provide plenty of fun toys and enrichment for your cockatiel’s time in its cage.

Cockatiel sits lifting his head_Jolanta Beinarovica
Image By: Jolanta Beinarovica, Shutterstock

Where to Adopt or Buy a Cockatiel

There are three main places you can adopt or buy a cockatiel.

First, you may be able to find one for adoption at your local pet shelter. The birds at shelters have often been rehomed by their previous owners. Be sure to inquire about its health status and behavior before adopting a cockatiel from a shelter.

Next, you will likely find cockatiels for adoption at your local pet store. Do your research on the pet store before choosing this adoption route. Some pet stores support unethical breeding, such as bird breeding mills, and should not be supported.

Finally, you can buy a cockatiel from a reputable breeder. Again, do your research and ask a lot of questions before choosing a breeder.

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Cockatiels are a fantastic family pet and are great for beginner bird owners. As with any pet adoption, especially exotic animal adoptions, be sure you’ve done adequate research before bringing your new pet home. Birds are very different from cats or dogs and have unique needs and health concerns (such as Teflon toxicity) that you need to be aware of before you welcome your new feathered friend home.

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Featured Image Credit: Jasmin Raffaele, Pixabay

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