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Cockatoo vs. Cockatiel: The Key Differences (With Pictures)

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Cockatoo vs Cockatiel

Cockatoos and Cockatiels are often kept as pets, largely because of their intelligence and social nature. They both share many similarities, however, there are also several key differences between them.For instance, one of the major differences is their size. Cockatoos can reach up to 27 inches in height on occasion, while cockatiels are much smaller and reach only 12 inches. This size difference means that each species requires different cages and space.

Cockatoos also have a much longer lifespan than cockatiels, which is common for larger birds. Cockatoos may live up to 70 years, while cockatiels live only about 20 years.

There are several other differences, which we will discuss below.

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Visual Differences

Cockatoo vs Cockatiel side by side
Image Credit: (L) Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock | (R) ONGUSHI, Shutterstock

At A Glance

Cockatoo
  • Average height (adult): 12–27 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 10.5–35 oz (300 to 1,000 grams
  • Lifespan: Up to 70 years
  • Exercise: Ample space to move around and play
  • Grooming needs: Bathing, nail trimming, feather trimming as needed
  • Family-friendly: Yes, they thrive on interaction
  • Other pet-friendly: Supervised
  • Trainability: Highly Intelligent
Cockatiel
  • Average height (adult): Up to 12 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 2.4–3.5 oz (70 to 100) grams
  • Lifespan: Up to 20 years
  • Exercise: Ample time to move around and play
  • Grooming needs: Bathing, nail trimming, wing clipping as needed
  • Family-friendly: Yes; they are friendly and affectionate
  • Other pet-friendly: Supervised
  • Trainability: Highly Intelligent
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Cockatoo Overview

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo Bird
Image Credit: hartono subagio, Pixabay

Physical Features

Cockatoos are substantially large for birds, reaching up to 27 inches tall. They have a colorful crest on their head that can be raised or lowered depending on their mood. Their beak is particularly large and strong, as it evolved to crack open nuts.

They come in many different colors, ranging from white to pink. Depending on the species, some may have patterns or spots on their feathers. They also have long, dramatic tails that can be spread like a fan.

Because cockatoos are large, they also have a large wingspan, allowing them to fly farther and more powerfully.

Health

Cockatoos can live a long time with proper care. However, many considerations go into their overall health (and lifespan).

For instance, cockatoos require a balanced and varied diet. They need a mixture of high-quality pellets, fresh fruits, and veggies. Sometimes, they may consume the occasional nuts or seeds as treats. Their larger size can lead to more health issues, and they’re more prone to obesity than other birds.

Cockatoos require more protein and fat than cockatiels and may need more calcium to support their larger bones. Cockatoos require a lot of space to move around and exercise, as they’re very large birds. They tend to be more active than other birds, including cockatiels.

They are extremely intelligent birds, which can put them at risk for some conditions, such as feather plucking if they get bored. You have to be very cautious and provide them with plenty of mental stimulation to prevent these problems from occurring.

Umbrella Cockatoo
Image Credit: Nigel Dowsett, Shutterstock

Personality

Cockatoos are very social birds that can be extremely demanding of attention. They require plenty of interaction to remain happy and healthy, so they are best for those that want a very involved bird. However, they aren’t suitable for those that have little time on their hands.

They can make a wide variety of vocalizations and are very prone to screeching when they’re trying to get what they want. Owners living in apartments or close quarters may not want to get them for this reason.

Cockatoos are considered extremely intelligent. They require lots of mental stimulation to prevent boredom. They can mimic speech fluently in many cases, making them fun birds to be around. They must get most of their mental stimulation from interaction with others and often require more challenging toys. In many cases, the average bird toys may not work.

Cockatoos are rather prone to becoming stressed or anxious, especially due to environmental and routine changes. They need proper stimulation and exercise to help prevent stress and lessen anxiety.

galah cockatoo bird on a wooden surface
Image Credit: Gabriela Beres, Shutterstock

Cost

Cockatoos are often much more expensive than most other birds, as they are large and require a large space. They’re often more in demand, especially in areas without many breeders. They can cost thousands of dollars in many cases. The specific breed matters a lot when it comes to price. Birds belonging to a more sought-after breed may cost upwards of $5,000, much more than most smaller birds.

There is a substantial startup cost that comes with a cockatoo, too. They require more space, so owners must put down more money for a cage, toys, and other items. They also need more food due to their larger size, which can add up over the years.

Suitable For

Cockatoos are very social and bond closely with their owners. While this is often considered great, it does mean that you have to commit significant time, energy, and resources to these birds.

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Cockatiel Overview

white faced cockatiel perching
Image Credit: Zdenka Kincel, Shutterstock

Physical Features

Cockatiels are much smaller than a cockatoo. They typically only reach a maximum of 12 inches long and may weigh as little as 2 ounces. Their head and beak are smaller and rounder, making them perfect for cracking seeds. However, they cannot break through the tougher nuts that cockatoos often consume.

They also have a crest, but it is smaller and more delicate. It can’t be raised or lowered all that much, especially compared to a cockatoo’s crest. Cockatiels tend to come in a muted yellow or white pattern. However, some specific mutations may have different patterns or colors.

Health

Cockatiels are rather healthy and don’t experience many health issues. However, they don’t live as long as a cockatoo. This fact is more due to their genetic capabilities than a sign that they get sicker more often.

They’re somewhat prone to respiratory infections. They’re sensitive to breathing in bacteria, viruses, and fungi—all of which can cause infections. They may also be prone to feather plucking, but they tend to experience feather picking due to stress less often than a cockatoo. Instead, they may pick their feathers due to a nutritional deficiency or infection.

They can develop several different digestive problems, too. For instance, crop impaction and constipation are both possible. Often, this is caused by a poor diet or bacterial infection. They can be prone to obesity, but often less so than a cockatoo.

Of course, they require the correct care and diet to thrive. They may become obese if fed a diet too high in fat. They also require regular exercise, though their smaller size makes this much easier than a cockatoo. A clean-living environment and veterinary checkups are necessary to keep these birds happy and healthy.

a young cinnamon cockatiel perched on a branch
Image Credit: ONGUSHI, Shutterstock

Personality

Cockatiels are social and affectionate birds. They bond closely with their humans and enjoy spending time with their families. They can be very playful and curious, like many types of birds. They need time out of their cage and interesting toys to entertain them.

They tend to be quiet, making them a good choice for those in apartments. They can be vocal, but their calls are softer and less frequent than other birds.

Cockatiels can also be pretty independent. They’re happy playing by themselves for a time and don’t need as much attention as other birds. On the other hand, cockatoos tend to be extremely dependent and needy.

a cockatiel on female hand
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Cost

Cockatiels tend to be rather inexpensive—at least as far as birds are concerned. You can often find them for between $100 to $200. The price can vary depending on your location and the bird you’re purchasing. Rare colorations can be quite expensive and are often only available from specialty breeders.

Adult cockatiels that aren’t hand-fed may be as cheap as $50. However, these birds are often harder to bond with and may have more behavioral problems.

Furthermore, their cages and equipment cost less because cockatiels are smaller than cockatoos. You’ll also pay less for their food and other necessities throughout the years. Overall, you’ll pay a lot less for a cockatiel than most other types of parrots.

Suitable For:

Cockatiels are suitable for many people, ranging from first-time bird owners to families with children. They require less space, as they’re smaller birds. Therefore, they also work well in apartments and smaller homes.

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Are Cockatoos and Cockatiels the Same Bird?

No, these birds are quite different from each other and are completely different species. They’re both members of the cockatoo family, which may be why they are sometimes confused as the same bird.

Cockatiels are much smaller and more independent than cockatoos. Cockatoos may be twice as big as most cockatiels. There are some other significant differences, such as their lifespan. Cockatoos may live as long as 70 years, while cockatiels live 15–20 years.

Do Cockatoos and Cockatiels Talk?

Cockatoos and cockatiels can mimic sounds that may seem like human speech. However, the exact ability to mimic will vary from bird to bird. Some birds are just better at it than others.

Cockatoos have impressive vocal abilities and are some of the best talkers. However, there are several species of cockatoo, each with a different mimicking ability. The Umbrella and Sulfur-crested Cockatoo are particularly talented at mimicking speech (usually). However, not all cockatoos learn to talk, and some may only be able to repeat a few words.

On the other hand, cockatiels don’t usually talk to the same extent (though they can). Some will mimic human speech, but their vocabulary is often limited. They’re more likely to whistle or make musical sounds. For instance, they may mimic a ringtone or doorbell instead of human voices.

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Which Species Is Right for You?

Which bird you choose depends largely on what you’re looking for and your lifestyle and experience with birds.

Cockatiels are considered a good bird for first-time owners. They’re much more budget-friendly and have lower maintenance than most other parrots. They can adapt to various living situations and are smaller, so they fit easier in smaller spaces. They’re often friendly and social, especially with children.

On the other hand, cockatoos are larger and more expensive, requiring a larger time investment. They’re great for those who want to be involved in pet ownership, as they require plenty of attention. However, they aren’t great for those that don’t have much time to give. They can develop destructive behaviors if their needs aren’t met.

You also have to consider their lifespan. In many cases, a cockatoo will outlive you!

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Featured Image Credit: (L) Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock | (R) Alena Gerasimova, Shutterstock

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