How to Care for a Cockatiel? – All You Need to Know about this Bird

Translated by Nick R

If you have ever been interested in cockatiels, you should know that they are a little peculiar and are not always the ideal pet for first-timers. In the following paragraphs you’ll find out why and if they are ideal for you, and how to care for them. Let’s get started!

Why adopt a cockatiel? 

Cockatiels are very appealing birds because of their beauty, intelligence and sociability. Therefore, the first thing you should know is why you should adopt one of these specimens, I give you the reasons.

5 reasons to adopt a cockatiel 

  1. They are perfect pets as they are docile, affectionate, and intelligent birds.
  2. One of their main characteristics is their adaptation to humans. In this respect, these birds have a point in favor because they learn very quickly to interact with people.
  3. You’ll have a friend for a long time since their life expectancy is very long.
  4. They have an amazing ability to adapt to different environments and weather conditions.
  5. They are very beautiful birds!

Characteristics and behavior of cockatiels 

Cockatiel characteristics 

Scientific nameNymphicus hollandicus
Common nameCockatiel
Place of OriginAustralia
HabitatDeserts, savannas and meadows
Size25 to 33 cm
Weight80 to 100 g
Average sexual and reproductive age7 months
Maximum life expectancy in captivity8 to 15 years

It’s a majestic exotic bird very well adapted to captivity because of its affable character similar to the Agapornis.

It belongs to the Cacatuidae or cockatoo family and is the smallest cockatoo. Because of their resemblance to parrots, it was thought that they were related to the Crested Parrots, but since recently it has been known that they belong to the Psittaciformes.

They are native to Australia and can be seen throughout the oceanic continent, except Tasmania. They move according to the availability of water and food. They mainly inhabit very open areas, near rivers or lakes, where they find food and drink:

  • Savanna deserts
  • Australian grasslands

What does a cockatiel look like? 

It has very specific features that make it distinguishable at first sight from other bird species, such as its long tail that makes it look bigger than it is, even though it is only about 25 to 33 centimeters long and weighs around 80g or 100g maximum.

Of course, a gray plumage with yellow crests protruding from its head and an orange circular spot on its cheeks as if it were blushing; color that stands out more in males.

This bird is very durable, with a life expectancy of normally 8 to 10 years. In captivity, it can even live up to 15 years. Obviously, it depends entirely on the care you give to your pet.

There is sexual dimorphism in the species so the adult female is distinguished from the male by certain details in its plumage, which is usually more opaque, has rows of yellow dots under the wings and a yellow barring on the tail feathers. Young males also have these bars until they begin to molt. They reach sexual maturity at 7 months.

Wild behavior of cockatiels 

In the wild, these birds are nomadic, i.e., they live from place to place. For this reason, it is easy to find them almost everywhere in Australia as this bird species is easily adaptable to different environments. Although they prefer open spaces and plains, not closed forests, to fly freely.

Birds such as cockatiels feel a strong need for the company of their own kind, so they live in flocks. Normally, when dusk arrives, they gather in groups on top of trees to spend the night.     

In the wild, they normally feed on seeds, fruits, tree leaves, and berries that they find in preferably flat areas depending on the availability of resources. They are not very greedy, so they only require a certain amount of food to satiate themselves.

In addition, males can emit and imitate sounds, such as melodies or the songs of other birds. They make these sounds until they find a place where they feel comfortable to sleep.

Domestic behavior of cockatiels 

As I was telling you, they are not territorial birds mainly due to their nomadic behavior, so they do not dispute or protect a specific space. On the contrary, they are birds that feel a strong need for companionship.

In this case, they could be accompanied by specimens of their own species and of course by their human friend. Therefore, in captivity it is recommended to keep them in groups of at least two (one male and one female).

It’s a bird that requires a lot of attention 

Although cockatiels don’t require special care, or at least not as specific as other pets, it is true that they need the company of their human friend. Therefore, in captivity they must have your frequent attention to generate a bond, as necessary as their feeding.

Cockatiels need freedom 

Cockatiels travel long distances in search of food when they are in their natural habitat. Therefore, releasing it daily to fly free for a few hours is essential for the bird’s well-being. This will serve to strengthen its bones and muscles and prevent obesity (it should not exceed 100g, depending on size).

Cockatiels are very intelligent 

Nymphs need to stimulate their minds, so you should do two things.

  • On the one hand, provide them with plenty of toys.
  • On the other hand, talk to them frequently in a calm tone of voice without suddenly increasing it so as not to frighten them.

What you didn’t know about cockatiels 

Cockatiel varieties 

Many of today’s birds are the result of mutations and combinations between breeds. Some nymphs are the result of the combination of two mutations, as is the case of the Albino nymph, giving rise to a great variety of colors and patterns; another characteristic that makes them very attractive. Here is a list of some of the most common combinations:

  • Albino Cockatiel
  • Spotted White-Faced Cockatiel
  • Pearlescent Cinnamon Cockatiel
  • Cinnamon Lutina Cockatiel
  • Pearl Spotted Cockatiel

Body language of cockatiels 

This bird is a very emotional bird, so it has complex body language to communicate its emotions to you. Its crest, which seems to be only an ornamental feature, is not. Its showy crest curiously serves to communicate and warn of dangers, incredible, isn’t it?

Some of the signs of its crest are the following:

  • When half of the crest is up, it means that your bird is in a very good mood.
  • If the nymph’s crest is up but not completely up, it is a sign that something has caught her attention.
  • If the crest is turned all the way up, it is a sign that your nymph is anxious and frightened, something has probably disturbed it. Pay attention!

Can cockatiels talk? 

They are so intelligent birds that they easily learn to imitate sounds, not so many words, as long as they are trained from the time they are babies. Males are known to prefer musical intonations, as females are less vocalized.

The personality of cockatiels 

Believe it or not, these birds also develop a personality.

As an example, a friend of mine has had a pair of nymphs, male and female, for 6 years and has found that each one is very different. The male, Rufino, is super sociable, likes to spend hours in the mirror, and makes noise to get out and walk around the apartment, although he sometimes has bouts of rage. Meanwhile, the female named Cayetana is very nervous, doesn’t like to go out, gets upset very easily, doesn’t like to be touched, and doesn’t care about mirrors like the other one.

So, depending on their breeding, your birds will have certain tastes and a characteristic mood that you will notice when living with them.

Ideal housing and space for your cockatiel 


  • The larger the space, the better! For, as you know, these birds seek to fly outside their cages.
  • The most important thing about the environment is that, like any bird, they are skittish (however sociable they may be), so you should offer them a quiet environment, without excessive noise, avoiding shouting, talking loudly or playing loud music.
  • They require at least 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, so cover the cage at dusk, when natural light decreases. Never leave your pet near artificial light.
  • Do not use excessive cleaning products, birds and especially nymphs are very sensitive to strong odors and contact.

Cage facilities 

Although these birds require a wide space to fly freely, obviously with all the safety measures so that nothing bad happens to them, they also need their own space and the cage is fundamental.


It’s essential that the internal space of the cage be very ample, especially horizontally. Therefore, for the cage, the suggested minimum dimensions for your nymph would be between 90-105 x 60 x 90 cm (front x width x height).

You should also take into account the shape of the cage since an angular cage (rectangular or square, in the last case hexagonal) provides them with reference points, which helps them feel safe and protected.

The cage should be located in a steady place that has support on the wall and a sturdy base, which keeps the bird at a certain height above the ground.

Very important:

The smaller the cage, the more out-of-cage recreation time you should allow.

Basic accessories 

First of all, you should take into account the shape of the cage, since an angular cage (rectangular or square, in the last case hexagonal) provides them with reference points, which helps them feel safe and secure. The cage should be located in a stable place with wall support and a sturdy base, which keeps it at a height of more than 1.5m above the ground.

The 10 basic accessories for a cockatiel cage: 
  1. Substrate base (Not newspaper, we will explain later).
  2. Mineral and natural perches (perches or sticks).
  3. Feeding platforms (wood).
  4. Feeder (ceramic).
  5. Drinker (ceramic).
  6. Bathing place (plastic or ceramic, never metallic).
  7. Foraging tray.
  8. Ladders (natural materials).
  9. Toys.
  10. Calcifying grit for the bottom of the cage.

Additional accessories 

In addition to the basic accessories at home, your cockatiel needs to exercise its mind with toys that challenge it and provide daily physical activity. Always make sure they are made of natural materials. Some of the most recommended toys for your bird are:

  • Hard acrylic or wicker ball (recommended to have a seed inside).
  • Rolling and spinning.
  • Swings and hangers.

Basic care for your cockatiel 

Although they are not as demanding as their larger cousins the Cockatoos, Parrots or Macaws, you must be careful in adapting their living space.

Cage maintenance 

The cage is their enclosure, so its cleanliness is the basis of any bird’s care; clean it daily.

Take care of the feeding bowls such as waterers and feeders, cleaning them frequently, at least 2 or 3 times a week.

You must change their water and pick up food that has not been consumed, as well as food that has been watered out of the containers to avoid damage and rotting.

Keep in mind that, unlike what is commonly thought, the bedding is not newspaper-based (harmful inks). Instead, it should be a substrate made of Kraft paper or a corn-based vegetable substrate.


To bathe your cockatiel you need a bathing tub and water basically, the water should be at a temperature between lukewarm and cold in the cold seasons, never hot!

Bathing should be regular, but not forced. So it is very important that you observe your cockatiel’s behavior and adjust the bathing to their tastes and needs, some bathe daily and others only once a week.

Aesthetic care for cockatiel 

Your bird requires some very important aesthetic care, not so much for its appearance, but for its well-being. In that sense, we talk about care in relation to its beak, nails, and legs.

  • The beak wears out naturally through activity, but there comes a time when it is too long and you should take your bird to the vet.
  • On the other hand, the nails of the feet are something you should supervise to avoid accidents in which your bird gets hurt. You can cut the nails when you notice that the cockatiel is unable to walk or stumbles frequently. Cut far away from the vein in their claws, so do it against the light or visit a veterinarian.
  • As for their paws, keep them moisturized with a subtle paw bath. Although they usually look a little dry, if the dryness is excessive, it may be due to acariosis, which causes scaly paws.

Spend time with them and show them lots of affection. 

It is one of the most important non-material care in pet ownership of all kinds. In the case of cockatiels, it’s important to have contact with them and give them affection, remembering that they are one of the most social and affectionate birds among domestic birds. Dedicate some time to give her a subtle caress or a few words.

Healthy food for your cockatiel 

An adult bird needs approximately 12 to 14 grams of food per day, they are not very greedy, but they demand quality and care with the food you feed them.

In addition, you need to vary their diet periodically. This point is essential and is one of the main reasons why cockatiels are not recommended for first-time owners. Pay close attention!

Food suitable for cockatiels 

Cockatiels are granivorous birds, that is, their diet is based on a variety of seeds. Among which, you can highlight the seeds, which is one of their favorites. However, this sunflower seed has a lot of fat and thus it is important to limit the amount to avoid obesity, one of the most frequent health problems in this bird.

The birdseed is essential as in all birds, but you can add other foods with a good supply of nutrients such as oats.


Their diet is based on a mixture of canaryseed, oats and sunflower seeds (in small amounts). In general, their diet should consist of 60% to 65% canaryseed or pellets recommended for nymphs and 20% to 25% vegetables and fruits. The other 5% to 10% should include mixed seeds and extras (sprouts, rice, quinoa).

In addition, from time to time you can give nuts and some treats such as fruit sticks with honey or other seeds. Everything necessary for feeding nymphs can be found in any pet store or specialized bird store.

Prohibited foods 

Of course, there are foods that are not beneficial for your cockatiel so it is strictly forbidden to feed them dairy products, chocolate and industrial bakery products.

Basic health care for cockatiels 

Most common diseases of cockatiel 

There are many diseases that can affect your bird, but fortunately, few of them are common. Other than obesity, here are some of the diseases to keep on your radar:

Health ProblemsSymptoms and CausesWhat to do?
SalmonellaIt mainly affects the youngest cockatiels, causing diarrhea, joint pain, and nervous disorders three days after infection. It’s transmitted through the feces or saliva of infected birds.Take immediately to a veterinarian. If not treated in time, the bird may die.
ConjunctivitisIt’s very common in cockatiels. Conjunctivitis is manifested by redness and swelling of the eyes with pus, in addition to the loss of feathers around the eye.If you notice one of these symptoms, do not hesitate, take your friend to the veterinarian immediately. To prevent this disease, take care of your bird from local irritations and infections (in its eyes).
PsittacosisIt manifests itself eventually in cockatiels. It’s caused by the intracellular parasite Chlamydia psittaci. It starts as a cold with moist dripping from the nostrils and wheezing.Before declaring the disease fatal, cramps are a sign that the disease is worsening and you should take her to the veterinarian.
GoiterMainly, the bird suffers from an external inflammation of the neck. The lump that forms on the neck often presses against the crop and trachea, causing fatigue and difficulty in moving.If something is not done immediately, the bird could die. Once you notice the symptoms, take it to the veterinarian.
AcariosisMites can normally attack the plumage, but in some cases also the lungs. They are visible in the plumage and our friend will continue to clean himself.  Keep its cage clean and bathe it regularly. This will keep the mites away.  

Signs of a healthy cockatiel 

  • A cockatiel’s lively behavior is a sign of good health. If your bird is sad or complaining or has stopped eating, this is a sign that something is wrong.
  • If its appetite or the amount of water it drinks changes, it may be a sign that it is sick or dehydrated.
  • Soft and clean plumage. Its plumage is the main reflection of its mood and health.
  • Watch its eyes! Its eyes can tell you more than you think. They must be clean with no redness or swelling, otherwise, you should be concerned.
  • Dry wax (area around the nose). If you notice moisture in this area, set your alarm bells ringing!

Where can I buy a cockatiel? 

Buying a cockatiel 

These birds are exotic birds and in many cases, they can be trafficked on the illegal wildlife market. Therefore, if you want to have a nymph in your home, I especially ask you to purchase it from an authorized place.

Cockatiels are becoming more and more attractive to people who want to have a pet different from dogs and cats. So, in any pet store or bird specialty store you can acquire a healthy bird, well cared for and receive good advice from experts to take care of your nymph in the best way.

Did you like the content? Keep reading more articles and share with more people the amazing experience of owning a Cockatoo nymph.