How Long Should Your Cockatiel Be Cage-Free?

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

How long should my cockatiel be outside the cage?

Spoiler alert: Not all day long.

If that seems odd to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain why cockatiels shouldn’t be left outside the cage all day in this article. 

While being outside the cage all day isn’t good, cockatiels still need cage-free time.

They need time to do things they can’t do inside the cage.

How long they should be outside the cage depends on the cage size…

What Type Of Cage Does Your Cockatiel Have?

As mentioned, you should look at how big your cockatiel’s cage is before deciding how long they should be in or out of it.

We’ll be determining the ideal cage-free time for these 3 main cage sizes:

  1. Too small – “he only goes in there to sleep” – cage
  1. Average-sized cage
  1. Huge outdoor or indoor aviary

1. Inappropriately Small Cage For Cockatiels

If your cockatiel’s cage is about the same size as the cage shown below, it’s way too small and you should upgrade ASAP:

This is my cockatiel’s travel cage.

Since these cages barely provide enough room for cockatiels to spread their wings, they shouldn’t be in this cage for too long.

They should be outside the cage for most of the day, only going in to sleep or travel.

If you’ve seen birds in these cages on Reddit, you would see the owner’s justification:

“Oh don’t worry guys, he only goes into the cage for sleeping”

I call bs on that excuse.

There would be times when the bird needs to stay in the cage for much longer.

With these cages, cockatiels can hardly do anything at all, meaning out-of-cage time is essential all day.

2. Average-Sized Cage For Most Pet Birds

When I say “average-sized cage”, this is what I mean:

This is the cage my cockatiel comfortably resides in and it’s one of the most popular cage sizes for pet birds.

It’s a good size that allows cockatiels to spread their wings and play with different toys.

With plenty of perches and fun activities, you can make a cage of this size an enriching home for your bird.

You won’t need to feel guilty about having your cockatiel in this cage for a few hours per day.

So, how long should cockatiels be outside this cage?

Cockatiels can happily spend an equal amount of time inside and outside a cage of this size.

3. Huge Indoor Or Outdoor Aviary

An aviary that allows your cockatiel to fly around makes for a delightful home!

Here’s a good example of what that looks like:

I know these are macaws, but an aviary of this size would be amazing for cockatiels!

Since cockatiels have so much room to fly around, forage for food, and play with toys, they can comfortably spend most of their time inside.

If there are multiple cockatiels that socialise with each other, they can spend all day inside.

It’s very common to allow a flock of birds to live in an aviary without letting them out.

But if you have just 1 cockatiel in this huge space, you should let them out for a few hours per day.

This is so they can socialise with you.

If the aviary is big enough, you could even hang out with your cockatiel inside the aviary.

how long should a cockatiel be out of its cage

You can probably sense a rule of thumb here…

The bigger the cage, the less time they need to spend outside of it.

A cockatiel should spend almost no time inside a tiny cage, but it’s 100% fine to let them spend all day in a huge aviary.

Why Cockatiels Need Out-Of-Cage Time (3 Reasons)

When thinking about how long a cockatiel should be outside of their cage, it’s natural to wonder why they need cage-free time in the first place. Below I’ll cover 3 main reasons why cockatiels should spend a few hours each day outside the cage.

The First Reason Is Exercise 🏃‍♂️

Unless you have a huge aviary, your cockatiel likely doesn’t get much exercise in the cage.

Of course, playing with toys, chewing things, and climbing around are forms of exercise, but they can’t get their most effective exercise while inside a cage.

The most effective exercise a bird can get is, of course, flight.

Whenever my cockatiel is outside the cage, he loves to fly up and down the hallway.

He even enjoys flying laps around the kitchen!

Of course, he wouldn’t be able to fly as far or as fast while inside his cage, which is why it’s essential to let your bird out to exercise every day.

Second Reason; Social Time

Cockatiels are extremely social birds.

This is apparent from the fact that they live and socialise within huge flocks in their natural habitat.

If your cockatiel doesn’t have any feathered friends inside their cage, it’s important to let them out to socialise with you! Do some training with them, offer treats, let them sit on your shoulder, and show them some new things.

All of this provides mental stimulation and helps you maintain a good bond with your bird.

Proper socialisation is just as important to cockatiels as a proper diet.

After all, they are natural flock birds and you’re an honoured member of the flock!

Be sure to let your cockatiel out of the cage to hang out every day.

how long should a bird be out of its cage
Arthur the cockatiel hanging out with me

Third & Final Reason; Training

It’s difficult to train your cockatiel while they’re inside the cage.

If you want to teach your cockatiel to step up, fly to your hand, or even put a basketball through a hoop, you’ll want to have them outside the cage for this. In fact, I personally believe training away from the cage entirely is the best way to train.

Fewer distractions (toys, food bowls, etc.) mean better training results!

How To Get Your Cockatiel To Love Their Cage

Many people are tempted to keep their cockatiels outside the cage all day because they scream or make a fuss when going inside.

This used to be my cockatiel, so I get it.

But being afraid to put your cockatiel in the cage is unsustainable.

There will be times when you’ll need to put them in when they don’t want to go in.

A good way to overcome this is by getting your cockatiel to love being inside the cage!

Below are a few ways you can do that, which have worked for me.

Reward Your Bird For Going Inside The Cage

Since I’ve started rewarding my cockatiel for going inside the cage, he’s made much less of a fuss.

Most times I put him in, I also put a small bud of millet spray in his food bowl.

He seems to understand this because he runs over to the food bowl almost every time he gets put in the cage, clearly waiting for his millet.

how long should a cockatiel be out of its cage
Look at him waiting patiently for his millet! 😀

These days he doesn’t mind being put in the cage as he has some millet to look forward to!

Once he’s eaten his millet, he seems to forget that he’s even in the cage and will continue to play with a nearby toy.

Which brings me to my next tip…

Provide a New Toy When Putting Your Bird In The Cage

Cockatiels aren’t going to like being put into a cage with nothing to do.

They’re very intelligent birds who need almost constant stimulation to be happy.

Putting your cockatiel in the cage with no toys or fun activities will likely result in excessive screaming, begging you to let them out. But if you provide a new thing for them to play with, your cockatiel will feel less anxious going inside the cage.

Something to forage through or destroy should keep any parrot entertained!

Do Some Target Training Inside The Cage

You can do target training with your cockatiel through the cage bars.

The idea here is that it shows the cockatiel that social time and fun are possible inside the cage just as it is outside the cage. You can even “train” your cockatiel to enjoy being in the cage by putting them in, doing some target training, and then letting them out again.

This can help if your bird feels like you’ll never let them out of the cage once they’re inside.

Combine these tips together if needed.

Hopefully, your cockatiel will learn to love the cage if you follow these tips.

And then you’ll be able to put them inside with less hassle.

Why Cockatiels Shouldn’t Spend All Day Outside The Cage

I totally understand why you would want your bird to spend all day outside the cage.

But by leaving your bird outside the cage all day, you’re not allowing them to discover how fun being in the cage can be. And then, when you want to put your cockatiel in the cage, they’ll start freaking out because they still want to have fun outside the cage.

Cockatiels seem to also have what I call the “evening crankies”.

This is when they get aggressive in the evenings because they’ve been outside the cage all day.

They need some wind-down time from being social all day, which is what being in the cage provides.

A bird’s cage is like a child’s bedroom.

It’s a place to calm down, play with toys, and maybe even take a nap.

Without this wind-down time during the day, they’ll get cranky by the day’s end.

To prevent these types of behavioural issues, you should avoid leaving your bird outside the cage all day.


So, how long should your cockatiel be outside the cage?

Well, as you now know, it depends on the cage size.

For tiny cages that they can hardly move in, cockatiels should spend almost no time inside.

For normal-sized cages, a few hours inside and a few hours outside is a good balance for cockatiels.

And for large indoor or outdoor aviaries, you only need to let them out for an hour or 2 per day as the aviary is so spacious.

I hope this answers the question 🙂

Feel free to reach out and ask questions in the comments below. I’ll normally answer.

If your cockatiel is untamed and you often struggle to get them back inside the cage, I highly recommend reading this post:

4 Ways To Get An Untamed Bird Back In The Cage


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