Cockatiel Care 101: The Ultimate Guide For Beginners
After reading this beginner-friendly article, you’ll have ALL the information you need to take care of a cockatiel so they can live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life with you. You’ll learn everything from feeding a nutritious diet to setting up an enriching enclosure.
As a fellow cockatiel lover, I believe this info should be readily available to those who need it.
In order to properly care for our cockatiels, we need credible information.
Not only that, but we also need to hear what it’s really like to care for cockatiels from someone with first-hand experience.
There’s a LOT to discuss, so let’s get straight into it…
Page Navigation (For Your Convenience):
- Basic Info About Cockatiel Bird | What Is A Cockatiel?
- Feeding A Nutritious Cockatiel Diet
- Setting Up A Spacious & Enriching Cockatiel Cage
- Enrichment & Mental Stimulation
- Training & Taming Your Cockatiel
- Establishing A Good Sleep Schedule
- Are Cockatiels The Right Pets For You?
First, Some Basic Info About Cockatiel Birds | What Is A Cockatiel?
Cockatiels are native to the parrot-rich country of Australia and are the smallest members of the cockatoo family (cacatuidae). You can find wild cockatiel flocks in dry, arid plains and northern Australian bushland.
They have been seen eating alongside flocks of galah cockatoos and budgerigars, who share the same environment.
Height, Wingspan, & Average Lifespans
Cockatiel height: 12 – 13 inches (around 32 cm)
Healthy weight: Between 70 – 120 Grams
Cockatiel wingspan length: 19.5 Inches (Naturalinspirationsparrotcages.com)
Cockatiel wild lifespan: 10 – 15 Years (Psittacology.com)
Cockatiel lifespan as pets: 15 – 25 Years
Although the average lifespan for cockatiels in captivity is 15 – 25 years, there have been plenty of birds who lived well beyond those years. To date, the oldest living cockatiel was Sunshine, who passed away in 2016 at 32 years old – GuinnessWorldRecords
Now… Let’s move on to how to take care of these cockatiels.
Feeding A Nutritious & Delicious Cockatiel Diet
Diet is the most important aspect of cockatiel care.
An epic cage setup or how well you train them won’t even matter unless they’re eating a nutritionally balanced diet.
This is the vet-approved diet I’ve been feeding my cockatiel since I adopted him:
- 40% Quality pellets
- 30% Budgie seed mix
- 5% Training treats (Sunflower seeds, millet spray)
I don’t have an internet source to support my claims on proper cockatiel dieting, but I have this print-off that my avian vet gave me upon my last few visits, which I consider to be 100% reliable:
Personally, I’d believe my qualified avian vet’s advice over any internet source.
What Pellets Are Healthy For Cockatiels?
You now know that pellets should be the base (40%) of a healthy cockatiel diet…
But what brand of pellets are actually good?
Being good owners, we want to provide our birds with the healthiest options, and with all the different types of pellets, it can be difficult to make the best choice. Pellets formulated by avian vets or avian nutritionists, and pellets that are certified by the USDA are always the healthiest options!
Considering this, I suggest feeding your cockatiel any of the following pellets:
- RoudyBush daily maintenance
- Harrison’s adult lifetime fine pellets
- Vetafarm – I feed these to my cockatiel 🙂
- Kaytee’s exact natural cockatiel food
Offering Healthy Vegetables To Your Bird
Due to how fussy cockatiels can be, we owners often struggle to make them eat their veggies.
Cockatiels are very much like toddlers.
Since a variety of vegetables make up a crucial part of the overall diet (20%), it can be quite troublesome when our birds simply refuse to eat them. The best way to help prevent this problem is to introduce vegetables to them as early as you can or when they’re still babies, if possible.
To encourage fussy tiels’ to eat their greens, you can try preparing them in different ways:
- In a food bowl
- Clipped to the cage bars
Setting Up A Spacious & Enriching Cockatiel Cage
The cage is like your cockatiel’s bedroom inside your home.
Setting one up is cockatiel care 101…
In no way is the cage meant to be a prison or a holding cell for your bird, it’s meant to be a place where they can wind down, preen, eat, and play. A child enjoys being in their bedroom because it’s properly decorated and is filled with plenty of things to do…
This is how your cockatiel should see their cage, as opposed to something they must escape from.
A cockatiel’s cage must be filled with vital accessories, which include:
- Perches of varying sizes, thicknesses, materials, and textures
- Stainless steel food & water bowls
- Enriching toys
How Big Should A Cockatiel’s Cage Be?
It’s perfectly fine for a cockatiel to reside in a smaller-than-ideal cage until they’re partially tame.
But after you’ve gained their trust, you must move them into a spacious cage, so they can do their normal bird things more comfortably.
Deciding how big a bird’s cage should be is based on its height and wingspan length.
Considering this, a suitable cockatiel cage will meet these dimensions:
29″ Length x 19″ Width x 26″ Height
Look at my cockatiels cage:
The dimensions are 31″ Length x 18.5″ Width x 31″ Height.
Despite the width being a little smaller than suggested, this is a pretty spacious cage for a cockatiel, and you should aim for something of this size or even bigger.
When it comes to bird cages, bigger is always better!
Cleaning The Cockatiel Cage – Extremely Important Task!
Cleaning the cage is not an exciting task, but it’s vital to your cockatiel’s health.
Over time, your cockatiel’s cage will get dirty from food, droppings, and feather dust, which can help make the cage a breeding base for germs and diseases.
Disinfecting, rinsing, and then drying the ENTIRE cage will annihilate these germs.
Here’s a quick overview of my 7-step cage cleaning process:
- Remove all accessories from the cage (including the bird)
- Remove any solid waste you can see
- Create a bird-safe cage disinfectant (from apple cider vinegar)
- Thoroughly scrub the cage
- Rinse the cage with water
- Allow the cage time to dry outside
- Return accessories to the cage
Again, that was a super quick overview of the cleaning process…
Enrichment & Mental Stimulation
Cockatiel care is not just about feeding them a good diet and giving them a nice place to live, it’s also about keeping them busy, active, and mentally stimulated.
Cockatiels are way too smart to be left alone in a spacious cage with nothing to do.
Boredom will quickly get to them, despite their beautiful cage.
Luckily, keeping a cockatiel occupied is so simple even beginners can do it…
Most cockatiels are happy when shredding tough objects or foraging through materials to find treats.
Shredding/chewing and foraging/grazing is what cockatiels do best.
Wild cockatiels are known to spend 50% – 70% of their day grazing for food. (TheVetShed.com)
Since cockatiels are natural ground foragers, it makes sense to provide toys that encourage this instinctive behaviour. My favourite way to do this is by grabbing an empty cardboard box (cereal box, seed box, etc) and then filling it up with foraging materials and favoured treats.
My cockatiel, Arthur, has a blast digging through this easy-to-make toy!
Shredding & Chew Toys
Despite the fact that grazing is a parrot’s most used behaviour, we should not neglect their need to shred.
Wild parrots often shred tree branches, foliage, and tough seed shells.
Doing so helps keep their beaks trim, which is the exact purpose of shredding toys for our cockatiels!
And also to keep them entertained.
If we don’t provide our cockatiels with appropriate shredding outlets, they will act out this behaviour on household furniture and other items, which isn’t desirable. The best shredding materials for cockatiels are somewhat tough but can still be chewed through.
Balsa wood, eucalyptus wood, bamboo, sola, and seagrass are ideal for cockatiels to chew.
Training & Taming Your Cockatiel
Training your cockatiel to do tricks is another great form of both mental AND physical stimulation.
But before you can train them to do anything, they first need to trust you, which is where the taming process steps in…
Taming A Newly Adopted Cockatiel
Taming actually begins as soon as you adopt the bird and start interacting with them.
Any actions you take with the bird after the adoption is either gaining their trust, or it’s not.
For the best possible start to the relationship, you need to primarily be doing actions that build yourself up as a positive and trustworthy figure in the parrot’s eyes.
Here’s a basic cockatiel taming guideline:
- Start by simply sitting near the cage, talking, whistling, and generally acting harmless
- Offer some millet spray, sunflower seeds, or another tasty treat through the cage bars. They likely won’t accept treats from your hand yet, so just drop it in their food bowl or where they can easily access it.
- Maintain the cage, and replace food and water bowls carefully. They’ll see you providing for them, which they’ll appreciate.
- Have patience. How long it takes to build trust depends on the bird. Some birds trust within a few days, others are still cautious after a few weeks. Go at the pace your bird is comfortable with and you’ll eventually tame them.
Seriously, don’t overcomplicate the taming process…
Tasty treats and some patience is the key to most parrots’ hearts!
5 Things To Avoid While Taming Cockatiels
Look, it’s easy to make taming mistakes, especially if you’re new to bird ownership. Knowing what not to do will help build trust and a friendship with your cockatiel quicker, without stress. Below are 5 things beginner cockatiel carers must avoid during the taming process:
1. Bringing Them Out Of The Cage
A newly adopted cockatiel will be perfectly fine staying inside the cage for a few days after adoption.
I know… We want to bring our birds out at soon as possible so they can explore the house, fly around, and hang out with us. But if they’re not yet tamed, you’ll struggle to put them back in the cage when needed.
And putting them through unnecessary stress is NOT a good way to gain their trust.
With food, water, and a couple of toys, they’ll be fine in the cage until they’re tamed…
Plus it gives them plenty of time to get used to your home within the security of their cage.
2. Towering Above Them
Towering above your new cockatiel can be seen as predatory behaviour, which can make them fear you.
In general, it’s a good idea to keep yourself at eye level with your bird, or at least not too much above or below them. Obviously, you don’t want your cockatiel to see you as a predator, you want them to trust you as a flock member.
Additionally, you should avoid staring intensely at them from a towering position.
They could think you’re hunting them.
3. Don’t Try Forcing Interactions
If they’re not interested in what you’re trying to do, just leave them be.
Don’t attempt to force head pats, treats, or your hands onto your cockatiels when they don’t even trust you yet.
Again, they’ll see this as predatory behaviour, which negatively affects the taming process.
4. Chasing Them With Treats
This also falls under forcing interactions, but I felt it should be mentioned separately…
Although the cockatiel might LOVE millet more than life itself, you should not chase them around the cage trying to offer it to them. This is a beginner mistake that will lose any trust you’ve gained with your cockatiel almost instantly.
They likely won’t even see the treats, instead, they’ll see your pursuing hand.
Offer the treat by the opposite end of the cage and wait for them to come to it.
If they don’t, they’re not interested.
5. Don’t Grab Your New Cockatiel
Okay… this one is pretty obvious.
Grabbing your cockatiel under any circumstances besides an emergency is honestly just silly.
Sorry to be blunt, but if you’re trying to build trust with the bird and thought grabbing it was a good idea, you have a lot to learn.
There’s an uncommon parrot-taming technique that used to involve grabbing.
Owners used to think that grabbing and holding the bird until it calms down meant that it was tamed.
But in reality, the bird has simply learned helplessness and has deemed the struggle futile, causing it to “settle down”.
What a horrible way to begin a friendship, DEFINITELY avoid this “tactic”.
Training Tricks You Can Teach Cockatiels
Once a cockatiel is tamed, they can be taught to do a whole range of behaviours, actions, and tricks in exchange for positive reinforcement (treats, praise, head scratches).
Before teaching complex tricks, such as spinning around, for example, your cockatiel must first master these 3 basic behaviours:
- Target training – Teaches your bird to follow and then touch a target stick. Allows you to guide them around their environment. Ideally, this should be the first trick they learn.
- Step-up training – Teaches them to step up onto your hand upon hearing the command phrase. Great way to build trust, as well as make it easier to put them in and take them out of the cage, among other things.
- Recall (flight) training – Teaches your cockatiel to fly to your hand from short, medium, and long distances. Great continuation of step-up training and makes it easier to call them to you.
Btw, those links lead to full in-depth guides on each of the training programs 😉
Definitely give those a read whenever you’re ready to start training your cockatiel!
Cockatiel Body Language Guide
Compared to most other bird species, cockatiels have the simplest body language cues that even beginners can understand. This is all thanks to their crest, which adjusts based on their mood and before certain behaviours.
This section briefly describes a few ways you can read your cockatiel’s body language.
It’s important to know these cues for training, taming, and simply empathising with your bird.
What A Cockatiels Crest Can Indicate
The crest is your biggest indicator of how the cockatiel is feeling and what they’re going to do.
Here are 3 examples of what your cockatiel’s crest can indicate:
- Crest is flat on the head – A flat crest can indicate many things, including happiness or anger. If the cockatiel folds its crest when being approached, it means they’ll bite whatever is approaching. But cockatiels will also fold their crest when singing or enjoying social interactions. Knowing your individual cockatiel will help differentiate between the two behaviours.
- Crest is shooting straight up – If the crest is shooting all the way out, your cockatiel likely got startled by something. This crest position is normally paired with a stiff posture and skinny feathers.
- Relaxed crest position – If the crest is sitting loosely in the middle of the head, your cockatiel is likely relaxed. They’ll likely show this crest position while eating, sleeping, or preening.
Feathers Puffing Up – Body Language Cue
Cockatiels can choose to fluff their feathers up at any time.
When going about their normal activities, cockatiels will have their feathers closer to their skin, making them look skinny. But when a cockatiel is relaxing, they’ll puff out their feathers, making them look cozy, cute, and fat.
Don’t be alarmed when your cockatiel puffs out their feathers, they’re just chilling out.
Being puffed up will normally be paired with other relaxed behaviours, such as putting one foot up and beak grinding.
Beak Grinding – Body Language Cue
“Why on earth is my cockatiel making a *crunch crunch* noise”
No need to fear, cockatiels will grind or *crunch* their beaks before taking a nap. You’ll likely notice this behaviour within the first day with your cockatiel if you haven’t adopted them already.
It might seem weird to us humans, but beak grinding is just how cockatiels relax.
Beak grinding is normally paired with other calm behaviours, such as putting one foot up:
Establishing A Good-Quality Sleep Schedule – Cockatiel Care 101
Quality sleep is crucial to a parrot’s mental and physical health.
According to ExoticDirect, poor sleep can cause a cockatiel bird to feather pick, scream more than usual, and become aggressive or fearful.
Honestly, half of that sounds like my sister after getting just 2 hours of sleep 😂
Unlike us humans who can function on 6 – 8 hours of sleep, cockatiels require 10 – 12 hours of peaceful, undisturbed sleep.
My cockatiel goes to bed at 10 PM and is up at 10 AM the next morning, which is a great routine!
Should You Cover The Cage At Night?
This is how I put my cockatiel to sleep:
The only reason I partially cover the front of the cage is because I sleep in the same room and I don’t want him to be disturbed by my movement.
But if they’re in a room where you won’t be walking in and out all night, your bird can sleep fine without a cage cover.
Just as long as the room is dark and quiet.
Remember that constant fresh air flow is important, so you can’t cover the cage completely.
You can see from the images that I also leave the right side of the cage uncovered for this reason.
If you choose to cover your cockatiel’s cage, ensure fresh air can still flow through the cage.
Are Cockatiels The Right Pet For You?
Cockatiels, like any other exotic pet (yes, cockatiels are exotic pets), are not for everyone.
Of course, every pet has its pros and cons, and the below sections will discuss both the good and bad aspects of taking care of a cockatiel bird.
Starting off with the worst aspects…
Worst Things About Owning Cockatiels As Pets
The bad aspects of owning cockatiels as pets are mostly the same as keeping other parrots:
- Their initial setup is expensive (cage, dishes, perches, toys, food, etc)
- Extremely attention-demanding (especially if you only get 1)
- They’re high-maintenance (cage cleaning, bathing, training, giving attention, preparing food)
- They can scream pretty loud
- Many everyday household items (fumes & materials) are toxic to them
- Their behaviour can be tricky to understand
Adopting a cockatiel, or any parrot for this matter is literally a life-changing decision you should not make on impulse.
You must carefully analyse your situation and decide whether a cockatiel will fit into your life.
Good Things About Owning Cockatiels As Pets
“But if cockatiels are so much work, effort, and time, then why do so many people have them as pets?”
That’s a great question, which I will answer by highlighting the best parts about keeping cockatiels as pets:
- They’re intelligent birds
- Highly affectionate
- They have long lifespans
- They’re quite small & don’t take up too much space in the house
- They love to sing tunes! (but have a hard time speaking words)
- Their body language is easier to read than other parrots
For more info on whether a cockatiel is right for you, please read the two linked articles:
I managed to fit all the crucial information about cockatiel care throughout this article, such as:
- How to feed them a good diet
- How to set up their cage
- How to clean the cage
- Physical & mental stimulation
- And finally, establishing a good sleep schedule
All these are the basics of cockatiel care (cockatiel care 101).
Once you know all this information, I’m just gonna go ahead and say that you know how to take care of a cockatiel.
However, just because you know how to care for one, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can.
For example, if I studied for a while, I’m sure I could learn how to care for a tiger…
But in no way do I have the finances, space, or time to actually do it!
Do you think you could care for a cockatiel?
If you do and haven’t adopted one yet, I highly recommend reading the article below:
Feel free to leave a comment below if you want anything elaborated on or if you just want to leave some feedback 🙂
Thank you for reading!