Avian Species Menu

Cockatiels

Cockatiels

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Species Organizations

National Audubon Society
Website: www.audubon.org
Cornell Lab of Orinthology
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu
The Avian Web
Website: www.avianweb.com

Classification
Order Psittaciformes, Family Cacatuidae
Scientific Name
Nymphicus Hollandicus
Other Common Names
N/A
Species Description
The Cockatiel is a small parrot relating to both the Psittacidae and the Cacatuidae families. Like other cockatoos, as for example the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the cockatiel has an erectable crest. Cockatiels and cockatoos in general also share other features, such as the facial feathers covering the sides of the beak, which are rarely - if ever - found outside the Cacatuidae family. In contrast to most cockatoos, the cockatiel has long tail feathers, roughly making up half of its total length. The cockatiel's distinctive pointed yellow crest is held erect when startled or excited, while a crest slightly tilted indicates a relaxed state of mind.

The plumage is generally mid-grey, lighter underneath, with an almost perfectly round orange patch of feathers covering the ear opening (usually referred to as a "cheek patch") and a prominent white blaze on the wings. A row of yellowish spots can be found underneath the wings of female cockatiels, but not on the males. Some other mutations exist, such as the Lutino, which lacks black and grey colour, being a light yellow colour overall. Female Lutinos also have barred tail feathers. Both the cock and the hen have yellow facial feathers: the female has a yellow wash around the beak and eye, in the male, yellow covers most of the head and the fore part of the crest. Male cockatiels are very protective and nurturing of their offspring and are known to be very capable of raising their newborns if the mother is unable to.

Cockatiel lifespans in captivity are generally given as 15-20 years, though it is sometimes given as short as 12-15 years and there are reports of cockatiels living as long as 30 years, the oldest reported being 35 years old when it died.


Habitat
Cockatiels are native only to Australia where they are found largely in arid or semi-arid country, but always near water.

Distribution
Largely nomadic, the species will move to where food and water is available. They are typically seen in pairs or small flocks. Sometimes hundreds will flock around a single such body of water. To farmers' dismay, they often eat cultivated crops. They are absent from the most fertile southwest and southeast corners of the country, the deepest Western Australian deserts, and Cape York Peninsula. They are the only Cockatoo species which can sometimes reproduce in the end of their first year.

Captivity
Cockatiels are generally regarded as good pets having a sweet demeanor, though this is by no means a guarantee. Like most other pets, the manner in which the animal is raised, handled, and kept has a profound effect on the temperament of the animal.

Summary
Some birds are quite gregarious and sociable while others can be shy, retreating to the back of the cage when an unfamiliar figure appears. If handled often and if they have a patient owner the cockatiel(s) will become tame very quickly compared to some of the other parrot species.

Cockatiels may be permitted to roam freely about a domicile provided the owner takes certain precautions; such as clipping the bird's wings if the rooms have ceiling fans or other hazards that might pose a risk to the bird (stoves, chimneys, toilets, etc.). A scared cockatiel will choose flight over fight most of the time, and may injure itself accidentally. As a social bird, cockatiels prefer areas with a lot of activity during the waking hours, and return to a secluded area when it is time to sleep. Cockatiels may peacefully nap on or near their owner(s), including the owner's chest and shoulders if the owner is stationary for a long period of time.

Generally, well-socialized birds are gentle and friendly. Some cockatiels enjoy physical contact, lending themselves well to taming. Many cockatiel owners develop regular bonding rituals with their animals, engaging in preening, scratching, and even petting. A cockatiel that wishes to be petted will often lower his head or nibble at the owner's fingers to indicate that it wishes to have its head and neck scratched (two places it can't easily scratch on its own), and will emit a low squawk to show its pleasure. Cockatiels which are hand-fed and purchased from a young age are more readily suited for physical contact.

Some birds will emit a distinctive 'hiss' when irritated, retreating rapidly or defending with pecking bites, which can be relatively strong for their size. This 'hiss' is a form of mimicry from the cockatiel's most common predator, the snake. This hissing may be coupled with the bird tapping its beak on a hard surface to generate additional attention while lowering its head and spreading its wings in a display of aggression.

Cockatiels do have a reputation for being demanding of the attention of their owners on a regular basis. Though noisy at times, their vocalizations range from ginger cheeps to piercing cries but they lack the screeching voice of other parrots (males are the loudest in comparison to the small peeps from a female. A cockatiel that has bonded with an owner may emit vocalizations if that owner leaves the room. Cockatiels permitted to roam freely will often seek out the owner by going from room to room or following the owner around the house; or, if the owner happens to be outdoors, going from window to window to keep the owner in visual range. Well-bonded cockatiels can be trained to accept the absence of the owner by the owner placing the cockatiel on the owner's finger and repeating a key word, such as "bye-bye" or "You be good" several times just before leaving. Cockatiels may also recognize the signs of an owner preparing to go out and put themselves into their own cage.

Domesitcated cockatiels require a consistent few hours of quality time per day with a person or in a person's company and a good night's sleep in an area with very little noise or distractions. Twelve hours of sleep at least is typical for a cockatiel. Less sleep can cause sickness and irritability.

If left on their own, quiet birds will frequently make contact calls with their owners, calls that sometimes can be quite loud if the person is out of sight. Cockatiels can grow so attached to their owners that they may try to 'protect' them from anyone that tries to come near them, such as a partner or family member, by biting or hissing. This happens especially if cockatiels are kept in bedrooms or other rooms that are not generally shared by everyone in the family, because cockatiels perceive those rooms as their own personal territory. By keeping cockatiels in a shared household room, they are exposed to all family members equally and will not favor one person and feel the need to defend him or her as much. Cockatiels must be acquainted with the entire family, in order to assure even temperament toward all. Their popularity as pets is due in part because of their calm and timid temperament, to the point that they can even be bullied by smaller but more confident birds such as Budgerigars or lovebirds. Budgerigars and other smaller birds may choose to pick at cockatiels' feet causing amputated toes. It is not uncommon at all for a larger or smaller bird to maim the cockatiel, creating life-long disabilities and potentially life threatening injuries. However, some cockatiels will defend themselves.

Cockatiels don't necessarily make good pets for very young children because they startle easily with loud or unexpected sounds and may bite out of fear of sudden hand movements near and above their heads. However, they can make good pets for well-behaved older children. Once bonded with their owners, they will often cuddle and play, pushing their head against hands or faces, tossing small items about for the owner to retrieve as a form of "reverse fetch", or whistling a favorite tune. Cockatiels, like almost all other parrots, love to chew paper and can chew objects (like cardboard, books, magazines, wicker baskets, etc) when left unattended.

Most cockatiels enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors and will engage in the activity for hours. Cockatiels that are exposed to mirrors perceive their reflections as their mates. This can induce very aggressive behavior, and upon seeing themselves once, they are likely to experience anxiety until they find the mirror again.

The Cockatiel, along with the Budgerigar, is among the most popular pet bird species(2nd). Today all Cockatiels available in the pet trade are captive-bred, as Australia no longer permits the export of native wildlife, whether endangered or not. As a result, the common way to acquire a cockatiel outside of Australia is to purchase one from a breeder or a pet store.

Often, a cockatiel sold through a pet store will have a toy in its cage when on display. Purchasing the toy to which the bird has become familiar helps comfort the bird as it adapts to its new surroundings. During times when the owner is in the room with the bird, the cage door can be left open and, once the bird has become comfortable with the owner's presence, the bird may exit the cage to investigate the owner. Forcing a bird to leave a cage if it isn't ready may cause the cockatiel to be less trusting of the owner.

Cockatiels need a variety of foods to keep the bird on a nutritional diet. One problem that new owners face is the cockatiel "seed junky"; a bird who only eats millet sprays and seeds. One way to avoid this is to limit the availability of millet seeds (such as offering it as a treat to the bird once or twice a week) and instead offer a mix of pellets, flavored seed balls, dry cereal, cooked spaghetti, rice, and other foods. Captive cockatiels will eat most human foods, particularly unsweetened cereals, rice, carrots, certain fruits, bread, and pasta. However, chocolate, caffeine, and seeds from apples, avocados, peaches, pears, or cherries are toxic. Cockatiels should also not be given any food that has processed sugar in it, as this can cause the cockatiel to exhibit hyperactivity, aggression, and other behavioral problems. Cockatiels can eat small pieces of freshly cooked lean beef, chicken or fish; tofu; pet biscuits, and any vegetable that is meaty, dark green, orange, or yellow (high in vitamin A) such as: carrots; sweet potatoes; beets; broccoli; legumes/beans; frozen mixed vegetables; kale; greens (not lettuce); green peppers; zucchini and other squash; asparagus; dried hot peppers; bean or alfalfa sprouts; spinach; and Brussels sprouts. Make sure that any vegetable offered to a cockatiel is cleaned well, as small amounts of pesticides may remain from the harvesting of the produce. Such pesticides are toxic to the bird.

Cockatiels prefer to eat food that is at room temperature. It is common for a cockatiel to reject a sample of spaghetti if the food is too warm; and then to feast on the pasta strings once it has cooled.

When introduced to a new food, cockatiels may show no interest in it initially, but be more receptive to it another day.

Some cockatiel owners have said that their bird will try to eat almost anything, sometimes right off of your spoon as you are lifting the food to your mouth. Chicken, spaghetti noodles, chili, pizza, and countless other things have been listed among the foods that some Cockatiels enjoy stealing from their owners.

Although cockatiels are part of the parrot order, they are better at imitating whistles than speech. Males may learn to whistle different tunes. Although they can learn words, the only understandable parts of the words are the inflections, while the consonants are not easily discernible. Their whistles and other mimicking sounds such as 'lip-smacking' and 'tutting' are almost perfect imitations of the sounds their owners make. Although some cockatiels do learn to repeat phrases, males are generally better at mimicry than females. Cockatiel speech often comes out as a "whistle" when they do annunciate, the voice being soft in volume and difficult to make out. Cockatiels can mimic many sounds, such as the bleep of a car alarm, a ringing telephone, the sound of a zipper, the beeping of cell phones or microwaves, or the calls of other bird species such as blue jays or chickadees and loud weather like thunder. They can also mimic other pets such as dogs, occasionally barking back.

Although female cockatiels are not often known to speak, this is not an absolute. Males have been known to mimic noises, words and sometimes other animals. Females generally don't imitate speech, but tend to mimic sounds such as telephones, washing machines, toilet flushes, etc. Cockatiels that do imitate speech will usually mimic frequently heard phrases, particularly of the individual to whom the bird feels closest.

Cockatiels can also recognize sounds, such as the sound of the owner's vehicle as it parks nearby.

Cockatiels are a popular choice for amateur parrot breeders along with budgerigars. This is due to both the ease of getting the birds to breed (they seem to have no inhibitions, with both sexes engaging in self-stimulation) and the fairly low cost of the equipment needed. Generally a clutch consists of 4-5 eggs, each approximately the size of one's thumbnail. Eggs are laid once every two days and incubated for 18-22 days. Hatchlings fledge between 4-5 weeks old and wean between 8-10 weeks old. Babies may often be gently handled while in the nest or removed for hand-feeding at 2 or 3 weeks old to help them become more tame and trusting. Puberty (adolescence) is reached around 9 months of age while adulthood is reached around 1 year and 9 months in males and/or 15-18 months in females.

Male cockatiels are very protective and nurturing of their offspring and are known to be very capable of raising their newborns if the mother is unable to.

Some female cockatiels also lay eggs without fertilization, much as those of the chicken species used for food production. You will know your cockatiel is getting ready to lay eggs when you hear them make their mating call. You will know this noise because it is short chips repeated rapidly. The bird will also get low to the ground, slightly spread her wings, and bounce as she is making sounds. Once the cockatiel has laid her eggs she will believe the egg holds a bird, therefore she will sit on it and protect it for about a week. Be careful, even the sweetest cockatiel will attack to protect her egg. After about a week the cockatiel will realize the egg is empty and move on to more important things. To prevent laying, one can keep the cockatiel in more darkness per day by covering it earlier in the evening and leaving the cage covered longer in the morning. Like all parrots, cockatiels of either sex can grow to see their owner or a toy as a mate, engage in courtship and mating behavior including territoriality, and females may lay infertile eggs.

Petting the back of the female cockatiel may inadvertently sexually stimulate the hen, promoting egg-laying; owners seeking to avoid egg-laying should avoid this particular form of bonding.

The cockatiel has recently been shown to be capable of hybridising with the Galah, producing offspring described by the media as "Galatiels".


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