Photo Theresa Sjoquist

The small native Australian parrot, the cockatiel, makes one of the best pet birds. It is a relatively calm bird, easily trained, and happy with less than a huge cage, especially once it is tame and can be let out. The minimum size of a cage for one or possibly two cockatiels, is 32cm x 44 cm x 90cm.

Cockatiels come in varying colour mixes of greys, yellows, and whites. An all or mostly grey bird, will also have grey feet and beak, while lighter hued birds will have pink feet and beaks. All cockatiels have orange circular patches on each cheek, and all sport crests on their heads, which they raise and lower according to their emotions.

Companion Birds

All parrots are known as companion birds because that’s what they do, keep company. In the wild, parrots naturally flock together, but if they happen to separate while foraging for food, they call periodically to make sure the flock is nearby. This flocking trait is what makes pet parrots such great companions. They not only want to interact, but they need to. Don’t get a cockatiel and put it by itself in a cage where it has no possibility for interaction. It’s incredibly cruel and you’ll pay either with a noisy screeching bird trying to attract company, or the opposite, a bird which will eventually die of isolation.

Interaction is a prime need in parrots, just as it is with humans, and you’ll find a pet cockatiel will like to whistle you up occasionally, just to make sure you’re still around. As long as you respond, they’ll generally be content, but if you ignore them, the demand for attention can escalate. If you have accustomed your pet bird to lots of attention in the early days, you can expect this kind of demanding behavior. The old adage, start as you mean to go on, is applicable to keeping parrots.

Jasmin with Chickie and Jupiter - Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Jasmin with Chickie and Jupiter – Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Placing the Bird Cage

Indoor cockatiels are not hardened like their outdoor counterparts to weather, and can be susceptible to draughts. Make sure you have a permanent position for the cage which is draught free and provides your bird with visual stimulation. Ideal is a situation where there is lots of traffic such as a kitchen so that the bird has regular access to his flock; you and your family.

Pet Bird Activities

Provide a few toys to give your bird something to do. They love picking things to bits and will tug at a piece of rope or chain strung through the cage bars. Just make sure they can’t strangle themselves on it. Thread bits of paper through the bars or hang a swing for them. They love destroying a few willow fronds and will nibble at the choice tips. This provides both nutrition and activity for them. Depending on where you are located, other tree types will also do but check with your local avian vet. In New Zealand, willow, tea-tree, pittasporum, gum, and bottlebrush are all much favoured by cockatiels.

Pet Bird Food

Feed your cockatiel with seed mixes designed especially for cockatiels if you buy them from a pet shop. Do a little searching because most cheap commercial seed mixes are ‘dead’ seed. The seed has often been imported and heat treated to make sure it doesn’t germinate. ‘Dead’ seed will fill your bird up, but deliver very little in the way of nutrition. Try to source locally grown ‘live’ seed. Sunflower seeds are very rich and cockatiels love them.  If they are included in the seed mix, your birds may choose to eat those over everything else.  Too much sunflower seed can cause fatty deposits around their livers and considerably shorten a cockatiel’s life, so I give budgie seed and offer sunflower seeds separately as a treat and that way control how many of them they eat.

Jupiter & Chickie enjoying willow - Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Jupiter & Chickie enjoying willow – Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Your pet bird needs clean water every day, and fresh seed. He/she also needs access to greens. Cockatiels are fond of spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, beans and a variety of greens. Experiment to find out what your bird likes (they’re all individuals). Many love sweetcorn, or cooked mashed carrot, and some like sweet fruit such as grapes. Do not feed avocado to your cockatiel or you will soon be burying your companion.

They often have  a taste for plain sweet biscuits such as Round Wine etc. These should be a treat and given only occasionally. Sugar is not natural to birds and will soon wreak havoc with their systems if they get too much. Some cockatiels are partial to a bit of dried toast as well. They like crisp crunchy things and grind them up sometimes just for the pleasure of doing something with their beak and they’re quire capable of turning a piece of apple into hundreds of tiny apple bits spread all over your floor.  Do not feed chocolate to your bird. It will die.

Providing a cuttlebone in the cage allows your pet bird to get all important grit to aid its digestion. Most pet shops will have cuttlebone but if you can’t source any, offer crushed egg or oyster shell.

Cockatiel Sleep Habits

At night, cover the cage with a cloth. The bird needs darkness to sleep and it needs at least 10-12 hours of sleep every night. If your bird is deprived of sleep, it will become cranky and most uncompanionable. Your bird will be most active an hour after dawn until mid-morning, and again from late afternoon for a couple of hours until dusk. During the day they will be active with frequent periods of much-needed rest. It’s a bird thing – don’t try to interact with your bird when it’s trying to rest.

Jasmin and Grandma with Jupiter and Chickie - Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Jasmin and Grandma with Jupiter and Chickie – Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Basic Care for Pet Parrots

In summary – interact with your bird, make the permanent cage position one in which there is no draught but plenty of visual stimulation, make sure your cockatiel gets fresh water, seed, and greens every day, cover your cockatiel companion at night.

©Theresa Sjoquist