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The Cockatiel

The cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is a species of bird of the parrot family but stands on its own with the nearest relative being the cockatoos.  It is described as the second most popular caged bird after Budgerigars and is a good pet or companion bird.

The bird is a native of Australia where it lives near water in arid or semi-arid land, but they move when the food and water dictate the need.  They can be a pest around farmer’s crops and are usually seen in small flocks or pairs.

The average lifespan of a cockatiel in the wild is 10-15 years but in captivity the average is 16-15 years.  Individual birds have been reported up to 32 years old.  In a mixed setting, cockatiels can be bullied by smaller, dominant birds such as budgies to the extent that injuries can be serious on either side. 

Vocalisations and behaviour

In captivity, cockatiels are often kept in large cages but also need time outside the cage for exercise purposes.  They like to be active during the day and return to safety when it comes time to sleep.  Some birds, if they have been raised that way, enjoy human contact and interaction and will bend its head for a scratch. 

These birds can be quite vocal, so are not always best in built-up homes.   A male bird tends to be louder than a female and can make quite piercing shouts when they need to.  Generally their chatter is softer, and squeaks can indicate pleasure.  A cockatiel may hiss when annoyed or even peck if threatened. 

They can learn to whistle tunes or other sounds but are not the best at learning to talk.  However, they are quite smart at learning to mimic sounds and have been known to imitate a car alarm, a telephone, noises from microwaves or the calls of other birds.  Males are the best at this, and individuals have been known to even imitate the pet dog and bark back at it.

They can also learn to recognise sounds which they hear repeatedly, including their owner’s voice, the sound of the family car or the noise of keys as they unlock the door.

A cockatiel’s crest has its own language and is a good way of judging the mood of the bird.  When it is completely vertical, this could mean the bird is excited or is frightened by something.  The crest sits midway back when the bird is relaxed while flattened to the head means angry or prepared to defend itself against a threat.

Tamed birds require attention from their humans, but another option is to provide them a mirror.  It can lead to mating behaviours as the bird sees the reflection in the mirror as a potential mate but is a good pass-time.  These birds like to chew things, so toys designed for parrot-type birds are ideal.  Don’t be surprised if a cockatiel destroys a toy, this just means they have had fun with it!

Colours

The wild type cockatiel is grey with white flashes on the edges of the wing.  The male bird has a white or yellow face while the females is grey or light grey but both birds have orange cheeks.  The bird is around 30-33cm in length, and nearly half of this is made up from impressive tail feathers.

There are 15 recognised colour mutations in cockatiels currently which include pied, pearled, cinnamon, white-faced and lutino (yellow).  There is also a variety of different colours of these mutations.


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Sexing

Once cockatiels reach their maturity, they are sexually dimorphic which means the sexes are different.  But it is a subtle difference compared with some other bird species.  The male looses the white or yellow marks on the underside of tail and wing feathers after the first moult.  At the same time, the grey feathers on the cheeks and crest turn to bright yellow feathers and the orange cheek patches become brighter.  The female bird still has the orange cheek patches but retains the barring under the tail.  Of course, this is only for wild-type cockatiels.

Diet

Feeding a cockatiel is not a difficult thing as there is a huge range of food they can enjoy, although each bird will have different tastes and not eat everything offered.  Seed mixes designed for parakeets is readily available and can make up the basis of the diet.

They can enjoy fruit, apart from avocados which are toxic and whole grains such as barley or oats.  Nuts such as almonds and walnut can be offered as well as greens such as dandelion leaves, watercress and broccoli.  Cabbage, cucumber, fresh peas, parsnips and peppers have all been noted as foods enjoyed by cockatiels.

Things which should not be fed to cockatiels include chocolate, alcohol and caffeine as all of these can contain toxins.

Breeding

Cockatiels are a good parrot to start with if you want to breed birds.  They can breed quite easily with no elaborate requirements once they reach the age of about 9-12 months.  The female bird goes low to the ground, spreads her wings and bounces as she chirps when she is ready to mate.  Sometimes fertilisation does not take place but usually the birds will sit for around a week then realise the eggs are empty, at which point they may remove them from the nest or even eat them.  This is done to replace the calcium used in creating the eggs ready to produce more.

Clutches are typically 4-7 eggs which are laid every two days and incubated for 18-22 days by both parents alternatively.  Chicks fledge at 4-5 weeks and are fed by the parents until the age of 8-10 weeks by both parents.

If you want to tame the chick, it is best to handle from the age of 2-3 weeks, so they become more trusting of humans.  Offering a little hand-feeding formula is a good way to bond with the little bird.

Conclusions

If you want to start with a parrot family bird but fancy something a little larger than a Budgie, then a cockatiel may be the one for you.  Remember to find out what kind of background the bird has to establish suitability for you and what the bird will expect from you for a happy family.


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