The cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is the smallest bird of the cockatoo family and one of the most popular pet birds in the world. Originally from Australia, they became domesticated and widely known and bred from the 1840s onwards. They are generally friendly gentle birds with good powers of mimicry although are better at imitating whistles and other sounds than human speech. They can live 10-15 years in captivity.
Cockatiels naturally live in large flocks so will be happiest in a spacious aviary set up. This should be an outdoor enclosure made of strong wire mesh (which should be zinc free), with an easily cleanable floor and plenty of room for the birds to fly around. In addition to the flying area, a sheltered sleeping area should be provided to protect from the worst of the British weather. There should also be the facility to provide supplementary heating in the winter. The shelter should also provide shade on sunny days. Perches can be placed at varying heights around the enclosure with branches of different diameters providing the most natural set up. It is also particularly important to ensure that the enclosure is secure, both to stop the birds getting out (double security doors are the best way to prevent an escape) and to stop predators getting in.
Alternatively, if an aviary is not an option or if you wish to tame the birds, then they may be housed indoors in a cage set up. Ideally the cage should only be used for housing the bird at night or when unsupervised. A cage set up should also be as large as possible, and must allow the bird to stretch its wings in all directions. The cage should be made of non-toxic material and be zinc free. It should be placed out of direct sunlight and draughts and situated away from any item that may give off toxic fumes. Certain household products such as tobacco smoke, Teflon from non-stick frying pans, plug ins and deodorants can lead to irritation of the bird’s respiratory tract and in some cases can be fatal.
We recommend changing the perches that are supplied with most cages (usually wooden dowel or plastic) to natural tree branches. Fruit trees are preferred and these should be washed thoroughly with an appropriate disinfectant before use. Natural tree branches prevent all of the common foot injuries that we see and prevent nail overgrowth. Sanded perch covers should not be used as they simply abrade the feet and do not keep the nails short. In most cockatiels the problem is sharp nails as opposed to long nails and at the birds health check-up we can burr the nails and blunt them.
Ultraviolet lighting is important for birds, being required both for natural behaviour and calcium metabolism. Specific bird lamps are available and have recognised health benefits.
Different toys should be added and changed regularly to entertain birds. It is however, important to bear in mind that many pet shop toys can be easily demolished, so only sturdy toys should be used. When purchasing toys or cages always make sure that they are “zincfree” as zinc poisoning is increasingly seen in captive birds. Be careful as some fixings can contain zinc but yet the toy is zinc free. Household items such as keys, old paintwork, and lead weights can contain heavy metals and be potential sources of toxicity. If planning to be out of the house for a long time, it is also a good idea to leave a radio program on at a low volume to give the birds some stimulation.
Free flight is an essential requirement and birds should be given the opportunity for exercise daily. It is however, important to ensure that the room they are allowed to fly around is totally secure with all windows, doors and chimneys blocked off, heaters and fans turned off and any potentially poisonous house plants removed. If started young, birds can be easily trained to perch on a finger and returned to the cage.
The cage or aviary should be cleaned out at least once a week to help prevent disease and a suitable disinfectant used.
In general most birds are social animals and ideally should be paired up with another bird of the same species for lifetime companionship.
What to feed
In the wild, cockatiels will predominantly feed at ground level eating fruits, berries, grass seeds and grain crops. In captivity seed mixes have traditionally been provided, but often provide an inadequate balance of nutrients. Alternatively, good quality complete pellet diets are now available which will provide a better balance of nutrients (please see separate diet hand out for more in depth advice on this).
Water should always be available both for drinking, and in a shallow saucer for bathing. This should be changed daily.
Download our Cockatiel caresheet