What's Involved in Caring for A Cockatiel?
This is a guide to cockatiel ownership. We will discuss proper cages, care and feeding, socialization and toys, and miscellaneous. Grab a perch, let's squawk!
First, this is not meant to be an exhaustive guide. Consider it a primer on what to expect from cockatiel ownership. This guide is meant to help potential owners decide if a cockatiel is right for them, and to help new owners to know typical behavior. When in doubt, always consult with an avian vet.
How To Choose a Cage
One of the more expensive initial purchases for a new cockatiel owner is a proper cage. You'll want to choose a cage that is lower, but wider Vs. taller and narrower. Cockatiels tend to want to hang out toward the top of the cage. They have long tails, so be sure to get a cage that is tall enough, without being too tall. You don't want their tail to beat against the cage bottom, or dip into the water, as this will cause it to be constantly ratty looking.
A cage is a foundational item. If there is an aspect of the initial purchase that you need to save money on, don't scrimp on the cage. Remember, your cockatiel's cage is where he or she feels most safe. It's where they sleep, and eat. Do yourself and your pet bird a favor and start with a nice cage. It doesn't have to be the most expensive one available, but it should be well thought out with the bird's comfort in mind. The cage you choose should be at least two (2) feet long, and two (2) feet wide. When you're built to fly through the sky, there is no such thing as a cage that's too big.
When choosing a cage, pay attention to bar-spacing. The ideal space between bars is 1/2 inch or less, but no more than 3/4 of an inch. You don't want your cockatiel to get their head caught in the bars and injure themselves. Powder-coated cages, like Kings Cages are best. Birds are like potato chips, you can't stop at just one. So, it's a good idea to plan for the possibility that you'll get a second bird.
It's not only your bird's comfort that you should be concerned with. Be sure that the cage you choose can be easily cleaned. This is a task that you'll need to do DAILY so be sure that your cockatiel's cage is easy to clean with a slide-out tray and grates at the bottom. A large access door is also helpful. You can use any number of paper types to line the bottom of the cage. Newspaper, butcher paper, craft paper, and computer paper will all work. One of the best ways to assess your bird's health is by paying close attention to their droppings. Choosing the right type of paper to line the bottom of the cage will make this easier. This is the type of thing you can dial-in once you get to know your cockatiel. A change in droppings that isn't accompanied by a change in diet may signal a potential issue.
Cage placement is another important thing to consider. You want your cockatiel's cage to be in a cool spot away from the kitchen. Also, keep the cage away from windows with heavy sunlight and away from electronic equipment. Birds in general have very sensitive respiratory systems, and cockatiels can be even more sensitive than some other breeds. Cockatiels produce something called bird dust. They have white powder-down feathers close to their bodies. Along with down feathers, these help to insulate the bird. The tips of powder-down feathers crumble as a natural part of their life-cycle. This occurs when the cockatiel preens, and preening tends to spread the dust around. So, you don't want to place the cage in an area where dust like this may be an issue. Most people won't have a problem with bird dust, but some asthma sufferers or those with other types of respiratory issues may have their condition aggravated by the dust. Employing a HEPA filter in the area where the cage sits may help with this. Frequent bathing of the cockatiel may also help.
If you have a cockatiel hen, whether or not you plan to allow her to breed, there is a good chance she will lay eggs. This can be a problem for some hens. It seems that a cockatiel hen is hard-wired to produce more cockatiels, and to that end, she may continue to lay eggs too frequently, even when there is no male around. This can lead to some health issues like egg binding, where an egg forms but can't be laid, paralysis, and weakening of the bones. A lone cockatiel hen who lays eggs can become nervous because usually, when breeding, she takes turns with the male sitting on the eggs. She may ignore her food and water to sit on eggs that will never hatch. If your cockatiel hen lays unviable eggs, allow her to sit on them for a couple of days, then gently remove them.
Egg-laying isn't a conscious decision by your cockatiel, it's likely triggered by environmental changes, like longer days in the spring with more sunlight. An abundance of food can also cause a cockatiel hen to come into mating. A cage cover can allow you to control the amount of sunlight your hen sees and may help to control this behavior. If you have a male near your hen, and you aren't interested in breeding, you may need to move him to another room temporarily. If egg laying becomes an issue, consult your avian veterinarian right away. If, however, you want your cockatiels to breed, be sure there is an area in the cage for a nest box or other nesting material. Cockatiel nests should be at least 12" x 12".
How To Properly Feed Your Cockatiel
Before you bring home a new cockatiel, it is important to find out what their current diet is. Moving to a new location is a big, and stressful change. It is best if your pet bird's diet stays consistent until they've become accustomed to their new environment. Make diet the final change that they need to adjust to. Attempting to change a new, and particularly a young cockatiel's diet too soon, or too abruptly, and digestion issues are likely to follow.
For cockatiels under four (4) months old, soft foods are recommended with plenty of calcium, protein, and fats. They need these extra nutrients to form healthy bones, beaks, and muscles. Food can be purchased made specifically for young birds. A captive cockatiel's diet should consist of kibble, seed, and feed with supplemental low-cal fresh vegetables, and some treats, including fruit and grain.
In the wild, cockatiels eat almost exclusively seeds, with some vegetation and the occasional insect. Trying to shift a pet cockatiel that has become accustomed to mainly seeds to a diet dominated by other types of food is very difficult! With baby humans, we've learned to introduce them to vegetables before fruits because if we don't, they only want to eat fruit. It tastes a lot better! The same is true of young cockatiels. If they get accustomed to seeds first, they may not want to eat prepared food, or formulated cockatiel diets. They may not even regard it as food.
Pet cockatiels who eat only seeds are more prone to disease and usually have a decreased life-span compared to cockatiels who eat a more varied, and specially formulated diet. Seeds contain a good deal of fat, which is why they taste so good to a cockatiel, but a wild cockatiel is much more active than a pet one, so their dietary and caloric needs are quite different. The best prepared foods should come in tightly sealed packaging, not loose from bulk bins. It may be cheaper to buy a good formulated food in bulk, and freeze the extra until it can be used. Always be sure formulated food is free of added color or sugar, as these are bad for pet birds. Preservatives in a formulated diet are ok, they are safe for birds, but if you prefer to feed a completely natural diet without preservatives, be sure that it is fresh. It should be stored in a cool, dry place. Also there are companies such as Preferred Bird Treats who create specialized bird focused food. Foods like these are excellent for your pet as they provide lots of nutrition in a single food. There are many brands on the market too letting you easily experiment to find your pets favorite.
With feeding comes watering. The best containers for water are made of ceramic, glass, or stainless steel. These surfaces are non-porous so they are easier to keep clean, and won't harbor bacteria as long as they are cared for properly. They also won't react with bleach, which is necessary for proper sanitation. Water should be changed at least once a day, and ideally, multiple times per day. Once per week, water containers should be cleaned with a 10% bleach solution.
Avoid large, flat containers for water. Your cockatiel will likely see this as a place to bathe, and should not drink their bath water. Bowls for water can work, but this may encourage cockatiels to begin dunking their food pellets in the water. If your cockatiel picks up this habit, then a hanging water tube or bottle will prevent this and keep the water clean longer. If you do decide to use a bowl, be sure you don't place it in an area where droppings will fall.
Play and Socialization
Cockatiels are sociable birds, and enjoy spending time with people, as long as they're people they like! Place the cage in an area that has a lot of foot traffic. This will help your pet cockatiel feel like they're involved in day-to-day activity. Cockatiels like to greet guests and keep up with what's happening around their home. Keep them nearby when watching TV, movies, and any other activity considered to be "family time".
Cockatiels need to spend time outside their cage. If there's an area where you spend time, but it's not appropriate for your cockatiel's cage to be there permanently, put a perch, swing, or a play gym in that area and use it to give your pet bird some freedom, while still allowing them to hang out in an area where you spend time. If your new bird had a favorite toy in their old home, try to get them something similar for your home to ease the transition.
Pet birds can go outside. Exposure to some sunlight is good, as it helps them to absorb natural Vitamin D3, and also to converse with wild birds and be sociable. While outside, they should have ready access to shade as they can overheat quickly. A bird that is panting and holding their wings away from their body is overheating. Some birds may like being misted with tepid water, others may not, but having access to a cooling mist can help them to cool down.
Speaking of being misted, there are a lot of opinions about how, and how often to bathe a cockatiel. Some say once a week, others every couple of days and the recommendations also vary given the season. When it's hotter, bathe more often, when it's colder, less often. In the end, this will really come down to personal choice by you and your cockatiel. When your cockatiel is new, this may not be his or her favorite topic! It will likely take some time for your cockatiel to feel safe, and to trust you. While you're getting to know one another, if you try misting your bird, it may frighten him or her. Be patient, eventually your cockatiel will realize that bathing makes them feel good.
If your bird doesn't like misting, try taking a flat dish such as an old pie plate, and putting some water in it. Give your bird access to it, and see if they will bathe themselves. Bathing should occur in the morning so that your bird has ample opportunity to completely dry before its bed time. If a cockatiel feels they need or want a bath, they may get excited at the sound of rain, or the sound of running water in the tap. This is a good indication that they'd like to take a dip. Many cockatiel owners eventually work out a routine where they leave the cage open, turn on the shower, and their cockatiel will fly in if they want to bathe. There are even perches made just for this purpose.
Adding Another Bird
Like potato chips, remember? Once you get a routine and a flow with your new bird, you may well decide to add to your bird family. When you add a new bird, it should be quarantined for at least a month. This is to protect your existing bird from any illness possibly being carried by the new bird and to verify that the new bird is healthy. If possible, keep the new bird in a separate building. If that's not possible, keep it in a separate room. Be sure to spend time with the new bird. It will need all the same care and socialization that your existing bird received when it was new. It will need toys, food, water, and all the other essentials. This quarantine period is a good time to allow the new bird to get used to you one-on-one.
Any time you handle the new bird, be sure to wash your hands before handling your existing bird. While your new bird is in quarantine, always clean its cage last in order to avoid any cross contamination. Once quarantine is over, introduce the birds to one another through their cages. Try setting them close together, but watch for signs of stress, including unusual picking at their feathers, squawking or other loud vocalizations, pecking, or aggressive wing flapping. If you notice signs of stress, try moving the birds farther apart to see if the stress eases. Then gradually bring them closer together again.
It is best to introduce the birds in a neutral area. If your existing bird's cage is usually in the living room, then bring it to a different room. Introduce the new bird in its separate cage and observe their behavior. Limit these first meetings to about ten (10) minutes each. When introducing the two birds, always greet your existing bird first. Once the birds are comfortable in their separate cages, take them out of the cage in the neutral area. Again, take your existing bird out of the cage first. Then take the new bird out. If you give treats, be sure to give treats to your original bird first. Allow them to interact. This is an excellent time to have a play stand that they can jump around and interact on! Never leave two birds that aren't familiar with one another alone, even when they are in their separate cages. This could cause undue stress on both birds. Once you reach the stage where the birds are outside of their cages, watch for signs of trouble. If you see biting, squawking or other aggressive behavior remove both birds to their respective separate cages.
Don't expect both birds to have the same behavior. Birds have unique personalities, just like we do. Pay attention to their behavior and you should gradually be able to get them together. Don't try to force a relationship. Some birds may love the idea of company, and some may not. Usually, after a time birds will adjust and be able to live together. However, that is not always the case. If you have two birds who simply don't want to share a cage, recognize that fact and allow them to stay in their separate cages. This process is for non-mating birds. To introduce birds that you intend to have mate, there is a different process, which we won't discuss here.
- Ask the original owner of your bird as many questions as possible. Get contact information so you can reach out once you get your new bird home, if need be. A reputable breeder should welcome the opportunity to see how your bird is getting along in their new home.
- When you bring home a new cockatiel, the bird will likely be stressed at first, but the good news is, they should adapt quickly.
- Depression at first is normal, and may be accompanied by loud screaming or crying.
- As with any new pet, one of the first things you should do is see a veterinarian. Be sure that the avian vet you choose has a good reputation with other bird owners.
- Some non-stick cookware emits a poisonous gas when heated. This gas is deadly to birds and can kill within minutes. Use some other type of cookware where possible, and keep birds safe away from the kitchen while cooking.
- Healthy droppings should have a watery component, some white solids, and a darker colored tubular component. Drinking a lot of water, or eating fresh food may cause changes to the way this looks. If droppings are green, red, or runny for a long period of time, contact your avian vet.
- The cockatiel's cage should be disinfected once a month. Remove the bird, wipe everything down with a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Soak in this solution then rinse thoroughly. Discard the bleach solution once this is completed. Do not reuse it.
- Cockatiels can have "Night Frights" where they think they see something and it causes them to flap around inside their cages. This can be startling, since it may wake you out of a sound sleep. A nightlight near the cage, or a cage cover can help with this.