Cockatiel Bird Care

Kelly Roper
Pet lutino cockatiel

When you buy a young cockatiel, you're committing to a pet that can easily live 10 to 17 years or more. These beautiful birds make cheerful, affectionate pets that love to whistle, and some even learn to speak a little. If that sounds good to you, learn what it takes to care of one.

Feed Your Cockatiel a Healthy Diet

A nutritious diet and a constant supply of fresh water will go a long way toward keeping your cockatiel healthy. According to the American Cockatiel Society (ACS), the ideal diet is a combination of pellets, chopped vegetables mixed with some rice, a little fruit, and a small amount of cockatiel seed mix. Offer your bird about one-quarter cup of fresh foods first thing in the morning.

Safe foods to consider include:

  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Sprouts
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Cooked egg

Later in the afternoon, remove any leftovers, and give him about two tablespoons of pellets, and about a teaspoon of seed mix.

Provide the Right Cage

Your cockatiel will spend a lot of time in his cage, so you want to make sure it's as comfortable as possible. He needs a cage that's about twice as large as his complete wingspan, with extra room to fit all his perches, food dishes, and toys. Keep the following recommendations in mind when choosing your cockatiel's cage.

Size

The ACS recommends a minimum cage size of 24 x 24 x 24 inches or 18 x 18 x 36 inches. However, you should supply the largest size cage you have room for, and the bar spacing should be about one-half inch or small enough that the cockatiel can't push his head between the bars.

Look for a cage that has a removable pan to catch droppings, a floor grate to prevent the bird from coming into contact with the droppings, and locking mechanisms on all doors to prevent escape.

Also consider purchasing a cage cover so you can make sure your pet gets 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.

Perches

Having a variety of perches and perch sizes is good for your pet's feet. The basic size range for cockatiel is 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Recommended perches include:

  • Manzanita perches: Manzanita is a very hard wood that will stand up to your pet's chewing. It also comes in natural shapes that provide a variety of perching stances. Plan on placing two of these perches at different levels in the cage.
  • Conditioning perch: This type of perch will keep toenail growth in check, and it will also prevent beak overgrowth when your cockatiel whets his beak on it. Provide one cement perch, and place it at the highest point in the cage so your pet is sure to use it.
  • Calcium/Mineral perch: This is an edible perch that provides minerals for your pet. Just replace it when he chews it down.

Feeders and Waterers

Cages come equipped with dishes for food and water, but sometimes they aren't quite adequate. If you choose a large enough cage, you can add a no mess feeder that will prevent your bird from scattering excess food. You might also want to consider adding a water bottle to the cage so your pet always has a supply of fresh water that's free of food or droppings.

Cinnamon cockatiel on a rope swing

Toys

Toys are more than cage accessories. They are essential for your pet's mental stimulation, and they also encourage him to exercise.

  • Foraging toys offer spaces to tuck in food items that your cockatiel has to search out. This simulates the way he would naturally behave in the wild.
  • Chewing toys can keep your bird occupied for long stretches, and they can also help keep his beak from over growing. Look for toys that include wood, coconut, yucca, and palm leaf components for a variety of chewing experiences.
  • Swings are also very popular with cockatiels, and they will spend a lot of time happily swinging and whistling throughout the day.

Cleaning Schedule

Keeping your cockatiel's environment clean can help ensure he lives a longer, healthier life. Plan to:

  • Wash dishes daily before adding fresh food and water.
  • Change the paper in the bottom of the cage two to three times a week.
  • Clean the cage thoroughly once a week, including washing the bottom grate and pan, wiping cage bars, and cleaning perches, toys and other cage accessories.

Grooming

Like all pet birds, cockatiels need a little grooming to keep them in good shape.

Bathing

Cockatiels produce a lot of powder or "feather dust," so they need frequent opportunities for bathing. Offer your pet a bowl of cool or room temperature water to bathe in two to three times a week. This will remove excess powder and encourage him to preen his feathers. If your pet won't use the bowl, you can mist him with a spray bottle instead.

Wing Trimming

Cockatiels are very good flyers, so you may want to consider keeping your pet's flight feathers trimmed to lessen the chance of an accidental escape if you give him time out of his cage. This involves clipping about three of the long flight feathers on each wing, but this job is best left to your avian veterinarian or a professional bird groomer to make sure it's done correctly. An incorrect trim could lead to an injury, and trimming should only be done after your pet completes a molt to avoid clipping a blood feather.

Nail and Beak Trimming

Nails and beaks grow continuously, so unless you keep a cement perch in your pet's cage, he may need occasional trimming. This can be done at the same time the wings are trimmed.

Trimming the nails involves just clipping off the very tips, but it's easier said than done. If the bird moves his toe, you could clip off more than you meant to. Beak trimming is even more difficult, so it's best for the average pet owner to have a professional take care of any trimming needed.

Dealing With Night Frights

Cockatiels have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night and thrashing around their cages. These episodes are referred to as night frights, and they can be just as frightening for owners, especially if a bird injures himself in the process. The birds are probably awakened by a noise or a flash of light from outside. You can lessen the frequency of these episodes by completely covering your bird's cage at night with a drape or blanket.

Health Care

Healthy white face pearl cockatiel

Scheduling a well bird examination with an avian vet as soon as you purchase your cockatiel can help ensure your bird is healthy at the time of purchase, and then having follow up exams once a year after that. Of course, you should consult your vet anytime your pet seems ill. Signs of illness include:

  • Drooping head and wings
  • Disheveled feathers
  • Watery, foul-smelling droppings
  • Droppings clinging to the feathers around the vent
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing, wheezing, or other signs of labored breathing
  • Staying on the bottom of the cage

Worth the Investment

Buying a cockatiel and purchasing all the supplies he needs is definitely not cheap, but it's not too expensive to keep up with ongoing care after you've made the initial investment. Once you see how entertaining your new little friend is, you'll surely consider him a bargain. Don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for a second cockatiel to keep him company.

Cockatiel Bird Care