Cockatiel Care Tips for Housing, Food & Grooming

Updated March 31, 2022
Cockatiel Perching On Cage

Cockatiels are playful and affectionate pets. If you're thinking about acquiring one of these birds, it's important to understand the specific care requirements of cockatiels. You'll need an appropriately sized habitat, the right type of diet, supplements, and enrichment toys. Proper cockatiel care is essential to prepare for your feathered friend's arrival and ensure they live a long, healthy, and happy life.

What to Expect From Owning a Cockatiel

If you're not familiar with cockatiel birds, it's helpful to understand how big they'll get as well as what to expect from their personality.

Size

Cockatiels purchased from pet stores can be as young as 3 months old, so your new bird may not be fully grown. Cockatiels generally reach their adult size by 1 year old. By this age, your cockatiel will weigh between 3 to 4 ounces and reach a length of 12 to 13 inches from their head to the tip of their tail.

Lifespan

When you buy a young cockatiel, you're committing to a pet who can easily live 10 to 17 years or more. The type of care and attention you provide your new cockatiel friend will contribute significantly to how long they live, as well as their overall quality of life. With the right husbandry, you can expect your bird to live many happy years. The oldest known cockatiel lived to the ripe age of 32 years old.

Cockatiel Personality

These beautiful birds are cheerful, affectionate pets who love to whistle, and some even learn to speak a little. Cockatiels make great pets for these qualities as well as their big personalities. Your cockatiel will likely be outgoing, active, and playful.

They will learn to recognize your voice and enjoy spending time with you as you begin to bond. Female cockatiels are typically more calm than males of the species. Cocktails can sometimes nip or bite if they become frightened or if they're trying to communicate something to you; for example, if they're craving attention and want to be petted.

Time Commitment

Owning a cockatiel requires quite a bit of time. You'll need to commit to cleaning their enclosure weekly, providing them with daily affection and interaction, and giving them at least two to three hours of supervised time outside their cage each day.

Provide the Right Cage for Your Cockatiel

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

Cockatiel Cage Size

The American Cockatiel Society recommends a minimum cage size of 24- by 24- by 24- inches or 18- by 18- by 36- inches. However, you should supply the largest size cage you have room for.

  • The bar spacing should be about 1/2 inch, or small enough that your cockatiel can't push their 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. Most owners line the bottom of the pan with newspaper for easy clean-up.
  • Also consider purchasing a cage cover so you can make sure your pet gets 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.

Perches for Cockatiels

Providing your cockatiel with a variety of perches in different sizes will keep their feet healthy. The basic size range for cockatiel is 1/2 to 1 inch 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 your bird's toenail growth in check, and will also prevent beak overgrowth when your cockatiel whets their 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 they chew it down.

Cockatiel 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. Because cockatiels are prey animals, they may feel too vulnerable feeding at the bottom of the cage. Most prefer the feeder attached on the side of the enclosure near a perch.

Open water dishes can easily become messy. Instead, consider attaching a water bottle to the cage so your pet always has a supply of fresh water that's free of food or droppings.

Toys for Cockatiels

Toys are more than cage accessories. They are essential for your pet's mental stimulation, and encourage them to exercise. Provide your cockatiel with these different toy types:

  • Foraging toys offer spaces to tuck in food items that your cockatiel has to search out. This simulates the way they would naturally behave in the wild.
  • Chewing toys can keep your bird occupied for long stretches and can help keep their 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. They will spend a lot of time happily swinging and whistling throughout the day.

Adhere to a Cage Cleaning Schedule

Keeping your cockatiel's environment clean can help ensure they live 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.
Adult male cockatiel

Feed Your Cockatiel a Healthy Diet

An important step in learning how to care for a cockatiel is feeding them a nutritious diet and providing a constant supply of fresh water. The ideal cockatiel diet is a combination of pellets, vegetables, fruit, and a small amount of cockatiel seed mix. Experts recommend the following proportions:

  • Approximately 75 to 80 percent of your cockatiels diet should consist of bird pellets.
  • Fruits and vegetables should make up about 20 to 25 percent of their diet.

You can feed your cockatiel in the morning, then remove any leftovers later in the day. At that time, you can offer about a teaspoon of seed mix.

Healthy Foods for Cockatiels

Safe foods to consider include:

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

Foods to Avoid

Some fruits and vegetables can be toxic to cockatiels. Avoid these foods:

  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Fruit pits and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Alcohol

Grooming Your Cockatiel

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

Bathing

Bathing cockatiel

Cockatiels produce a lot of powder or "feather dust," so they need frequent opportunities for bathing. Offer your pet a bowl of room-temperature water to bathe in two to three times a week. This will remove excess powder and encourage them to preen their feathers. If your pet won't use the bowl, you can mist them with a spray bottle instead, but only do so if the indoor temperature is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid chilling them.

Wing Trimming

Cockatiels are very good flyers, so you may want to consider keeping your pet's flight feathers trimmed to minimize the chance of an accidental escape when providing time out of their cage. This involves clipping about three of the long flight feathers on each wing.

Wing trimming 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, these parts 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 their toe, you could clip off more than you meant to. Beak trimming is even more difficult and involves a dremel and careful handling, so it's best for the average pet owner to have a professional take care of these grooming tasks.

Young woman sits with cockatiel

Health Care for Cockatiels

Schedule a well bird examination with an avian vet as soon as you purchase your cockatiel to ensure your bird is healthy at the time of purchase. You'll need to return for wellness exams once a year after that. Of course, you should also 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

Cockatiel Night Frights

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

Adopting a Cockatiel

If you'd like to rescue a homeless cockatiel, you can search for adoptable birds. Many are given up because their owners are unable to provide the care they need. However, they can still make wonderful pets. You can find rescue birds through national adoption platforms like Adopt a Pet or Petfinder. Specialized bird rescues also exist.

Cockatiels Are Worth the Investment

Buying a cockatiel and purchasing all the supplies they need is definitely not cheap. You'll also need to invest a great deal of time and energy into these pets. However, once you see how entertaining and affectionate your new little friend is, you'll surely consider them a bargain. Don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for a second cockatiel to keep them company.

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Cockatiel Care Tips for Housing, Food & Grooming