Caring for Cockatiel Babies
When a cockatiel baby hatches, it is only about an inch long and covered in yellow down. They look a bit like prehistoric miniatures with heavy heads that loll on rubbery little necks. On day one, they are too weak to stand, but that doesn't mean they won't try. Their parents take them under their wing and keep them warm and well-fed. It's amazing how fast they grow. In just six to eight short weeks they are fully grown and ready for a loving home.
It takes anywhere from 18-23 days for cockatiel eggs to incubate. One breeder pair I owned hatched babies like clockwork, laying every 18 days after the first egg. Another pair of mine hatched babies every 21 days. My current breeding pair is not quite as regular though they do fall within the 18-23 day range. Eggs are most often laid a day or two apart and hatch following that order. This is why you often see chicks of different sizes within the same brood.
Role of Cockatiel Parents
Male and female cockatiels share the responsibilities of incubating the eggs, feeding the young and keeping them warm. While incubating the eggs, the female stays on the eggs at night and the male takes over the day shift. While on duty responsibilities include:
- Egg turning. Eggs are turned once an hour. This helps ensure the baby cockatiel inside stays a uniform temperature. Turning also helps prevent the baby from sticking to the shell membrane.
- Maintaining proper humidity. Parents bathe in a shallow dish of water and with their wet feathers maintain proper humidity for the eggs.
Before a baby cockatiel hatches, you can hear it chirping faintly within the egg. They start to break through the shell by using a small protrusion on the top of their beak, known as an egg tooth. The process of breaking free of the egg is called "pipping." It takes hours and a lot of energy for the baby bird to work free from the egg.
Cockatiel Baby Eyes
When baby cockatiels first hatch, their eyes are closed and remain closed for about eight to ten days. The skin over their sealed eyes is transparent enough to see whether their eyes are red or dark brown. Eye color is the first clue as to what color the baby cockatiel will be when its feathers grow in. In some cases, color is a sex-linked mutation and in others, it is a recessive mutation. I'll save all that for another article, but basically, red eyes will mean the bird will cost a little more to buy because they are rarer. Cockatiels with red eyes may be one of the following:
- Fallow (also called cinnamon)
- Recessive Silver
Getting Their Feathers
By the time baby cockatiels are two weeks old, they've lost most or all of their down and have started to grow feathers on their wings, down their back and sprout crest feathers on top of their heads. By three weeks, they are almost fully feathered but a little mangy looking, and by four weeks they almost look like an adult bird.
Young Cockatiels as Pets
Cockatiels are an ideal choice for a first-time bird owner. They are a smaller bird with a big personality. Males are more vocal and often learn to whistle and talk, but either sex bonds affectionately to their owner as a loving companion. Finding a baby cockatiel who is just weaned is the ideal scenario as they adjust quickly to new surroundings.
Hand-Fed Baby Cockatiels
Hand-fed baby cockatiels make friendly, gentle pets. Hand-fed means the babies are pulled from the nest (usually 10-14 days old) and fed by humans. This practice establishes trust between birds and humans and eliminates the fear of human hands. Hand-fed babies often cost a little more because of the extra time and effort it requires to raise them. When buying a pet, however, take time to handle baby cockatiels to see how they act toward you. Some breeders hand-feed babies but handle them very little other than that. The best choice is to select babies raised by breeders who both interact with the birds and hand-feed them. These conditions produce the best quality pets.