Everything You Want to Know About Cockatiels as Pets!
A well-known secret of every cockatiel owner is that these birds are just as companionable as dogs or cats, and have unique personalities that can be read by their expressive faces. My first experience with a cockatiel was when I was a young teenager, starting out down my neighborhood street for a walk. I was astonished to hear a unique bird call—like a parrot, or a tropical bird, I thought—so I followed my ears to a pigeon-sized gray bird who was pecking at gravel in the gutter. He ran towards me when I came closer. I knew he had to be someone's pet bird, as his orange blush and yellow crest set him apart from every other wild bird I knew of, and his eagerness to see me showed me that he was tame. His face was bright and intelligent. He looked me in the eye and tipped his head to figure me out.
I carried him home and put him under a large salad spinner with some seeds and apples, then led a crusade of neighborhood kids to ring doorbells and inquire until we could find the owner. Different people gave us different clues, but we were eventually led to people who knew other people who had birds, and finally we ended up at the home of the owner of "Kiwi," the name of their lost cockatiel. They were thrilled to be reunited with their chipper little bird, and they rewarded me with a twenty dollar bill and an armful of TY Beanie Babies. Kiwi was a cute little bird, and I loved how openly and winningly he interacted with his owners. Maybe, someday, I would get my own little Kiwi to have and to hold, I thought.
Cockatiels as Pets
Several years later, a friend called me and asked if I'd be interested in "adopting" two cockatiels her neighbor owned, but couldn't keep because of increasing commitments at work. I was happy to take them and instantly loved the little fluff balls for their expressive faces and expressive voices.
I have really enjoyed having these cockatiels as pets in our home! They are very observant about what is happening around them, and in our busy household, there is much for them to comment on, with soft little "oh!" sounds when somebody opens a door or sneezes. Everybody loves a pet that's cuddly, and these cockatiels are no exception! They bow their heads for a neck rub, and if they're trusting and contented, even let us wrap our hands around them and "snuggle" them. They even purr, in their own way. As the thick mane of feathers around their necks are rubbed, they make gentle simpering sounds showing they are enjoying the attention.
What Sounds Do Cockatiel Make?
The one thing all cockatiel-owners agree is the worst is the shrill screaming that cockatiels do when they want attention. It's a piercing "HEY!" sound. We've found it's worst when we get home after being gone all day, because our cockatiels feel they deserve a "hello" from each family member before they can settle down and be quiet. Cockatiels also get cranky when they are hungry, and their voices take on a whiny, shrill edge.
Cockatiels Talking Like Humans
Most male cockatiels can learn to say a few human words quite effectively, such as "hello" or "pretty bird," and once they learn these words you will often hear them trying to contribute to your conversations by inserting the words they know into the hubbub of talking. They also like to imitate the sound of a conversation even if they can't pick out any words they know in what you're saying. They'll end up elucidating something like this: "ja jickit chick ja chree chu jra" because that's what they think they hear you saying. In general, female cockatiels do not talk or sing (this is the case with most pet birds), but they find other ways to express themselves.
Cockatiels Talking Like Cockatiels
Cockatiels also "talk" in their own language, which you will soon learn, as they are very vocal animals and have a different response to almost everything that happens around them. The most common cockatiel sound is like a question, and sounds like "guack" in "guacamole," with intonation like this: "Guak?" or "Graurk?" We often feel the need to answer them with "Yes, that's right!" or "No, nothing to worry about," because we are sure they are asking us for information! The other cockatiel sound mentioned earlier is the little "oh!" sound that they do when they see or hear something happen, especially if we set them in view of the window where they can look outside. They love commenting on the wind blowing the trees ("oh!") or when they see other birds flying by ("oh!").
Our male cockatiel is also an accomplished singer, and starts every morning with running around in circles on the roof of his cage while whistling "The Popcorn Song" from the 70s at the top of his lungs. It's really a very pretty voice that cockatiels have, and we'd much prefer him to sing than to scream any day. Teaching our cockatiel to sing a new tune has been difficult, however, because he incorporates the tune from the first song he learned with the rhythm of the new song we're teaching him, and most the time it sounds like his own made-up off-key theme song.
Most male cockatiels learn wolf whistles at a very young age because they love the reaction they get after they do it! Our male cockatiel wolf whistles at the girls in our house whenever he first sees them that day because he knows they will melt and give him all the attention he wants!
Unpleasant Cockatiel Sounds
How to Train a Cockatiel
Cockatiels can easily be tamed to love sitting on fingers and shoulders. As with taming any bird, it is a matter of trust. Patient, gentle, and slow-moving people can quickly earn a cockatiel's trust, while loud people who make spontaneous movements will be looked at suspiciously and avoided. Cockatiels are very observant, and notice differences of smells or appearance in people, which inform them that there is somebody nearby that they do not know or trust. I have one cockatiel who will never let me pet him if I'm wearing long sleeves because of something strange on the hand that's coming toward him.
It is best to buy cockatiels who are already finger-tamed because they've been hand-fed as babies. These cockatiels are the ones who already know they want attention from people, and they will be that much closer to trying to imitate you when you talk or whistle, because communicating with you is important to them.
How to Train a Cockatiel to Whistle
To train a cockatiel to talk or whistle, choose a time when your cockatiel is most "obsessed" about you. You will see him eagerly lean towards you, and he will watch your mouth as you talk, even opening his beak repetitively or clicking his tongue against his upper beak as if trying to imitate you. This is the prime time to repeat over and over to him whatever it is that you want him to learn! Your attention is the best reward he can receive, so make sure to reward him with plenty of petting and praise when he gets it right!
How to Interpret Cockatiel Behavior
Learn to read the body language of your cockatiel:
- Crest (mohawk) up: Scared or excited.
- Thin & skinny body, tight feathers, eyes wide, standing tall and still: Scared.
- Thin & skinny body, tight feathers, running back and forth or bobbing head: Excited.
- Shoulders out, head raised, crest up, rocking back and forth on both legs, hissing (Sounds like a puff of air-- "huhf" "huhf"): Scared or angry and trying to intimidate you by acting big.
- Shoulders out in a heart shape, singing or pacing (usually male): Happy and entertaining himself.
- Hanging on to the cage or perch flapping but not flying anywhere: Exercising wings.
- Sitting on one leg, puffy body, making grinding/crackling sound with beak: Sleepy and contented, and keeping beak trim.
- Sitting with eyes closed, puffy body, on one leg, sometimes with head tucked under back wing: Sleeping.
- Ruffling feathers: Sometimes is as "sigh" of relief after something scary has happened, other times it is to settle feathers in place and fling dandruff off after preening.
- Continually ruffled feathers, dull eyes, lethargic, sitting on floor of cage, inactive, uninterested in playing or eating: Your bird is sick and should be kept warm and/or taken to a veterinarian.
How Long Is a Cockatiel's Life Span?
Cockatiels generally live longer than parakeets, but not as long as parrots. What is the average lift span of a cockatiel? Breeders and veterinarians say 12 to 18 years is a typical life span for a cockatiel. As they grow older, they will often get pudgier and have feathers that are not as smoothly and evenly layered. Some cockatiels even struggle with baldness under their wings or on the tops of their heads, but it is only noticeable if you stroke the feathers back.
What's Happening to My Cockatiel's Feathers?
Similar to dogs ad cats, all pet birds go through a time of molting. Molting is when they "shed" their old feathers and grow new ones. You may notice that there are sometimes more feathers at the bottom of the cage than at other times. This is because your cockatiel is shedding its old feathers and growing new ones. When a cockatiel grows new feathers, each feather starts out as a funny-looking white "spike" that grows out of it, in between the feathers. This happens all over its body, but is most noticeable on its face. Don't worry—it's perfectly normal and natural! As the new feather spikes grow longer, the spike part of the feather comes off as a "shell" around the brand new feather. By the time a cockatiel is done molting, his feathery coat will be thick and plush because of all the new feathers.
Do Cockatiels Get Dandruff?
Cockatiels are one of the most dandruffy pet birds there are, and you'll often see a puff of dandruff after they preen. Some people are allergic to the dandruff, so consider finding out if that will be a problem before you commit to owning a cockatiel.
The most common cockatiel names are "Kiwi," "Tweety," "Buddy," "Lucky," "Princess," "Rocky," "Lucky," "Sunny," "Max," "Peaches." If you'd like to be more creative or unusual with your choice of name, observe your bird for a few days before you name it in order to figure out what type of personality it has. You might consider naming it after a character in a book or movie or a fun favorite food, or giving it a name that suits its temperament. Many people choose names related to the coloring of their birds (orange or yellow), and foods or flowers that match.
The female cockatiel we own is a pearl-mutated cockatiel, which means she has flecks of white or light yellow color on her back and head, almost like a speckled chicken. Technically, pearl cockatiels are mutated, but the only physical problem they seem to have from being mutated is baldness under the crest of their head and generally thinner feathers on the back of the neck. Other than that, the pearl-mute is very pretty for its variation in color and its "flecked" look.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
During the night, our cockatiel falls off his perch, and is disorientated - flapping around in a circle. My husband talks quietly to him, and eventually, he calms down, and breaths normal again? Do you know what is going on with him?
He is probably having dreams or nightmares, or perhaps something is startling him awake. It’s always a good idea to cover your cockatiel’s cage with a blanket at night so that it is dark and light and sound won’t disturb him as much.Helpful 48
Is it normal for my cockatiels tail feathers to be falling out and be always on the side instead of behind?
Yes, it is perfectly normal for that to happen to a caged bird, especially if their cage isn’t huge and their tail is bumping into toys or bars all the time.Helpful 40
Can we keep cockatiels out of their cage?
If you have a safe place for them to live and don’t mind the mess, then yes.Helpful 37
My cockatiels feathers aren't losing their casing. Is there anything I can do to help?
Just be patient. It may look funny, but there is nothing wrong with this.Helpful 32