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Caring for Your Cockatiel Companion
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Caring for Your Cockatiel Companion

Rachel, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 16, 2020

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Cockatiels, members of the cockatoo family, are miniature parrots that run beak-and-beak with parakeets as the most popular pet birds in the world. Easier to tame and train than many other bird breeds, these exceptionally social avians love to give their owners kisses on the face and communicate via cheerful chirps and whistles. They're also fond of reciprocal attention, so they do very well around children and make great companions for people who enjoy physically interacting with their pets.

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Cockatiels aren't natural conversationalists

Male cockatiels tend to "speak" more than females of the breed. nicepixel / Getty Images

Although the cockatiel is a kind of parrot, this species isn't particularly good at learning or mimicking human speech. Cockatiels also tend to vocalize at a considerably lower volume than their sometimes-abrasive parrot counterparts. If you really want to train your cockatiel to speak, it's best to start early in its lifespan, ideally in the first three to four months. Male cockatiels are better at it than females, but even males can only learn a phrase or two and prefer to whistle and sing.

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Give your cockatiel a big enough cage

A cocktail's cage should be big enough to accommodate its wingspan with room to spare. yellowsarah / Getty Images

Keep your cockatiel in a cage that is about twice as large as its wingspan and features multiple perches that let your feathered friend stay active. Built-in accoutrements such as bungee cords and ladders give curious young cockatiels extra ways to work out their energy. Since these birds love to get playtime outside their cages as well and aren't always completely cooperative when it's time to go back inside, it's a good idea to choose a cage with a generously sized front door.

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Some people may be allergic to cockatiels

Young, male cockatiel bird outside its bird cage. Showing the distinctive yellow plumage of this lovely and intelligent bird. Nickbeer / Getty Images

Cockatiels produce more dander than other bird species. The fine white dander works to keep your cockatiel's coat soft to the touch, but it also gets into the air, which can be rough on anybody in your household who suffers from allergies or asthma. You can mitigate some of those effects by regularly cleaning your cockatiel's cage, making sure you give him a light-mist bath once a week, and using an HEPA air filter in the cockatiel's room.

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Cockatiels can adapt to apartment life

Cockatiels make great roommates. Nickbeer / Getty Images

Although cockatiels can be quite vocal, they're usually quiet enough to keep in an apartment, and they're perfectly happy living in a small space as long as they get some time to spread their wings outside of their cages. Most cockatiels remain quiet at nighttime, so they won't disturb roommates or neighbors who are trying to sleep. If your place has particularly thin walls, the quieter female cockatiel may be a better choice than the more chatty male type.

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Feeding requirements

Give your cockatiel a mix of seed and fruit for best results. toos / Getty Images

Cockatiels love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Experiment with foods like apples, pears, corn, celery, and pumpkin to discover yourbird's favorites. While cockatiels can and should eat bird seed, they need a varied diet to avoid health problems. They're also very curious birds and tend to investigate most things by trying to eat them, so be careful not to leave any potentially toxic foods or items out when your bird is out of her cage.

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Cockatiels need playtime

Pro tip: Other cockatiels count as toys too! Ian Fox / Getty Images

Keep your cockatiel entertained with toys that allow it to satisfy its natural curiosity. They particularly love chewing on things, so toys made out of rope or cloth are ideal. Avoid using metal toys that contain any zinc, lead, or copper, which are all toxic to birds. Plastic and rubber toys are generally safer bets, but always make sure to read the packaging to ensure you're not putting your little pal in any danger.

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Dangers of neglect

Cockatiels need plenty of social interaction to stay happy and healthy. Satephoto / Getty Images

Cockatiels are remarkably intelligent, but that intelligence means they need mental stimulation and playtime with heir owners, or they may become depressed. Neglected cockatiels can actually engage in self-harming behavior by chewing on their own feathers or refusing food, even to the point where they can become frail and weak. Be sure to set aside some time every day to pet your bird, particularly if it's all alone in a cage while you're at work.

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Fright responses

Frightened cockatiels can accidentally hurt themselves in a cramped cage. tsukika77 / Getty Images

While cockatiels are usually pretty easygoing animals as long as they're well-fed and socially stimulated, they can also become very frightened by loud, unexpected sounds and movements. A sleeping cockatiel startled by a noise in the dark can start wildly flapping its wings in an attempt to fly to safety, which is why it's important to have a cage larger than the bird's wingspan. Keep a dim light on at night to help reduce the chances of such disturbances.

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Stress responses

Don't change your cockatiel's environment too often, or he may become stressed out. crPrin / Getty Images

Like most pet birds, cockatiels don't particularly like change. They can get stressed out and react negatively if you switch up the decor in their rooms or if strangers enter your home. Some stressed-out cockatiels will loudly proclaim their unhappiness by biting or screaming, while others may become socially withdrawn or more prone to illness. Your pet bird needs about 10 to 12 hours of sleep in a clean, calm environment to remain their normal, cheerful self.

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Cockatiels have a long lifespan

Some cockatiels live to be over 30 years old. bee32 / Getty Images

In their natural habitats, wild cockatiels tend to only live for about a decade, but the average lifespan of a domestic cockatiel is about 15 years to 20 years. Some have been known to live for a full three decades. As of 2015, the Guinness Book of World Records listed a 31-year-old feathered fellow named Sammy as the world's oldest living cockatiel. If you take good care of your faithful friend, you can expect a long-term relationship that's rewarding for the both of you.

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