Cockatiel

Cockatiel

Nymphicus hollandicus Order: Psittaciformes Family: Cacatuidae

Overview

With regard to their availability and suitability as ambassador animals:

  • Cockatiels do not need to be hand-reared from hatch to make good ambassador birds, in fact, allowing birds to remain with their parents until weaned makes for a healthier individual in many cases – both physically and mentally. Parent reared birds can be reliable in both flighted and non-flighted situations.
  • Unlike their larger cousins, cockatiels are an easier bird for less experienced staff, although potentially lack the “wow” appeal for audiences.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Cockatiels are found throughout Australia, except in Tasmania. They are more populous in the eastern regions and the drier inlands, away from coastal areas. Preferred habitats are found near rivers, streams, and creeks. Cockatiels like to roost on dead tree branches.

 

Longevity

Lifespan in the wild is about 10 to 13 years, but cockatiels can live 10 to 30 years in captivity.

Ecosystem Role

Although they prefer sun-dried seeds, cockatiels can serve the role of seed-dispersers in their ecosystems when they choose to consume fresh seeds, as they are very messy eaters and scatter seeds and shells as far as four to five feet away from themselves when they eat. They can also disperse the seeds of the fruits they consume.

 

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information 

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles

Substrate

Social Housing/Colony Management

  • Cockatiels are a highly social species. Housing with conspecifics is much better for their individual welfare. If not housed directly with conspecifics, housing in a side-by-side situation is also good. Housing cockatiels in solitary situation is not recommended. When housing with conspecifics, attention should be paid to individual preference and birds should be afforded enclosure space large enough to be separate from each other, should they choose.

Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

  • Multiple perching options are necessary to maintain good foot health.
  • Flight-capable individuals need flight exercise to maintain muscle mass.
  • A double door entrance, or some secondary containment, is ideal for any flighted bird. This allows handlers to enter the enclosure safely and without incident.

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild 

  • In the wild, the diet consists of grains, fruits, berries, seedling grasses, and seeds. Cockatiels forage on the ground. 

Diet under human care

  • Under human care, since there is such a wide-variety of commercial parrot pellets out there, it is best to consult with your own institution vet staff regarding preferred diet types. Most widely accepted nutritionally complete diet includes a mix of pellets and fresh produce, with nuts/seeds as supplemental training treats.
  • Dietary amounts will vary by individual. Larger and more active individuals requiring higher caloric intake than smaller or inactive individuals. Diet amounts required will also vary seasonally. Understanding the individual requirements of your bird for optimal weight and health should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Parrot beaks and nails continuously grow, and therefore need to be continuously watched for cracks, splitting and/or growing too long. Trimming may need to be done regularly.
  • Training behaviors to allow for routine maintenance – such as nail trims – is important with parrots. 
  • Provision of chewing materials for self-maintenance of beak is also critical and trimming of beaks in parrots should not be necessary, unless an underlying medical issue is present,  if they are provided enough chewing material to maintain their own beak.

Enrichment & Training

Enrichment

Behavioral Relevant Information

  • Need a lot of enrichment! Parrots are gregarious and have a high activity budget, provision of enrichment is highly important to their welfare in human care.

Environmental Enrichment 

  • Changing perches within their habitat.
  • Addition of browse. 

Behavioral Enrichment 

  • Foraging opportunities as well as chewing/destruction opportunities are highly recommended – not only for mental stimulation but also for natural beak care. Providing daily diet in foraging opportunities as opposed to in a bowl is excellent enrichment. Hanging toys, foraging bags/bowls/troughs, paper/plastic/wood for chewing and breaking.  

Schedule 

  • Daily enrichment is recommended. If possible, more than once per day.

Other Enrichment Resources 

  • Since parrots are so prevalent in the pet world, there are a plethora of online resources for enrichment. 

Training

Behaviors Trained
  • Voluntary step-up
  • Voluntary loading into crate
  • Voluntary scale 
  • Voluntary nail trim
  • Voluntary medication from syringe
  • Towel training for restraint
  • A-B flights
  • Calm behavior on hand
  • Cockatiels can be taught a wide variety of novel show behaviors, such as but not limited to, recycling, donation collection, painting, and more.

Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement 
  • This species takes well to positive reinforcement training using its daily diet to reinforce behavior.

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

Individual Identification

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

Threats and Conservation Status

  • Cockatiels have a very large range and densely populate the Australian mainland. The exact population has never been quantified for this reason and they are not considered threatened currently.

Interesting Natural History Information

Wild cockatiels are gray in color, but genetic mutations and selective breeding in captive populations have produced eight color varieties: pied, pearl, cinnamon, fallow, silver, lutino, whiteface, and albino. Female cockatiels usually have duller facial markings, and the undersides of their tales are barred.

In the wild, cockatiels live in large social groups of 12 to 100 individuals. They are sometimes considered pests by farmers because the larger flocks can devour entire fields of crops. In captivity, they are often kept alone so that they bond with their human companions. They are very popular as pets due to their gentle, intelligent, and bright personality.

Did you know…

  • Cockatiels have been kept as pets for hundreds of years.

Handling & Presentation Tips

Use Guidelines

Pubic Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Touching is not advisable. 

Transportation Tips

  • Transport box suggestions wire crate that is taller rather than wider, to account for the long tail.
  • A couple things to keep in mind, crates should not be carried by the handle, but rather using two hands on either side of the crate and supporting it adequately. Swinging transport crates around and or moving them on a bumpy cart may create negative association for the bird, due to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.

Crating Techniques

  • This species can be trained to voluntarily enter a crate either from the hand or directly from their enclosure. Continuous reinforcement of voluntary crate behaviors as well as dedication to their comfort and safety while in the crate is important to maintaining solid and reliable crate behavior.

Temperature Guidelines

  • A tropical species, maintaining temperatures above 40 degrees is important. When transporting and using on programs, attention should be paid to the comfort of the individual and any signs of heat distress responded to accordingly.

Acquisition Information

  • Local parrot rescues can be great places to start. By sending a knowledgeable keeper to choose the right bird for your situation, you can get a great, older bird for your program.

Resources

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Comments from the Rating System

  • Philadelphia Zoo: easy to handle if they are properly trained to perch on cue; they are not intimidating for novice handlers, but not very impressive to an audience.

Top Photo Credit: credit the “header” photo of the species