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Cockatiel Picture

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The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), also known as the Quarrion and the Weiro, is the smallest and genuinely miniature cockatoo endemic to Australia. They are prized as a household pet throughout the world and are relatively easy to breed. As a caged bird Cockatiels are second only in popularity to the Budgerigar.

The only member of the genus Nymphicus, the Cockatiel has previously been considered a crested parrot or small cockatoo. However, more recent molecular studies have settled the debate. These indicate that the Cockatiel belongs in the Cockatoo Subfamily Calyptorhynchinae (commonly known as Dark Cockatoos). They are hence now classified as the smallest of the Cacatuidae (Cockatoo family). Cockatiels are natively found across the outback regions of inland Australia, and favour the Australian wetlands, scrublands, and bush lands.


The Cockatiel was originally described by Scottish writer and naturalist Robert Kerr in 1792 as Psittacus hollandicus, before being placed in its own genus Nymphicus by Wagler in 1832. Placed in its own genus, the Cockatiel's scientific name Nymphicus hollandicus reflects the experience of one of the earliest groups of Europeans to see Cockatiels in their native habitat. Travelers thought they were so beautiful that they named them after mythical nymphs. (Nymphicus literally means "little nymph.") The species name refers to New Holland, an old name for Australia.

Its biological relationship had long been disputed; it is now classified into a monotypic subfamily Nymphicinae but had sometimes in the past been misclassified among the Platycercinae, the broad-tailed Parakeets. This issue has now been settled with molecular studies. Mitochondrial 12S rRNA sequence data places it amongst the Calyptorhynchinae (Dark Cockatoos) subfamily. The unique, Parakeet (meaning LONG-tailed Parrot) morphological feature is a consequence of the decrease in size and accompanying change of ecological niche.

Sequence analysis of intron 7 of the nuclear ?-fibrinogen gene, on the other hand, indicates that it may yet be distinct enough as to warrant recognition of the Nymphicinae rather than inclusion of the genus in the Calyptorhynchinae.

The Cockatiel is now biologically classified as a genuine member of Cacatuidae on account of sharing all of the Cockatoo family's biological features. Namely; the erectile crest, a gallbladder, powder down, suppressed cloudy-layer (enabling Lories, Lorikeets (long-tailed Lories), Parakeets and typical Parrot species display of structural colours such as aquas, blues, greens, purples and turquoises), and facial feathers covering the sides of the beak, all of which are rarely found outside the Cacatuidae family.

Portrayal 1927 Brehms Tierleben painting

The Cockatiel's distinctive erectile crest expresses the animal's state of being. The crest is dramatically vertical when the cockatiel is startled or excited, gently oblique in its neutral or relaxed state, and flattened close to the head when the animal is angry or defensive. The crest is also held flat but protrudes outward in the back when the cockatiel is trying to appear alluring or flirtatious. In contrast to most Cockatoos, the Cockatiel has long tail feathers roughly making up half of its total length. At 300 mm to 330 mm (12 to 13 ins), the Cockatiel is the smallest and only parakeet type of Cockatoo species. The latter ranging between 300 mm to 600 mm (12-24 in) in length.

The "Normal Grey," or "Wild-type" cockatiel's plumage is primarily grey with prominent white flashes on the outer edges of each wing. The face of the male is yellow or white, while the face of the female is primarily grey or light grey, and both sexes feature a round orange area on both ear areas, often referred to as "cheek patches." This orange colouration is generally vibrant in adult males, and often quite muted in females. Visual sexing is often possible with this variant of the bird.

Distribution and habitat

Cockatiels are native only to Australia where they are found largely in arid or semi-arid country, but always near water. Largely nomadic, the species will move to where food and water is available. They are typically seen in pairs or small flocks. Sometimes hundreds will flock around a single such body of water. To farmers' dismay, they often eat cultivated crops. They are absent from the most fertile southwest and southeast corners of the country, the deepest Western Australian deserts, and Cape York Peninsula. They are the only Cockatoo species which can sometimes reproduce in the end of their first year.

Male and Female, Pikedale, S. Queensland, Australia


The Cockatiel's lifespan in captivity is generally given as 15-20 years, though it is sometimes given as short as 10-15 years, and there are reports of Cockatiels living as long as 30 years, the oldest confirmed specimen reported being 35 years old. A cockatiel lived to be 27 years old in Manchester, UK. Diet and exercise, much like in humans, are often major determining factors in cockatiel lifespan.

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Cockatiels are generally regarded as good pets having a sweet demeanor, though this is by no means a guarantee. Like most other pets, the manner in which the animal is raised, handled, and kept has a profound effect on the temperament of the animal. Some birds are quite gregarious and sociable while others can be shy, retreating to the back of the cage when an unfamiliar figure appears. If handled often and if they have a patient owner the cockatiel(s) will become tame very quickly compared to some of the other parrot species.

Cockatiel specimen combining the Opaline (cka Pearled) and ADMpied (cka recessive pied) mutations

Cockatiels may be permitted to roam freely about a domicile provided the owner takes certain precautions; such as clipping the bird's wings if the rooms have ceiling fans or other hazards that might pose a risk to the bird (stoves, chimneys, toilets, etc.). A scared cockatiel will choose flight over fight most of the time, and may injure itself accidentally. As a social bird, cockatiels prefer areas with a lot of activity during the waking hours, and return to a secluded area when it is time to sleep. Cockatiels may peacefully nap on or near their owner(s), including the owner's chest and shoulders if the owner is stationary for a long period of time.

Generally, well-socialized birds are gentle and friendly. Some cockatiels enjoy physical contact, lending themselves well to taming. Many cockatiel owners develop regular bonding rituals with their animals, engaging in preening, scratching, and even petting. A cockatiel that wishes to be petted will often lower his head or nibble at the owner's fingers to indicate that it wishes to have its head and neck scratched (two places it can't easily scratch on its own), and will emit a low squawk to show its pleasure. Cockatiels which are hand-fed and purchased from a young age are more readily suited for physical contact.

A White-faced Cockatiel sleeping.

Some birds will emit a distinctive 'hiss' when irritated, retreating rapidly or defending with pecking bites, which can be relatively strong for their size. This 'hiss' is a form of mimicry from the cockatiel's most common predator, the snake. This hissing may be coupled with the bird tapping its beak on a hard surface to generate additional attention while lowering its head and spreading its wings in a display of aggression.

Cockatiels do have a reputation for being demanding of the attention of their owners on a regular basis. Though noisy at times, their vocalizations range from ginger cheeps to piercing cries but they lack the screeching voice of other parrots (males are the loudest in comparison to the small peeps from a female. A cockatiel that has bonded with an owner may emit vocalizations if that owner leaves the room. Cockatiels permitted to roam freely will often seek out the owner by going from room to room or following the owner around the house; or, if the owner happens to be outdoors, going from window to window to keep the owner in visual range. Cockatiels may also recognize the signs of an owner preparing to go out and put themselves into their own cage.

15 year old female hand-reared and socialized Cockatiel of typical colouring.

Domesticated cockatiels require a consistent few hours of quality time per day with a person or in a person's company and a good night's sleep in an area with very little noise or distractions. Following a natural daylight schedule is the best arrangement for sleep contrary to the popular belief that all birds must have 12 hours sleep each night. The reason for this is exposure to dawn and dusk causes a reaction which cannot be replicated. Dusk is especially important as it triggers the production of melatonin which makes the bird drowsy. Another reason for allowing exposure to a natural dawn and dusk, is some birds will react badly to its cage being covered, or the light being switched off. In the wild, it would not suddenly become dark, and suddenly become light again, so when it does in captivity, some birds will get confused and scared and may start thrashing around in their cage.

If left on their own, quiet birds will frequently make contact calls with their owners, calls that sometimes can be quite loud if the person is out of sight. Cockatiels can grow so attached to their owners that they may try to 'protect' them from anyone that tries to come near them, such as a partner or family member, by biting or hissing. This happens especially if cockatiels are kept in bedrooms or other rooms that are not generally shared by everyone in the family, because cockatiels perceive those rooms as their own personal territory. By keeping cockatiels in a shared household room, they are exposed to all family members equally and will not favour one person and feel the need to defend him or her as much. Cockatiels must be acquainted with the entire family, in order to assure even temperament toward all.

Frontal View of a Cockatiel.

Their popularity as pets is due in part because of their calm and timid temperament, to the point that they can even be bullied by smaller but more confident birds such as Budgerigars or lovebirds. Budgerigars and other smaller birds may choose to pick at cockatiels' feet causing amputated toes. It is not uncommon at all for a larger or smaller bird to maim the cockatiel, creating life-long disabilities and potentially life threatening injuries. However, some cockatiels will defend themselves.

Cockatiels don't necessarily make good pets for very young children because they startle easily with loud or unexpected sounds and may bite out of fear of sudden hand movements near and above their heads. . However, they can make good pets for well-behaved older children. Once bonded with their owners, they will often cuddle and play, pushing their head against hands or faces, tossing small items about for the owner to retrieve as a form of "reverse fetch", or whistling a favorite tune. Cockatiels, like almost all other parrots, love to chew paper and can chew objects (like cardboard, books, magazines, wicker baskets, etc) when left unattended.

Most cockatiels enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors and will engage in the activity for hours. Cockatiels that are exposed to mirrors perceive their reflections as their mates. This can induce very aggressive behaviour, and upon seeing themselves once, they are likely to experience anxiety until they find the mirror again.

The Cockatiel, along with the Budgerigar, is among the most popular pet bird species(2nd). Today all Cockatiels available in the pet trade are captive-bred, as Australia no longer permits the export of native wildlife, whether endangered or not[specify]. As a result, the common way to acquire a cockatiel outside of Australia is to purchase one from a breeder or a pet store.

Often, a cockatiel sold through a pet store will have a toy in its cage when on display. Purchasing the toy to which the bird has become familiar helps comfort the bird as it adapts to its new surroundings. During times when the owner is in the room with the bird, the cage door can be left open and, once the bird has become comfortable with the owner's presence, the bird may exit the cage to investigate the owner. Forcing a bird to leave a cage if it isn't ready may cause the cockatiel to be less trusting of the owner.


Cockatiels need a variety of foods to keep the bird on a nutritional diet. One problem that new owners face is the cockatiel "seed junky"; a bird who only eats millet sprays and seeds. One way to avoid this is to limit the availability of millet seeds (such as offering it as a treat to the bird once or twice a week) and instead offer a mix of pellets, flavored seed balls, dry cereal, cooked spaghetti, rice, and other foods. Captive cockatiels will eat most human foods, particularly unsweetened cereals, rice, carrots, certain fruits, bread, and pasta. However, chocolate, caffeine, and seeds from apples,avocados, peaches, pears, or cherries are toxic. Cockatiels should also not be given any food that has processed sugar in it, as this can cause the cockatiel to exhibit hyperactivity, aggression, and other behavioral problems. Cockatiels can eat small pieces of freshly cooked lean beef, chicken or fish; tofu; pet biscuits, and any vegetable that is meaty, dark green, orange, or yellow (high in vitamin A) such as: carrots; sweet potatoes; beets; broccoli; legumes/beans; frozen mixed vegetables; kale; greens (not lettuce); green peppers; zucchini and other squash; asparagus; dried hot peppers; bean or alfalfa sprouts; spinach; and Brussels sprouts. Make sure that any vegetable offered to a cockatiel is cleaned well, as small amounts of pesticides may remain from the harvesting of the produce. Such pesticides are toxic to the bird.

Cockatiels prefer to eat food that is at room temperature. It is common for a cockatiel to reject a sample of spaghetti if the food is too warm; and then to feast on the pasta strings once it has cooled.

When introduced to a new food, cockatiels may show no interest in it initially, but be more receptive to it another day.


In more recent years, pellets have become very popular, especially in the US. However, although these offer an easy alternative to other foods, they are not the best. Most pellets contain soy, which is not a part of a parrots natural diet. A lot of pellets also contain many artificial ingredients, which would never be found anywhere in the wild. Pellets are also a very boring option for any bird, as the texture and flavour of each pellet is exactly the same. A pellet is essentially grains and supplements, all compressed into a bite-size piece, which may sound good to the owner, but not so for the parrot. Owners are led to believe that pellets are a "complete diet", and that their bird will never have dietary issues when fed with them. This is false and there are still many birds which develop illnesses such as fatty liver disease, despite being on a pellet based diet. A common mistake made by owners feeding pellets, is over-supplementing them with fresh food. As a pellet is, essentially, a supplemented grain, supplementing them even more "dilutes" the diet, making the pellets less efficient and the diet unbalanced. A pellet based diet is better than an all seed diet, but seed supplemented heavily with fresh fruit and vegetables is the best diet for pet cockatiels.


Although cockatiels are part of the parrot order, they are better at imitating whistles than speech. Males may learn to whistle different tunes. Although they can learn words, the only understandable parts of the words are the inflections, while the consonants are not easily discernible. Their whistles and other mimicking sounds such as 'lip-smacking' and 'tutting' are almost perfect imitations of the sounds their owners make.[specify]. Although some cockatiels do learn to repeat phrases, males are generally better at mimicry than females.[specify] Cockatiel speech often comes out as a "whistle" when they do annunciate, the voice being soft in volume and difficult to make out. Cockatiels can mimic many sounds, such as the bleep of a car alarm, a ringing telephone, the sound of a zipper, the beeping of cell phones or microwaves, or the calls of other bird species such as blue jays or chickadees and loud weather like thunder. They can also mimic other pets such as dogs, occasionally barking back.

Although female cockatiels are not often known to speak, this is not an absolute. Males have been known to mimic noises, words and sometimes other animals. Females generally don't imitate speech, but tend to mimic sounds such as telephones, washing machines, toilet flushes, etc. Cockatiels that do imitate speech will usually mimic frequently heard phrases, particularly of the individual to whom the bird feels closest.

Cockatiels can also recognize sounds, such as the sound of the owner's vehicle as it parks nearby or the jingling of keys before one unlocks their front door.


Cockatiels are a popular choice for amateur parrot breeders along with budgerigars. Compared to other parrot species they are relatively easy to breed and the costs for equipment are also quite low. A clutch can consist of 4-7 eggs, each approximately the size of one's thumbnail. Eggs are laid once every two days and incubated for 18-22 days. Hatchlings fledge between 4-5 weeks old and wean between 8-10 weeks old. Babies may often be gently handled while in the nest or removed for hand-feeding at 2 or 3 weeks old to help them become more tame and trusting. Puberty (adolescence) is reached around 9 months of age while adulthood is reached around 1 year and 9 months in males and/or 15-18 months in females.

In contrast to other parrots, male and female cockatiels both take part in raising their young. Cockatiels are the only members of the parrot family that do not feed their partner, therefore both male and female cockatiels incubate the eggs and raise their young together, where the male usually sits at night and the female during the day, but it can vary.

Some female cockatiels also lay eggs without fertilization, much as those of the chicken species used for food production. A cockatiel is getting ready to lay eggs when they make their mating call--short chirps repeated rapidly. The bird will also get low to the ground, slightly spread her wings, and bounce as she chirps. Once the cockatiel has laid her eggs she will believe the egg holds a bird, therefore she will sit on it and protect it for about a week. Even the most even-tempered cockatiel will attack to protect her egg. After about a week the cockatiel will realize the egg is empty and stop sitting on it. To prevent laying, one can keep the cockatiel in more darkness per day by covering it earlier in the evening and leaving the cage covered longer in the morning. Like all parrots, cockatiels of either sex can grow to see their owner or a toy as a mate, engage in courtship and mating behavior including territoriality, and females may lay infertile eggs.

Petting the back of the female cockatiel may inadvertently sexually stimulate the hen, promoting egg-laying; owners seeking to avoid egg-laying should avoid this particular form of bonding.

The cockatiel has recently been shown to be capable of hybridising with the Galah, producing offspring described by the media as "Galatiels".

Colour mutations Main article: Cockatiel colour genetics

About fifteen primary mutations have been established in the species and enable the production of many different combinations.

Note: aka stands for also-known-as, cka stands for commonly-known-as ika stands for incorrectly-known-as

  • ADMpied (aka Recessive Pied aka Harlequin)
  • Ashenfallow (ika Recessive silver)
  • Bronzefallow (cka Brownfallow)
  • Cinnamon
  • Dilute (ika Pastel Silver)
  • Dominant silver (aka Ashen Dilute)
  • Edged dilute (ika Spangled ika spangled silver)
  • Faded
  • SL Ino
  • NSLino (Recessive Ino)
  • Opaline (cka Pearled)
  • Palefaced (ika Pastelface)
  • Platinum (ika Pallid)
  • Whitefaced (same gene as genuine Blue mutation in typical Parrot and Parakeet species)
  • Dominant and Sex Linked Yellowcheeked
  • Yellow-suffused (ika Emerald, or Olive)

The multiple names for these mutations is due in part to different regions of the globe naming the same colour change a different term. This does not mean that it is a different mutation. It only means it is a different name.

Colour mutations are a phenomenon occurring in captivity.


A Wildtype (natural Grey coloured) Cockatiel showing excitement or interest by its erected crest.

Nymphicus hollandicus "? pet ADMpied.jpg

A young pet ADMpied Cockatiel.

Near-completely clear (notice the small grey coloured feathers near the edge of its wing and it is rarer than most cockateils.) ADMpied Cockatiel.

3 week old Albino Cockatiel chick.

Cockatiel plumage glowing under a blacklight.

Cockatiels are social birds

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