The Cockatiel Handbook – Bird Street Bistro

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The Cockatiel Handbook

Cockatiels appeared to Johann Georg Wagler like nymphs. These gray, camouflaged birds perhaps sung to him like the nymphs in Ancient Greek mythology were known to do, and maybe this is why they are named as such. He then dubbed them in binomial nomenclature, Nymphicus hollandicusor the Nymphs of New Holland. New Holland was the name of the first colonizers of Australia, which was used when they first inhabited the Oceanian landmass.

This was when our cockatiel companions gained their recognition, making their way from the prairies, rain forests, badlands, and outback of Australia to our homes. These vividly expressive creatures make their moods known through their crests, regal feathers on their heads that move according to their moods. If they are happy or angry, you will know with a cockatiel. One of the many reasons why these little birds are one of our favorites. Ever since the first Aborigines landed in Australia, the cockatiel’s songs and expressions must have won their affection as they do for all of us now. So we do what we can to keep them happy with a caring home and food. Through this handbook we will learn a few things to consider while buying a cockatiel, what food for cockatiels is crucial, what is the best type of food for a cockatiel. An FAQ section is also available towards the end.

What should I consider before buying a cockatiel?

Sometimes we receive questions from customers about purchasing cockatiels, what one should expect and how to prepare, later about what to feed them. First let us start with the first question, what to consider before going to the store to purchase a cockatiel. First, if possible, please rescue. Call your local parrot rescue to see if there are any cockatiel looking for a home. It is highly recommend taking note of how much of your free time you are willing to spend taking care of your bird companion. Taking care of cockatiels includes spending plenty of time, including cleaning the cockatiel’s feather, whistling and singing with them, cleaning their homes, cleaning their food dishes daily, and letting them fly everywhere around the house (well, not everywhere!). Good humor and liking these little pets’ songs will go a long way in taking care of them. 

Are cockatiels good pets for kids?

We also get asked if cockatiels are a good first (or second or third) pets for kids. It depends on your child’s temperament, as cockatiels like many other parrots require some patience. They are not highly energetic animals such as medium-sized dogs. In another way, caring for cockatiels may be a way to practice patience. Since cockatiels are a smaller bird, they are easier for kids to handle and to bond with. Like with other birds the advice such as not surprising them, speaking with them gently, handling them gently, not shaking their cages, and making sure your child knows the responsibilities that come with owning a pet, all apply. Like with other pets, cockatiels allow kids to learn how to take care of other creatures. Cockatiels are gentle, but still, it is recommended that at first, they must be handled by an adult, while first teaching how to properly handle and take care of a cockatiel. Like all creatures, cockatiels need their daily maintenance.

What else do I need for my cockatiel?

So you have decided to buy your first cockatiel, great! Here are a few things that will help you keep your cockatiel happy. Besides the obvious cage, you will also be needing a perch, a water dish, a cockatiel food bowl, toys, (floor) paper, a cuttlebone or a mineral block, and a birdbath. Although cockatiels and every pet bird need to be let out around the house, please do remember to leave ample space inside the cage for the cockatiel to fly around. Sometimes bird owners will wake up or come home to find their pets injured (their feathers ruffled or bleeding), many times birds experience night frights where they batter themselves against the cage. It is recommended that bird owners leave a dim light on so the cockatiel may be able to see.

How Big Should My Cockatiel's Cage Be?

You've probably fallen in love with cockatiels because of their statuesque crests and long, elegant tails. Many people love the fact that cockatiels offer the "build" and form of a larger, longer avian in a very petite package. However, larger crests and tails do mean that cockatiels require more space than something like a parakeet, canary or finch. A minimum cage size for your cockatiel is 24 inches long by 18 inches wide. Allow for at least 24 inches in height. Again, this is the minimum. You will have to factor in more space for a breeding pair or highly active bird.

Is It Possible to Get My Cockatiel a Cage That Is Too Large?

No, your cockatiel will not be bothered by a cage that is very spacious! A larger cage will give your beautiful cockatiel room to play! Keep in mind that cockatiels are very playful, active birds. They also enjoy climbing. In addition to being very fun to watch for you as a bird owner, climbing helps to give your cockatiel the exercise it needs to stay healthy and happy. As a bird owner, you'll need to play the role of "interior designer" for your cockatiel's cage. Most cockatiels need between two and three perches. Change up the sizes and shapes to make things interesting for your cockatiel. Materials like natural branches and rope are great for keeping your bird’s nails conditioned and offering comfortable apparatuses to relax on.

What Are the Sleeping Habits of Cockatiels?

Cockatiels tend to be easy sleepers. Generally, they need between eight and 12 hours of sleep per night. You may want to monitor your bird's sleeping habits in the first weeks after bringing it home to establish a baseline for what natural sleeping habits look like. This could help you to determine if any sleep disturbances are present in the event that you have concerns about your cockatiel’s health or well-being in the future. It's recommended that you cover your bird's cage when it's time to go to bed at night. This will insulate your bird from noises that might be going on in the house after dark. You may prefer to keep your cockatiel in a main portion of your home like the kitchen or den because you love treating it like "part of the family." This is actually a great way to ensure that your bird gets the love and socialization it wants. However, it might not be so great for your bird's sleep hygiene if your cockatiel is living in a home full of night owls! You may notice that your bird is having trouble falling asleep in an active room in the house. Keep in mind that a cockatiel really does need a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night. What can you do if your "noisy" household is keeping your bird up? If your bird's cage is light enough, you may want to consider transporting it to a quieter area of the house at bedtime. You could also purchase a smaller "nighttime" cage that you place in a quiet room.

What Is the Easiest Game I Can Play with My Cockatiel?

How do you keep a cockatiel entertained when it needs up to 30 minutes of activity each day? Don't feel overwhelmed! The easiest way to keep your cockatiel entertained is an old-fashioned game of fetch! Just gently toss a lightweight bird toy for your bird to fetch. You can use your cockatiel's natural love of praise to entice it to return the toy to you in exchange for some healthy bird treats or gentle head massaging. Be sure to check out our complete guide to bonding with your parrot if you're looking for more tips for how to have fun!

Do Cockatiels Like Baths?

A cockatiel's relationship with bathing is interesting. These feathered beauties actually come from a portion of Australia that doesn't see rainfall very frequently. This means that they may not take to bathing as nicely as a bird that hails from a wetter region like the Amazon. A cockatiel in its natural environment will actually take the opportunity to jump in shallow puddles of water after rainfall occurs. There is something you can do to encourage your cockatiel to love bathing a little more if you're struggling to coax it into being washed. It turns out that the sound of rainfall can actually trigger a cockatiel's natural instinct to bath. You can whet your cockatiel's appetite for a bath by playing sounds of rainfall or trickling water a few minutes before you're planning for a bath! This will prime your bird to be more receptive to bathing! After all, this is how it's done in the wild! There are two options for bathing your cockatiel. The first is to invite your cockatiel to perch on your finger before gently spraying or sprinkling water over it. You can also invite your cockatiel to jump into a shallow dish that provides enough room for sitting and bathing. Again, playing those rainfall sounds may actually cause your bird to want to climb into the dish even if it is usually reluctant to come into contact with water. Always check the temperature of water on your own skin before using it to clean your cockatiel. Water should be somewhere between lukewarm and room temperature. It's not necessary to use soap when cleaning a cockatiel. A bathing ritual involving water should be done at least once a week!

Will My Cockatiel Want a Friend? Do Cockatiels Do Okay in Groups?

Cockatiels are definitely not solitary birds. Yes, it's true that personalities can vary by bird. However, assuming that your cockatiel would like a feathered companion if you're in the position to care for more than one of these birds is probably a safe bet. Like with any bird, a cockatiel will prefer the company of another cockatiel over any other creature. Many people like to keep cockatiels in pairs. It's also possible to keep uniform sex when housing just a few cockatiels. Anyone who is interested in keeping several cockatiels should remember that stacking your "flock" with more males than females could cause your male cockatiels to fight. Try to have more females than males for this reason. Can cockatiels be kept with other kinds of birds? Yes, it's fine to mix your cockatiels with some smaller parakeets and budgies. Just remember that you should only keep two varieties in one enclosure if you're keeping breeding pairs. It's important to always be responsible about offering spacious accommodations when housing more than one cockatiel. Beyond these few items, you will need cockatiel food that is healthy to keep your cockatiel’s mood and crest flourishingly happy, and on a healthy path to living.

Should I be concerned about what my cockatiel eats?

We have many customers that ask if what their pet cockatiels food should be a concern. The answer is yes, however, many bird owners assume this problem has already been figured out for them. It has, but with assumptions, we will go over in the section below in, “The problem with all-seed diets.” What a cockatiel eats has a large impact on their health in many ways in the following ways. Around the world cockatiels are normally given seeds to eat, but this initially was due to the lack of nutritional considerations such as how much energy your cockatiel expends versus wild cockatiels should always be in mind, as they can develop heart disease from all-seed diets. This is something we will explore in the section below dealing with all-seed diets. As well as how much Vitamin D is synthesized from sun exposure.

Impacts of a Cockatiel’s Diet to its Health

Every part of a cockatiel’s diet has an impact on their health, whether it’s heart disease such as atherosclerosis, or obesity, we can be sure that the cockatiel diets that are given to our little companions will have a strong effect on how long they will stay with us and how happy they will be. Some 60% of bird autopsies show signs of nutritional deficiency, according to Valerie Campbell, D.V.M.  These are serious and very sad realizations that are discovered through avian veterinary medicine science and an increasing interest in parrot nutrition. This common malnutrition in cockatiels is because the interest in medicine has only existed since the early 1990s, the decade when the Association of Avian Veterinarians and the board of certification that certifies avian veterinarians was created. Before the increased interest we simply thought we could feed our cockatiels an oversimplified diet, but luckily, we have more interest and care for healthy diets of cockatiels to develop.

What exactly does my cockatiel naturally eat?

In Australia, a cockatiel makes use of natural vegetation, seeds, fruits, and insects. A spectrum of a cockatiel’s diet from nature.

Does this affect what I should feed my cockatiel?

Yes, this means cockatiel diets must be balanced in their nutritional content, the best cockatiel food will be a nutritious mix of fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. This means a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. The best seeds for cockatiels are those with low-fat content such as safflower, millet, canary, sunflower, and groat seeds. This is the first building block (fat), along with a few others that make for a fully nutritious and holistic cockatiel diet. Many newer cockatiel owners tend to purchase solely seeds, but that has implications for their health.

The problem with all-seed diets?

Seeds only provide fat, which is a need in balanced quantities, but they do not provide calcium or protein. This can result in nutritional deficiencies, infections, or other problems. Seeds genetically modified to be grown for cooking oil production can even lead to our bird friends to become obese. As said above, a nutritious diet is one that is similar to the one cockatiels have evolved in. Seeds produce to eat by humans are also not a healthy choice for cockatiels as they have higher concentrations of fat. In nature, seeds are usually less fat concentrate. The best cockatiel diet will consist of seeds being 10% or 20% seeds.

An Only Pellet diet for cockatiels?

All-pellet cockatiel diets, unfortunately, have problems. The first being a lack of enzymes found in processed, synthetically made cockatiel pellets. Lack of enzymes results in a lack of kidney, liver, and stomach health for our pet cockatiels. High concentrations of proteins and otherwise nutritious elements in pellets lead to things such as gout, even vitamin D and iron toxicity. We are not the only ones that need fresh and balanced nutrition, our cockatiel companions do too. We do not subsist on multi-grain protein bars, neither should cockatiels.

The problem with an all-pellet diet                                   

Often we try to find an easy way to feed our cockatiels, whether through cockatiel pellets or all seed diets, but quick fixes won’t end well. Cockatiel pellets are seen as the lesser of two evils, a common perception. One being seeds, the other pure pellets. Neither has to haunt our cockatiels though! According to Pamela Clark, CPBC, CVT: “Many avian veterinarians believe that parrot owners should be encouraged to feed a 100% manufactured diet to their birds because the majority of owners are not capable of providing a good diet otherwise. I never fail to feel saddened when I encounter this ideology, for it essentially removes the benefit and privilege of choice from the parrot owner. In other words, the owner is encouraged to feed a pellet diet, not because of strong conviction that the diet is optimal, but because it is perceive as the lesser of two evils.” Pamela Clark, CPBC, CVT Schedules that seem to dominate our lives with all the hecticness out there make it seem like it is nearly impossible to find the time to properly feed our beloved cockatiels every day. So cockatiel pellets are the way out for many people.

What a good cockatiel diet?

Luckily, extremes that only focus on one type of food, or one type of processing, are not the only choices around. We have the choice not to go to extremes, keeping a healthy balance. Or we at least try our best! We can strive for a balanced cockatiel diet by imitating their wild cockatiel relatives, flying through the ecological diversity in Australian jungles, prairies, and the outback of Australia. Taking into consideration the very different lifestyle of our cockatiel companions. Through this holistic approach, we can do our best to provide cockatiels with a healthy, nutritious mix. Provide your cockatiel with a nutritious, wholesome, and filling mix that will keep your happy and living large for the years to come.

Nuts, legumes, amino acids (proteins), and essential fatty acids (fats)

Keeping your cockatiel smiling and bobbing around in happiness, means a diet balanced with proteins to keep their feathers healthy! In nature cockatiels usually get their protein from a mix of insects and nuts (if they can be found). Protein allows for their seasonal molting and natural development to be healthy, preventing balding in cockatiels or other diseases that can be quick to harm. Nuts along with legumes can satisfy protein intake requirements for our

cockatiels. Some of these include garbanzo beans, lentils, soybeans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, and split peas; nuts can include pecans, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, etc. Please keep in mind that nuts also contain high amounts of fat, so you must consider this when deciding the number of seeds in your cockatiel’s diet. About 10% to 16% of a daily cockatiel diet should protein, with diets being at the higher end of the scale during molting. More balanced diets provide prevention against diseases like gout, vitamin D toxicity, or iron toxicity. If you’re looking for a wonderfully nutty yet balanced, nutritious mix your cockatiel will always be thankful for, try our Cinnaspice Delight Mix.

What about carbohydrates for cockatiels?

A few veggie options that are safe and healthy for cockatiels include lettuce, spinach, corn, carrots, broccoli, kale, and chard. Darker leaves are usually healthier,  whereas lettuce and celery do not contain many nutrients. Some fruit options include pineapples, mangoes, melons, bananas, tangerines, apples, and coconuts. Below is the FAQ section we have a larger list of edible fruits. Please do bear in mind that buying organic options is crucial. The doses of herbicides and pesticides in non-organic fruits and vegetables are high enough to kill cockatiels. We can handle the toxicity because of our larger bodies. It is also important to note that apple seeds contain cyanide, these seeds must be removed before serving! 10% of a feathered friend’s diet should be in fruits, and about 50% should be in vegetables. A few changes to note when giving your cockatiel fruits are that the sugar in fruits will make your cockatiel’s stools more watery, many people worry that this might be diarrhea. Foods with high sugar content will also affect both mood and a ppetite of cockatiels, serve sparingly! These veggies and fruits are essential to a cockatiel’s diet, as seeds and cockatiel pellets will not be able to replace the enzymes, vitamins, proteins (amino acids), and other nutrients contained by fresh and raw foods. Other excellent sources of carbs for your cockatiel’s diet can include whole grains such as buckwheat, oats, rye barley, wheat quinoa, spelled, Kamut, amaranth, and rice. Soaking, cooking, sprouting, and even eating raw, are some ways to prepare them (or not prepare them, but do wash them).

Cockatiel Food FAQ (Frequently Asked Question):

Frequently asked questions we get about cockatiels and cockatiel diets include:

Can cockatiels eat bananas?

Bananas are a fantastic source of potassium and fiber for cockatiels. Here’s an interesting fact: feather picking and forms of aggression (such as cannibalism in chickens) are expressed when aves are not fed fiber. Like other fruit, bananas should be part of a balanced diet.

Can cockatiels eat strawberries?

Some people have doubts about strawberries because of their seeds. They are safe, however!

Can cockatiels eat peanut butter?

A wonderful treat for humans that are not allergic to peanuts, but not a healthy snack for cockatiels, unfortunately! Please note, peanuts are susceptible to fungi that are deadly to birds. These fungi emit toxins called aflatoxins, a toxin discovered when one hundred thousand turkeys were killed by aflatoxins). These toxins are carcinogenic to humans. Low levels in humans, means a deadly substance to cockatiels. Along with toxins, nuts and nut butter are simply too fatty for our feathered friends! Which can lead to obesity and cardiovascular health problems for cockatiels and other birds?

Can cockatiels eat watermelon?

Cockatiels love watermelons! Please do note that watermelons are high in sugar content, they will disrupt your cockatiel’s diet. Leading them to not have an appetite for a more nutritious diet. So please feed sparingly. Usually serving fruits twice a week, or smaller quantities with a daily nutritious meal. Like the other sugary fruits, remember to portion the serving according to the small size of your cockatiel.

What to feed my cockatiels?

A balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other nutrients that include vitamins and minerals. We have a section above, “What should I feed my cockatiel?” that addresses this question on nutrition for cockatiels.

Can cockatiels eat crackers?

Although tasty, crackers do not provide much nutrition! The salt in many crackers overloads cockatiel’s small kidneys, which can lead to either kidney stones or other urinary problems. Things with low nutritional value should be seen as snacks and be given occasionally because there are more nutritious and healthier foods available that your cockatiel would equally be as happy to eat. Best cockatiel food practices should always be kept in mind because food such as crackers or other food can fill them up quickly!

Can cockatiels eat in the wild?

How cockatiels are bred and grown means they are domesticated to be sedentary and be more familiar with humans. The lives domesticate cockatiels normally live do not allow for them to accustom to the elements. There is also the strong possibility that the cockatiel may fly away, never to return home! There is some kind of cockatiel harnesses available in the market that lets the bird fly around while being chained to their owner’s wrist or a heavy object. However, these tools’ efficiency is unknown, as we have not examined them. If for whatever reason your cockatiel has escaped, try placing food, water, or something else that may entice it back, near your home. If your cockatiel has a partner, place your cockatiel’s partner in the cage somewhere the escapee will be able to hear their partner’s call. This may work if the cockatiel has not gone too far away.

List of fruits for cockatiels?

list of edible fruits for our cockatiel friends includes: Bananas, oranges, tangerines, raisins, apples, pears, currants, strawberries, apricots, fresh pineapples, blackberries, mulberries, loganberries, lemons, dates, raspberries, grapefruits, juniper berries, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, gooseberries, rowan berries, mandarins, melon, peaches, plums, rosehips, hawthorn berries, wild elderberries, and figs. The seeds in apples, apricots, pears, peaches, and cherries, must be removed as they have varying amounts of cyanide concentrations.

What should I not feed my cockatiel?

Please avoid foods that are known to be hazardous to other animals, these include foods with caffeine, chocolate, tea, or coffee. Feeding cockatiels avocados, onions, garlic, tomato leaves, potatoes, eggplants, and other foods with solanine must also avoid. When in doubt remember to research! What we consider junk food is also junk food for cockatiels and should be avoided. These include foods such as butter, Cheeto like foods, foods similar to Doritos, foods with high sugar, fat, or salt content will damage your cockatiel’s health. Foods like these are already bad enough for humans! What about people’s food for cockatiels? Food that humans eat are usually densely packed with calories, fats, and sugar. This is not what a cockatiel would normally find in nature. The intensity of foods we eat ends up to be a glut of sugars, fats, or calories, filling them and leaving no space for nutritious foods. Seeds made for people, and other foods produce for us are proportioned for us, which means that their density makes measuring diets a lot harder. This throws a cockatiel off its balance when it comes to food.

Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals or amino-acids?

The best cockatiel food will always contain a mix of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (proteins). These can come from grains, legumes, seeds, veggies, and fruits. If you would like to make feeding your cockatiel a constant joy for both your feathered friend and yourself, consider buying one of our rich mixes of carbohydrates, proteins (amino acids), vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals.

What pointers should I remember about feeding my cockatiel?

A few pointers are as follow:
  • Do not use gravel and grit as cockatiels remove the hull of seeds before ingestion, grit can cause digestion problems
  • Freshwater should be provided every day
  • As mention above people food is made for humans and is not similar to the concentrations birds find in nature
  • Fruits and vegetables should only stay for a couple of hours at most, as they can spoil and contaminate the home of the cockatiels and the cockatiels themselves
  • Seeds should only account for a portion of your cockatiel’s diet
  • All food should be washed before serving
  • Is there anything else that will be needed for my cockatiel besides Bird Street Bistro?
We recommend to our customers that they buy a cuttlebone and a mineral block, as these provide calcium and other trace minerals, respectively. Putting vitamins in your bird’s water also helps with nutrition. Allowing sunbathing time for your bird for about 5 to 10 minutes per day depending on the season will help your pet cockatiel synthesize the calcium from the cuttlebone for the continued growth of their beautiful feathers.

How can I get my cockatiel to eat healthy? They just will not eat!

Just like children (and adults), it will take a while for cockatiels to like a new food. We recommend feeding cockatiels two times a day. In the morning and the early evening. So there is a routine and so they know when food is coming. Diced food will help in introducing new food so that it blends to other food. If they ignore the new food, try next time! Be persistent with introducing new food for a healthy diet. Please do make sure food does not remain for too long, as fungi and bacteria can grow. Cockatiels are susceptible to fungi and bacteria.

In Conclusion

The science and research behind what parrots should eat is still relatively young. We once thought that an all-seed diet was optimal, but that wasn’t the case. Then we opted for an exclusive diet of supercharged pellets. And we are now seeing the results of that first hand. We are now taking a holistic, approach the same way we would with our diets. Taking into account what are body needs based on the amount of energy we exert. Our avian friends are not getting the same amount of exercise. If they were in the wild, so we have to take that into account. We go back to the basics, going back to what mother nature has provided us. Pure. Simple. All-natural parrot food. Please do leave a comment, share this post, and let us know what you think. We love hearing from our customers it gives us wings! Remember to always consult your avian veterinarian to determine your bird’s individual dietary needs.   Have a wonderful day.

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