Cockatiels are deservedly popular pets and some of our most frequently seen patients by our “cockatiel vet”. Their scientific name means ‘nymphs of New Holland (Australia)’ which is particularly apt. They are generally outgoing and very inquisitive (which can sometimes get them into trouble) and just a little bit large than budgies and lovebirds. They are especially good at whistling but not so noisy as to cause trouble with neighbours which can be an issue with the larger cockatoos. Some will talk but they are generally not as good talkers as galahs, corellas or budgies. Cockatiels were one of the earliest offshoots of the Cacatuidae (cockatoo) family, evolving in Australia over 20 million years ago. In the wild they live in arid areas and reproduce in response to rains and good seasons.
It is generally easy to tell gender in normal adult cockatiels as the males have bright yellow on their heads and no bars on their tails whereas the females have horizontal yellow bars on their tail and the head is not as brightly coloured. Mutation cockatiels may be difficult to sex, in some the sexes look identical and DNA sexing may be needed to be certain.
We recommend a combination of quality parrot pellets, vegetables (especially those with good vitamin A content), some seed (especially for positive reinforcement and training) and some fruit and nuts. Cuttlefish bone or a mineral block for calcium and clean fresh water should be constantly available.
As pets we recommend that cockatiels be kept in an aviary or large cage with lots of appropriate toys for enrichment. They are little monkeys when it comes to foreign body ingestion and are one of our top species to have problems with heavy metal or rope particle ingestion – see below. We encourage allowing cockatiels to fly free around the house under supervision but take care as they can be flighty and are an athletic species and prone to night frights and flying into walls or windows etc. Light wing clipping can be helpful in reducing risk of injury. Avian veterinarians in earthquake-prone California have noted that, compared with other species, cockatiels were the more likely to turn up on their doorsteps with injuries the morning after a tremor. On two occasions in Melbourne when we have had minor earth tremors we also had cockatiels present with minor injuries the following morning. Cage bars should preferably be vertical rather than horizontal to prevent flapping damage if a wing gets caught between the bars.
Top health problems we see in cockatiels by our Cockatiel Vet at Bird Vet Melbourne
- Heavy metal toxicity. Being very inquisitive, cockatiels seem to be able to find metallic objects where no one else can – lead light, jewellery, curtain weights to name just a few.
- Fibre foreign body ingestion. Rope toys with frayed ends are a significant health risk for cockatiels as they may nibble at them and ingest small particles leading to gastro intestinal upsets or, if the particles become matted, obstruction. Avoid these types of toys.
- Excessive egg laying. Cockatiels may be prone to this because they evolved in arid regions and would come into a breeding condition only when times were good – but times are always good for pet birds. Egg binding, vent prolapse or behavioural problems may occur along with the excessive laying. If these occur the immediate problem needs to be dealt with. Longer term, environmental change or an implant to reduce female hormone production may be useful to stop the egg laying.
- Other female reproductive problems. Cancer, infection or dysfunction of the oviduct (the organ where eggs are formed) or ovary can lead to fluid build-up in the abdomen. Drainage of the abdomen and radiographs may be needed to identify the cause of the problem. Medical treatment with implants, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs may be helpful in some cases, surgery may be required in others.
- Psittacosis (Chlamydia) and eye infections. Psittacosis is a disease humans can catch from birds. Cockatiels with this disease may show respiratory disease, conjunctivitis or grey feathers may turn to black. Seek veterinary advice if your bird shows any of these signs.
- Giardia/flagellates. These are motile parasites that live in the lower intestinal tract and may be associated with diarrhoea. Your vet can identify them when looking at droppings under the microscope and recommend appropriate treatment with drugs such as metronidazole.
- Skid injuries from poor wing clips. With their kamikaze inclinations, if cockatiels have their wings clipped too severely they can crash land on hard surfaces causing injuries, usually to their keel or just behind the vent. Seek veterinary advice rather than attempting wing clipping yourself.
- Gram negative bacterial and yeast infections in hand reared youngsters. Organisms that are common in the environment, such as yeast and bacteria, can pose disease problems if birds have poor immunity. Young birds often have poorly developed immune systems, especially if hand reared rather than parent reared. Birds with these problems may show vomiting, delayed crop emptying or diarrhoea. Microscopic examination of the crop fluid or droppings is necessary to determine the cause of the problem, treatment will depend on findings.