Cockatiel illness / Cockatiel health – is my cockatiel sick?
In the wild if cockatiels let their guard down and show they are unwell they will become the victims of predators. Therefore it is natural for cockatiels to conceal their illness as long as possible.
By observing your cockatiel daily you will learn its normal behavior and anything out of the ordinary should draw your attention. If your cockatiel looks ill it normally means it is really sick and can deteriorate extremely quickly.
When you detect any of the following signs of illness you should take your cockatiel to an avian vet as soon as possible – try to visit a vet experienced with birds so a correct diagnosis can be given.
Signs of illness to watch out for:
- abnormal breathing
- abnormal droppings (note the quantity, color, consistency)
- abnormal feathers, feather growth, or molt
- abnormal sleep pattern – continuous, both feet on the perch when normally one foot is tucked up, head tucked under the wing, head turned towards the wing with eyes only partly closed
- any change in normal activities – talking or whistling, playing with toys, preening, interaction with other birds, interaction with humans, energy levels, different perching area
- discharge from the beak, eyes or nostrils
- drinking a lot more water than usual
- drooping head, tail or wings
- dull or swollen eyes
- excessive feather picking or plucking
- face and head feathers coated with mucus and semi-digested seed
- falling off the perch
- fluffed up appearance
- hunched over posture
- loss of appetite
- lumps or swellings on the body
- sitting on the bottom of the cage
- soiled vent
- tail constantly moving up and down
- untidy appearance
- weight loss
Cockatiel lifespan – how long will my cockatiel live for?
The average lifespan of a cockatiel is 12 to 15 years. It is not unusual for a cockatiel to live to 20 years of age and the occasional cockatiel makes it to 30!
To insure your cockatiel has a long and happy life provide:
- a clean cage
- daily exercise
- a healthy diet including fresh fruit and vegetables offered daily
- plenty of activity and companionship
Cockatiel sexing – is my cockatiel a male or female bird?
With young cockatiels the male and female look the same so it is difficult to decipher their sex until they have been through their first molt at around six to nine months of age. Only then will the adult coloring show.
Normal gray cockatiels are easily sexed once the adult plumage is through. You will notice that the coloring is more defined with the male having a bright yellow face, whereas the female has a gray face with traces of pale yellow. The male’s body is a dark gray but the female’s appears duller with almost a brown tint to the gray.
Also, until their first molt both sexes have barring patterns on the underside of their tail feathers. After the molt the male’s tail feathers will be a solid gray color with no barring, but the female’s will remain patterned.
The above is easily applied for normal gray cockatiels but other color varieties such as albinos, cinnamons, lutinos, pearls and pieds are more difficult to sex.
You can use the general guide below to assist with the sexing of other cockatiel varieties:
- males have a great vocal ability and whistle a lot
- females generally are fairly quiet
- males whistle and call, whereas females tend to screech
- females are often more likely to hiss and bite
- where applicable, males have slightly darker or brighter colorings on the face and orange cheek patches
- any hint of barring, markings or spots on the underside of the tail feathers or wings when they are spread indicates a female (you may need to hold your cockatiel up to a bright light in order to see any markings)
- males tend to strut around – they lift their wings slightly, stick their chest out and parade and strut, normally calling at the same time
- place a mirror in front of your cockatiel. How does it react? Normally a male will be fascinated and the mirror should hold his attention for quite some time while he performs in front of it. A female tends to lose interest fairly quickly.
Cockatiel care – what is the best cockatiel food?
Cockatiel diet is extremely important and is the key to having a healthy cockatiel – along with exercise.
Give your bird a good-quality cockatiel seed mix (not parrot mix). These are readily available at pet suppliers and supermarkets. Be aware though that most ready-mixed cockatiel seed contains far too many sunflower seeds and these are extremely fattening. For this reason I tend to make up my own mix for my cockatiels. I buy a 50/50 mix of budgie seed and plain canary seed and then add a few sunflower seeds. Do not buy the seed in bulk – you are best to purchase small fresh amounts.
Alternatively, you can offer your cockatiel a pelleted diet.
Your cockatiel’s diet must be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables on a daily basis – refer to the fruit and vegetables question below.
Small amounts of ‘people’ food are fine for cockatiels occasionally. They can have a nibble on crackers, cereal such as cornflakes, hard-boiled egg and wholemeal bread. Also try rice, pasta, potato, pumpkin, sweet potato – these must be offered cooked, not raw.
Cockatiels enjoy spray millet and seed treats such as honey bells or sticks. However, these are fattening and should be offered occasionally as treats only. Pet cockatiels can become overweight very easily so I recommend offering spray millet once a week if your cockatiel is fairly active, or if not, only once a fortnight. Seed treats are best given at two monthly intervals.
Fresh drinking water is required daily. Also make available cuttlebone, and calcium, iodine and mineral blocks. Vitamin supplements in the drinking water once a week or fortnight are a good idea, although do not leave these in the water for long as bugs can grow very quickly. Some people prefer to sprinkle powdered vitamins onto the seed or moist food, eg apple pieces or spinach. Either way, be sure to follow the product’s directions with regard to dosage amount and frequency.
Cockatiel diet – are fruit and vegetables necessary?
A cockatiel diet must be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables on a daily basis. An all seed diet often results in an unhealthy or overweight cockatiel.
Try the following:
Fruit: apple, grape, guava, kiwi fruit, mango, melon, nectarine, orange, peach, pear, pomegranate, plum, strawberry, tangerine, watermelon
Vegetables: bok choy, broccoli, carrot (chopped or grated), celery, chard, lettuce (but small amounts of lettuce and not too often as not a lot of goodness), peas, silverbeet, spinach, sweetcorn, watercress, zucchini.
Favorites with cockatiels tend to be apple, egg, pasta, peas, rice, silverbeet, spinach, sweetcorn.
Note that the fruit and vegetables should be provided:
- thoroughly washed
- in small pieces
- at room temperature
- free of cores, stones, pits or pips
- raw (some cockatiels prefer certain vegetables cooked eg peas and – sweetcorn – use your judgment here)
- fresh (obviously this will be the most nutritious for your cockatiel but you can use frozen or canned)
Be aware that your cockatiel’s droppings may be runnier than usual with an intake of fruit and vegetables.
Some cockatiels will not take to fruit and vegetables straight away. Persevere as it can take up to a year before your cockatiel will eat them. Fruit and vegetables are an essential part of your cockatiel’s diet so offer them washed and fresh each day – do not give up!
Cockatiel care – what cockatiel food can I not feed?
Never give your cockatiel alcohol, avocado or chocolate – these can kill your cockatiel.
Also avoid asparagus, aubergine or eggplant, cabbage, caffeine (tea and coffee), junk food, milk and cream, raw potato, and rhubarb (including the leaves).
Please just use your common sense when it comes to feeding your cockatiel. Many plants and food items are unsafe, so if you have any doubt, do not offer it to your cockatiel.
Cockatiel cage – what is the best cockatiel bird cage?
Buy the biggest cage suitable for a cockatiel that you can afford. Obviously the bigger the cockatiel cage the better, but within reason depending on your budget and the size of your home.
In my opinion, the minimum cage requirement for one cockatiel is:
Across – 18 inches or 46 cm
Wide – 18 inches or 46 cm
High – 24 inches or 61cm
Note: The cage base is in addition to these measurements.
Some extra tips:
- your cockatiel needs room in its cage to stretch its wings and flap them. Also, do not forget the length of your cockatiel’s tail – this must not drag on the cage bottom or get caught up in anything.
- when considering cage size remember to take into account the cage fillers eg perches, seed and water dishes, one or two toys. Do not clutter your cockatiel’s cage.
- check the width of the cage bars – do not buy a cage where the bars are wide enough to allow your cockatiel to squeeze its head through and get caught (as a guideline: ½ to ¾ inch or 1.5 to 2 cm).
- to enable your cockatiel to climb around its cage, ensure the cage has horizontal bars as well as vertical – do not buy a cage with vertical barring only.
- a plastic removable tray at the bottom of the cage makes cleaning easier.
Cockatiel care – how much exercise for my cockatiel?
Regardless of your cockatiel cage size please remember that in order to remain healthy and happy your cockatiel will require time out of its cage. It needs to exercise , so let your cockatiel out at least once a day – whether it is for a fly around (if its wings are not clipped), a walk around, a sit on your shoulder or simply to sit out on top of its cage.
The minimum time out should be one hour per day, but ideally your cockatiel should be able to come and go as it pleases, within reason, and depending on your home environment.
Do not keep your cockatiel locked up in its cage day in and day out. It must be allowed out each day.
Breeding cockatiels – what age for cockatiel breeding?
Cockatiels become sexually mature between 6 and 9 months of age. You should not breed cockatiels until the male and female are at least 12 months old, with a preferable cockatiel breeding age of 18 months.