The Nature of Cockatiels

Cockatiels are not excitable, high-spirited birds; rather, they are quite deliberate in their ways. Their somewhat shrill voices may strike some people as unpleasant, but a Contented bird resorts to its voice only occasionally to emit a warning or an alarm and is more likely to use it for whistling, imitating noises, or mimicking some words it hears a lot. Young cockatiels can become very tame and trusting. They grow into lovable companions that quickly overcome their initial, often panicky fearfulness and form deep attachments to the people they know well. Although cockatiels like to be active, their play is not as amusing as, say, that of a parakeet. A cockatiel is quite content if it has something to work on with its beak, branches to gnaw on, or a piece of cardboard or other object to reduce to shreds. Naturally, a cage for a cockatiel takes up more room than one for a parakeet. A Cockatiel also needs considerably more space for flying than its smaller, much more agile relative. In addition, a cockatiel creates more dust than most other pet birds because it keeps growing new down feathers, the tips of which disintegrate into a fine dust that impregnates the rest of the plumage. To decide whether a cockatiel would be happy with you and whether you would feel constrained by the bird's presence, here are ten questions you should ponder.

Ten Questions to Help You Decide

1. A properly kept cockatiel lives about 15 years. Are you prepared to care for it that long?

2. Do you have a good and permanent spot for a rather large cage?

3. Will you be able to let the bird fly free every day?

4. Do you have enough time to devote to the bird?

5. Is someone available to play with it, talk to it, and whistle to it?

6. What will happen to the bird when you want to go away on vacation?

7. Are there other pets in your household that might not get along with the bird? You can teach

a dog that the bird is a member of the family, but a cat will not understand.

8. Are you thinking of giving the bird to a child? If so, the ultimate responsibility for the

cockatiel's wellbeing will still be yours because children can lose interest in a bird quickly.

9. Are you sure that no one in the family is allergic to bird feathers and feather dust?

10. Are you keeping in mind that the bird's food and health requirements will cost money on

an ongoing basis?

Male or Female?
If you are looking for a single cockatiel, you don't need to worry about the bird's sex. Young males and females adjust equally well to life with people--whether one person or a family--become tame, try to whistle or talk, and develop their own idiosyncracies. However, if you hope for offspring from your birds, you should get the advice of an experienced breeder or pet dealer to be sure that the second bird you select is the proper sexual counterpart of the first one.

Sexing young cockatiels is something only an experienced breeder or dealer can do with any degree of certainty. Before the post-juvenile molt, the orange cheek patch of the male is no brighter than that of the female, and the characteristic markings on the under tail-coverts of the female haven't shown up. I know several cockatiels with names like Chico, Mike, or Tony whose owners found an egg in the cage after a couple of years--evidence that the supposed male was in fact a female.

Sexing adult cockatiels, that is, birds that have passed through their post-juvenile molt at about nine months, presents no difficulty. The plumage gives a clear indication of a bird's sex. The contrasting colors are paler in the female than in the male. The cheek spot and the mask, that is, the facial areas that stand out from the gray ground color, look, in the female, as though they had been dusted with a brownish powder. The female also has yellow and black cross-banding on the under tail-coverts, and there is some yellowish white on the rims of the outer tail feathers, which are all gray in the male.

One Bird or a Pair?
Most people want just one cockatiel, on the assumption that a single bird will be friendlier and will more readily learn to whistle or even talk. What they don't think about is that a single caged cockatiel will be happy only if a human is willing to make up for the lack of avian company by being around a lot of the time and paying plenty of attention to the bird. For me, the ideal solution is always to get a pair. Start out, however, with one bird. Once the youngster has learned to trust you, you can get it a companion. Because the first bird has learned to enjoy whistling, talking, and playing all sorts of tricks, it will not lose interest in these activities. The new bird will initially concentrate all its attention on the other bird and will regard the human members of the household with timid suspicion rather than affection. But it will learn quickly from its model, the other cockatiel, just how "useful" these humans can be. It doesn't matter, by the way, whether or not the two birds belong to opposite sexes--unless you hope for offspring from them. If two male or two female cockatiels are kept together, one of them automatically assumes the role of the absent sex. A relationship between such a couple is disrupted only if a third cockatiel appears on the scene. Keeping three birds is always an ordeal for one of them and should be avoided.

Tips for buying
Where You Can Get Cockatiels At pet stores: Here you can usually choose from among several birds of various colors. From cockatiel breeders: Breeders prefer to sell their birds directly to private individuals because they like to make sure that the birds they have raised with loving care will have good homes. You can get names and addresses of breeders through bird clubs or from animal shelters. You may well have to pick up your cockatiel from the breeder. Never have a bird shipped to you. A bird mailed in a box will be badly frightened and may be subjected to rough handling. Note: When you buy a cockatiel, ask for a formal bill of sale. It should include the following information: date of purchase, kind of bird, number on the band, price, and addresses of the buyer and seller.

What to Consider When Buying
The bird's age is important: A young bird, about 10 to 12 weeks old, adjusts best to people and will become tame quickly if treated properly. But remember that the plumage of all young cockatiels is still pale; males don't develop their full color until they are about nine months old.

How to tell a young cockatiel:
The cheek spot is apparent but not yet bright orange. The outer edges of the tail feathers have thin, whitish to yellow edges. The tail is somewhat shorter than that of a fully grown cockatiel. The cere is still pink. The movements of juvenile birds are still quite clumsy.

What a healthy cockatiel looks like:
All the feathers are fully formed, hug the body smoothly, and have a lustrous sheen. The feathers around the cloaca, that is the bird's anus, are not sticky or smeared with feces. There is no discharge, either runny or dried into crusts, from the eyes and nostrils. The two middle toes on the feet point forward, the two outer ones, back; there are no missing toes. The bird moves normally, has contact with the other birds, and preens itself.

What a sick cockatiel looks like:
A sick bird sits by itself apathetically, with puffed-up plumage and half-shut eyes. The beak is buried in the back feathers. However, not every cockatiel that fits this description is sick. This is also the sleep posture of healthy birds, and cockatiels often take short naps during the day. Note: Cockatiels are not among the parrots listed in CITES. This means that, apart from the bill of sale, no special papers are needed when you buy your bird.

A Suitable Cage:
No cage should be the constant abode of a cockatiel, for these birds have to be able to fly or they will become obese and sick. Even if you allow the bird as much flying time as possible, however, it will still have to spend many hours in the cage (whenever you air or clean the room, for example, or have social gatherings). For this reason the cage has to be at least large enough for the cockatiel to extend its wings sideward and upward without touching the cage bars, and to move about without the tail brushing against the perches. Many pet dealers do not keep large cages in stock and have to place special orders for them. In such cases it may take several days for the cage to arrive.

Tip: Buy the cage early enough to have it ready and all set up when you bring your bird home.

The Band:
The cockatiel you buy will probably be wearing a band on its leg with a registered number stamped on it. This band is proof that the bird comes from an aviculturist who is a member of a cockatiel society. The number on the band is registered by both the breeder and the society. Since cockatiels can usually be entered in an exhibition only if they are banded, you may want to keep the band on, But check the "ringed" leg frequently, for bands have caused many mishaps. If the band gets caught on something, for instance, the bird will keep pulling to get free and may injure itself in the process. If the leg then swells up, circulation to the leg and foot is impeded. If this happens, the band must be promptly removed by the pet dealer or a veterinarian. Be sure to retain the band and to keep it in a safe place because it represents important evidence of the bird's origin.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.