Are cockatiels good for beginners?

Cockatiels are the second most popular pet bird after the parakeet (budgie). There are lots of reasons why cockatiels are so popular – They are available in a wide variety of attractive colors, have great personalities, have a gentle temperament, are able to talk and can be easily bred in captivity. In addition, cockatiels are quieter than many of the larger parrots, can be easily tamed and are intelligent.

But are cockatiels good for beginners? I would say yes so long as the beginner is prepared to spend time educating himself / herself of what is involved in keeping a cockatiel and that is the goal of this article. In this article, I have outlined some of the important aspects of owning a cockatiel and leave it up to you to make an informed decision about whether cockatiels are a good starter bird for you.

Cockatiel’s lifespan

The average lifespan of a pet cockatiel is 15 to 25 years. The exact age will depend on diet, living conditions and the general health of the individual bird.

It’s important to know the expected lifespan in advance of buying any pet so that you fully understand the level of commitment that is required. You will be responsible for the bird’s well-being for the duration. You need to ask yourself the question – where will I be in my life in 5, 10, 20 years from now and will I still be willing and able to look after this bird? If the answers are no, then a cockatiel is not a good choice for you.

As a comparison with other birds, here are the average lifespans of other birds in ascending order

Parakeet (budgie):               5 to 10 years
Canary:                                 10 to 15 years
Finch:                                    10 to 15 years
Lovebird:                              15 to 20 years
Quaker parrot:                     15 to 20 years
Cockatiel:                             15 to 25 years
White cockatoo:                  40 to 60 years

Take note of the lifespan of the white cockatoo. A lifespan of between 40 and 60 years means the bird can outlive its owner depending on the age of the owner when you buy the bird. That is why so many parrots get abandoned and have to be rescued.

Size considerations

A cockatiel is 12.6 inches (32 cm) from head to tail. That is quite a big bird! As a comparison, a parakeet (budgie) is significantly smaller at 7.1 inches (18 cm)

cockatiel and parakeet

Here is a comparison table of size in ascending order:

Canary:                                 3.4 inches (8.7 cm)
Finch:                                    3.9 inches (10 cm)
Lovebird:                              5.9 inches (15 cm)
Parakeet (budgie):              7.1 inches (18 cm)
Quaker parrot:                     11.4 inches (29 cm)
Cockatiel:                             12.6 inches (32 cm)
White cockatoo:                  18 inches (46 cm)

Obviously the bigger the bird, the bigger the cage needs to be. A cockatiel’s cage should be a minimum:  20 x 20 x 24 inches (50.8 x 50.8 x 61 cm)

The size of a bird’s tail is a very important factor. A cockatiel has a long tail and they hate it when there is not enough room to turn around comfortably without their tails rubbing against the bars of the cage. Likewise their perch and water bowl should be positioned so that their tail will never dip into the water.

Having a cage big enough for your cockatiel is only part of the story. Your cockatiel needs to be let of the cage daily to stretch his wings and have a change of scenery. You’ll need a decent sized room for him to do this. If you live in a tiny apartment with just one room that doubles up as a kitchen, then a pet bird is not a good idea.

You must adapt your home

If you’re a beginner to bird keeping, you probably aren’t aware of some of the hazards that are present in the typical home that can seriously harm a cockatiel.

Cockatiels’ respiratory system is very sensitive to bad smells, irritants in the air and toxic fumes. If you or anyone else in your home smokes, please don’t get a cockatiel (or any bird for that matter) because the smoke quickly fills their small lungs and causes a great deal of suffering. A cockatiel living in a home with smokers would probably dies within a year.

It’s not just smoke that affects their lungs. –Here is a list of common household objects that are a serious hazard to birds’ respiratory systems:

  • Certain non-stick surfaces (irons and ironing board covers, pots and pans, woks, drip pans)
  • Gasoline fumes
  • Smoke (any source)
  • Automobile exhaust/ carbon monoxide
  • Self-cleaning ovens
  • Insecticide sprays and foggers
  • Chemical sprays (disinfectants, deodorizers, furniture polish)
  • Glues, paints, nail polish
  • Ammonia or bleach
  • Mothballs
  • Burning foods and cooking oils
  • Fumigants (sulfuryl fluoride, aluminum phosphide)
  • Aerosols

The following plants are also toxic to birds and should be removed from the home:

  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Rhododendron
  • Yew (Taxus species)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Windows are also a major hazard for birds because they can’t see them and so fly into them. When you let your cockatiel out of his cage, he will naturally gravitate towards the natural light of the window and no doubt hit it. Cockatiels have fragile bones and bodies. One window strike could kill it. You need to hide windows with net curtains, curtains or drapes. Alternatively, you can buy some special ultra-violet stickers for the windows that are highly visible to birds.

Cockatiels are very affectionate

A tame cockatiel will bond with humans and make a very affectionate pet. If bonding with your cockatiel is important to you, you should get one that has been hand-reared, rather than reared by its bird parents. To get a hand-reared cockatiel, you’ll probably have to go to a breeder. – The birds for sale in pet stores are rarely hand-reared.  Hand-reared birds are more expensive but are worth the extra cost.

A cockatiel that has bonded with you will step on to your fingers and shoulders and will enjoy scratches and being petted.

The downside of a tame bird that is affectionate is that it can sometimes get too “high-maintenance” if you don’t have strict boundaries.  I explain more about that in the next section.

Cockatiels need attention

Once you have a tame bird, it will need plenty of attention. Birds are not like goldfish that you put in an aquarium, feed once a day and then leave to their own devices.  A bird needs plenty of interaction as well as daily exercise outside of the cage.

If you aren’t going to have a lot of time to provide the required level of attention, you should get a pair so they can keep each other company and not get bored.

Cockatiels can be a bit messy

Cockatiels love to chew things, especially things made out of wood but honestly they will chew anything they can get their beaks a hold of! When you let a cockatiel out of the cage, you need to keep a very close eye on it. They love destroying paper, books, pencils, wires, picture frames, furniture etc!

Cockatiels also poop a lot. We’re talking every 30 minutes at least. If you’re obsessive about cleanliness and having a spotless home, then this will be a problem for you, your home and your clothes.

Finally, cockatiels are very dusty. – A very fine white dust covers the feathers that are close to their bodies. Every time they arrange their feathers, preen, flap their wings or fly, a puff of white dust is released into the air. That dust will not only settle on to your floors and furniture and need to be cleaned, but it can also cause health issues in humans. If you suffer from asthma, for example, don’t get a cockatiel.

I discuss messiness in my other article: Are cockatiels messy?

Cockatiel’s diet

Cockatiels need a balanced diet of seed, fruit, vegetables, protein, vitamins and minerals. I discuss diet in much more detail in another article but it’s important for a beginner to understand the importance of a balanced diet to prevent health issues.

A good solution for beginners is to feed their cockatiel pellets which contain most of the essential food types.

Cockatiels vs parakeets (budgies)

Parakeets are very popular because they are smaller than cockatiels and so need a smaller cage. However, I feel that that cockatiels make better starter birds than parakeets due their temperament. – Cockatiels are friendlier and gentler than parakeets.  

Despite their smaller size, parakeets can be quite aggressive and they will bite more readily than cockatiels, especially if they haven’t been hand-tamed.

Cockatiels live longer than parakeets.

Female vs male cockatiels

I always recommend female cockatiels for beginners. They are more relaxed and laid-back than the males. 

The big advantage of the females is that they are quieter. They will chirp to say hello / goodbye and maybe a few chirps in between, but they are otherwise pretty quiet. Males on the other hand are capable of whistling, screeching, chirping and mimicking all day! If you live in a condo or apartment, get a female. – You can thank me later and your neighbors too!

Think hard before making a decision

Don’t choose a cockatiel (or any pet) because you’ve seen a few viral videos on YouTube and you think it’d be cool to have one yourself. Internet trends will come and go every few months but a cockatiel can live for up to 25 years.

Cockatiels make great pets and yes, they are good for beginners so long as you take care of them properly and give them plenty of love.


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