Cockatiels are very hardy birds. In their natural habitat, they can withstand temperatures as cold as 40°F (4°C) and as hot as 100°F (38°C). In captivity, cockatiels can live in temperatures between about 40°F (4°C) and about 80°F (27°C).
Having said that, cockatiels do feel the cold. It’s not so much the absolute low temperatures that are a problem, it’s the sudden fluctuations of temperature that cockatiels don’t like. Gradual temperature changes are fine, but sudden changes are not. A drop of more than 10°F (5°C) in 24 hours is too much and will result in a cockatiel feeling cold and likely to get sick.
It’s the same for humans, when we go outside in hot weather and come back in and the air conditioning is on full blast. That’s not good for us and that’s when we get sick too.
Signs that your cockatiel is cold
Here are the telltale signs that your cockatiel is feeling cold:
Cockatiels will noticeably shiver when they’re cold, in the same way as humans. You will actually see their little bodies shaking. They will often be doing this in the warmest part of the cage that they can find – Example that could be the bottom of the cage where the sides of the cage are covered to keep things inside the cage. That’s probably the warmest part because it keeps drafts out.
Standing on one leg
This is normal behaviour at night. Cockatiels to stand on one leg and bring the other leg up close to the body under the feathers at night when they’re sleeping. They do this to keep warm. It’s normal at night because body temperature drops at night and they’re not feeding to keep warm.
But this is not normal behaviour if they are doing it during the day. They should not be feeling cold during the day.
Puffing of feathers
When birds puff their feathers, air gets trapped between the feathers. Since air is an excellent insulator, this helps keep them warm. This is easy to spot. – They go from looking normal with their feathers flat on their body to looking like big fluffy balls.
When cold, a cockatiel will tuck its beak into its back. In this position, the bird is less exposed to the cold and can keep warm by pressing itself against its body heat. Again, this is normal at night when sleeping but if your bird is doing this during the day, it’s a sign, he’s feeling cold.
Do the T-shirt test
If you’re having trouble knowing if your cockatiel is feeling cold or if the room he’s in could be too cold for him, then do the T-shirt test. This is where you, the owner, wear a T-shirt in the room where the cockatiel’s cage is and sit there for about 30 minutes. If you start to feel cold, then the room is also too cold for your cockatiel and you need to do something about it.
How to warm up your cockatiel
Once you have established that your cockatiel is feeling cold, you need to warm him up.
Turn up the heat
Assuming that your bird lives in a cage indoors, the first thing you should do is turn up the heating in that room. Since that can take a while to take effect, you should also put a single heat lamp next to the cage, at one end. Position it in such a way that he can get close to it to warm up and also be able to move away from it when he’s feeling better. This will prevent him from overheating. If you don’t have a heat lamp, a normal bulb will do the trick. A heat lamp or bulb will quickly warm up your bird. You should only need to do this for about an hour while waiting for the central heating to warm up.
A blanket over the cage or over part of the cage will form a wall of protection around the cage and help insulate it from the cold. If you have the heat lamp plugged in, don’t cover the whole cage as it could get too hot.
Heated perch (thermo perch)
Birds feel the cold first in their extremities and that means their feet. The feeling of cold then spreads to the rest of their body. The solution to warm up their feet is to get them a heated perch. These are perches that plug into an electric outlet that heat up. They have thermostats that you can set to whatever temperature you want so there is no risk of your bird overheating. They are perfectly safe and cockatiels love them!
Move the cage
Your cockatiel’s cage should not be in corridor. It should be in a pleasant room, used by humans. The room should have a source of heat that can be adjusted with a thermostat. Within that room, the cage should not be in direct sunlight and there should not be any drafts but there should be ventilation.
The simplest way to see if there are any drafts is to do the candle test. Light a candle and look at the flame. If it’s flickering, there is a draft and that is not a good place to put the cage.
Use a box cage
A box cage is a cage that has bars only on the front. On the other sides are solid walls. The advantage is that you can position the cage so that those walls block off any drafts. Cockatiels also like box cages – They like the privacy it gives them while still being able to observe what’s going on in the room through the front bars.
Cockatiels love toys and a cuddly toy has the added benefit of being nice and warm!
Get your cockatiel a companion
There’s nothing more warming than another bird in the cage to snuggle up to. Also, with another bird to play with and interactive with, your cockatiel will be moving around more and that will keep him warm.
If your cockatiel gets a common cold
A bird that is feeling cold every now and again isn’t very serious. However, if your cockatiel is feeling constantly cold, then there is a risk that he will get sick. Birds, like humans can actually catch a common cold and/or other respiratory illnesses which need to be treated.
A cockatiel with a common cold will be listless, lethargic and lose its appetite. Just like humans, they will sneeze, have runny noses and have trouble breathing.
A common cold is viral and so antibiotics won’t have any effect. All you can do is treat the symptoms and wait for it to pass. If there are several birds in the cage, you should remove the sick bird and place it in a separate hospital cage in a different room. This is to prevent the bird from passing its germs on to the other birds.
To treat the symptoms, you will have to clear the mucus from the bird’s nostrils using warm water and cotton buds. Give slightly more fruit and vegetables than usual to increase the vitamin C intake. Vitamin C will help boos the bird’s immune system to fight the illness. You can also use vitamin supplements.
If you have several birds, be sure to wash your hands before treating the bird in the hospital cage and then also immediately afterwards.
If your bird is not getting better after a couple of days, take him/her to an Avian Veterinarian. For the trip to the vet, put the bird in a carrier. Cover the carrier and protect the bird from any sudden temperature fluctuations during the trip. The veterinarian will examine your bird, give a proper diagnosis and prescribe whatever medication and care is required.