About Cockatiels
Life with a Cockatiel
By Eleanor McCaffrey
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One of the biggest mistakes that animal lovers make is to bring home a bird impulsively, without considering the needs of the species or the expense of medical treatment if the bird gets sick. Although bringing a new cockatiel into your family is always an exciting event, along with the excitement comes a lifetime of commitment and responsibility. It's important to select a breed that is compatible with your lifestyle and your expectations. Unhappy bird owners will usually have unhappy birds whose physical, social and psychological needs are being neglected.  Un-wanted birds are all too frequently neglected and abused. These birds will develop behavioral problems and they end up being "re-homed", often a sugar coated way of saying birds are considered a disposable commodity, being passed on from one home to the next until they end up at a shelter. By learning about cockatiels as a species first, you can be sure that both you and your new bird will be compatible and happy together for many years.

Long Lifespan: With proper care, nutrition, yearly check ups and medical attention, cockatiels can live up to 20 years of age. According to a recent article in Bird Talk Magazine, 2005, avian vets have reported more cockatiels are now living well into their mid to late 20s. This is attributed to better nutrition, better care and advances in avian medicine and bird owners who are more educated. When you bring a cockatiel into your life, you are making a long term commitment to meet all of your new companion's physical, social and psychological needs for perhaps 20 years or more. Cockatiels are sociable are companion birds and they need to interact with you or another bird to thrive. Companion birds will get lonely if ignored and left alone. They will become depressed, stop singing, playing, eating and will spend most of their life being lonely, hiding in a corner of the cage.  Cockatiels also need to be taken out of the cage, played with and talked to each day. Health and behavioral problems like screaming, biting and feather plucking  are common when a cockatiel's physical, social and psychological needs are not being met. Your bird is totally dependant upon you for all of its needs, a nourishing diet, water, shelter, medical care and companionship. Birds are literally prisoners behind bars. You can either make life in captivity miserable or enjoyable for a bird. Are you willing to make a 20 year commitment to give a cockatiel a  healthy,  happy and long life?

Do the children want a bird? Getting a new pet can be an enjoyable, family oriented activity but this alone is not a good enough reason to adopt any pet, especially a bird. You have to want a bird too. It will be your responsibility as an adult, to monitor the bird's care, living environment and health every single day. A child can not be expected to monitor the health of a bird by noticing early symptoms of illness or a change in droppings. This is a parent's responsibility. Ask any responsible bird owner and he/she will tell you that keeping a cockatiel healthy and happy can be more work, more time consuming and more expensive than owning a dog or cat. Fresh foods, pellets, toys, other cage supplies and medical care are expensive. Birds should have yearly check ups which include blood tests and other lab tests just like a cat or dog. Birds also get sick and injured. The diagnostic tools, medical procedures and treatments that are available to help sick birds from avian veterinarians are remarkable but expensive. A young child or teen can not be expected to pay for all of these expenses. This is your responsibility, not your child's. Understanding this before buying a bird will help to prevent you from breaking your child's heart someday. If you don't have time or are unwilling to monitor the daily care of your child's bird, please don't bring a bird into your home.  

Cockatiels and Families: Purchasing a cockatiel as a family pet is more appropriate than purchasing one for just the child, although families with small children under the age of 5 may want to wait a few years before bringing one into their home. Cockatiels can be moody  and they do not react well to the fast movements and the energetic voices of toddlers. Like all parrots, cockatiels can scream or be nippy if they feel threatened. Even though cockatiels have a relatively small beak, they can bite hard enough to cut through skin and cause bleeding. Cockatiels, when biting,  can also clamp down with their beak and not release their grip for several seconds if they feel the need to defend themselves. Cockatiels do make wonderful pets for families with older, school age children who can understand and respect the needs or a pet bird. Cockatiels tame easily, they love to spend time out of the cage with their humans and they thrive on attention from all family members. Your new cockatiel is also much less likely to become a one person bird or a biter when all family members participate in daily care. Daily care of a cockatiel can be a family responsibility. Older children can wash and fill food/water dishes and change cage papers. Younger children can help by putting dishes back inside of the cage and checking the water dish a few times a day. Parents can supervise out of cage time and they can monitor feeding, cleaning and the daily health of  birds that are family pets. 

Maybe you want to breed cockatiels for profit. Purchasing a pair of cockatiels for investment purposes will probably lead to a pair of neglected, unwanted cockatiels when you realize that you're losing instead of making money . This will only increase the number of unwanted birds that fill avian rescue centers already. Small scale breeding with a few pairs of birds is not very profitable. When you add in the cost of supplies and avian vet fees, you will be lucky if you break even. Mother Nature can be very cruel and one trip to an avian vet with a baby that has crop stasis or splayed legs or a hen that is egg bound and you may end up at the bank withdrawing money out of you child's college fund. Breeding is also time consuming. Cleaning nest boxes and brooders, sterilizing feeding utensils, cleaning babies, preparing soft foods for the parents then hand feeding and weaning chicks is a lot of work. Breeding is also a very emotional process. Finding a dead chick in the nestbox  or having your pet female die from egg binding is devastating. You will also need to find good homes for your grown babies or your flock will increase to an unmanageable size. Then when you do find homes, saying goodbye to the babies may break your heart as well. 

Cockatiels as starter birds can be an excellent way of entering into the world of birds, but first be honest with yourself. Do your interests become short lived and do they change as you move on to more exciting ones? If the answer is yes and you have your heart set on a larger parrot like an African Gray, then it may be better to wait until you can afford the larger parrot. Cockatiels do not talk or perform like the big guys and you may be disappointed. A dissatisfied bird owner ends up with and an unhappy bird that is not receiving the love and attention it deserves. Unwanted birds will usually be resented, ignored, abused, left alone in their cages or given away. There already is an over-population of unwanted, abandoned small birds at shelters and rescue centers as owners dump a smaller bird then move on to a larger species of bird.  This isn't fair to any bird. Cockatiels are intelligent birds that bond with their human family and rejecting a bird like this is heartless. On the other hand, if you  enjoy exploring new interests but you retain previous interests too, then a cockatiel is a great first bird for you.

Previously owned birds can make excellent pets. Giving a forever, loving home to, a previously owned bird, a disabled bird or a rescued bird is a wonderful act of kindness. Previously owned birds can make delightful pets and companions and birds in shelters desperately need good homes and somebody to love them. If you are willing to put in the time that may be needed to rehabilitate a  bird that is untamed, biting, screaming, feather plucking or one with possible health problems then please consider giving one of these birds a home.  A bird that had behavioral problems with a past owner may respond very well to you.  In most cases, the bird's behavior is the result of being abused, ignored or neglected by the previous owner. If you do adopt a previously owned bird, do it with love and the promise of  unconditional love and with an understanding that rehabilitation can be a long, frustrating and very financially costly process for you. It's not a good idea to adopt a bird that is offered free at a rescue shelter because you think it's a bargain. Applicants are usually carefully screened before placing a special need bird in permanent, loving home. You may not have success rehabilitating a bird with behavioral problems because of the bird's past history. Ultimately the bird will end up back at the shelter worse off than before. You must truly love birds and have patience, knowledge and time to work with rescued birds.

 Cockatiels are Time Consuming: Spending time with your bird will nurture the development of your bird's personality. Cockatiels need a great deal of your attention to stay happy and healthy because they are not able to entertain themselves for hours like some of the larger species of parrots. Neglected cockatiels are unhappy and they are under a great deal of stress. Stress will have negative effects on your bird's personality and health. Young, hand-fed parrots are friendly and trusting birds when you buy them. These qualities have been documented in a study conducted by Stephanie Myers at the University of California. However, in order for your bird to maintain this sweet disposition, you must spend time with your bird. Cockatiels that are constantly ignored will revert back to being wild, untamed birds. Taking care of a cockatiel's daily physical needs is also time consuming. Fresh vegetables, fruits and other nutritious foods should be served each day. Food/water dishes must be washed daily. Cage papers should to be changed everyday. The entire cage should be periodically washed and disinfected. Another fact to consider is that cockatiels can not be left home alone while you go on vacation or if you frequently travel. Leaving your bird home alone for an extended period of time is a dangerous and a lonely situation for your bird. 

The Mess, Noise & Expenses: Cockatiels drop food, pellets and seeds all over the floor. You would be surprised at how far brown rice can travel and what it will stick to when a bird shakes to clean off it's beak. Loose feathers are shed and feather dust is cast off after preening. Cockatiel's, like cockatoos, produce more dust than other species of parrots. Feather dust will coat and accumulate on cage bars and surrounding areas each day so be prepared to dust and wipe down the cage bars frequently. Feather dust that is dispersed through the air after a cockatiel preens can make you as well as your bird sneeze so if you have allergies or asthma, cockatiels are probably not the right bird for you. Birds also make droppings about every 20 minutes when they are both inside and outside of their cages. Are you going to be upset when you find droppings on the floor, furniture or your clothes? If you find this disgusting, consider another pet. Birds love to chew on just about anything that captures their interest, even if their cage is well stocked with toys to chew on. Will you be upset if your bird chews off a piece of wood from furniture or puts a hole in the curtains? As for noise, the scream of a cockatiel is a mere whimper compared to that of a larger parrot. However, persistent chirping, singing or the loud flock calls of cockatiels can get on some people's nerves so much that they give their birds away. 

Prices to Consider: Owning and taking good care of a pet cockatiel is expensive. Typical expenses include a good, sturdy cage large enough for the bird to flap its wings, a play gym for out of cage time, pellets, fresh fruits and vegetables each week, treat foods, seeds, perches, feeding dishes, new toys (toys need to be rotated), cuttlebones, mineral blocks, cage covers, seed guards etc. All of these items will need to be replaced as they wear out. When considering expenses, the most important issue is can you afford the services of an avian vet. Medical expenses can be high when your bird is sick or injured and a yearly healthy bird check up which includes blood work and gram stains is costly as well. Pet health care insurance is now available for birds and it may be wise for you to enroll in a plan if money is an issue. For more information on this, contact your veterinarian.

Get Some Books: If you think that a cockatiel is the right companion bird for you and you want to make a 20 year commitment, read some books and learn as much as you can about the birds. Some recommended books can be found on our Bibliography Page. Look at pictures of the many different color mutations of cockatiels that are available that you may not see in pet shops. Visit a few pet shops and aviaries to learn about other breeds of birds too. No matter how endearing or captivating a bird may seem in the store, you better know exactly what it is that you are bringing into your life. You may even learn that a different breed is more appealing to you. Take your time and don't ever buy a bird on a whim.

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