CHOOSE A COCKATIEL

by Linda Greeson

Over the years I have become somewhat cynical about the many statistics that are given us on so many topics. I feel confident however that those people out there counting beaks have it right when they state that Cockatiels are second only to Budgies in popularity as companion pet birds. Their long time popularity is well earned. They have sweet, loveable dispositions, are happy and cheerful, and easily tamed and trained. Many develop large vocabularies, usually the males. Most whistle, sing, and laugh. Their voices are not nearly an approximation of the human voice -rather squeaky and high pitched - but often clear and easily understood. Considering the comparatively low price asked for a hand fed baby and their estimated life span of fifteen to twenty years, they remain one of the best bargains in the pet shop.

The Cockatiel has been well established in European aviaries for more than 100 years. Although they are originally from the outbacks of Australia where they are called Quarrion they can now be found in every country where birds are bred.

Because selective breeding is being practiced by so many cockatiel enthusiasts the average size of this bird has changed. Five to six years ago I was excited when one of my best birds tipped the scale at 125 grams. Now I consider this pet size quality, although the average pet store bird averages only 90 to 100 grams. Show quality is now considered to be in the 130 to 150 gram range and some of my better birds exceed 200 grams. This is not the weight of fat birds but of those who are broad chested and long. The American Cockatiel Society standard for length is 18 inches, but we have not as yet met this ideal. The average show bird is now 14 to 15 inches in length and the pet quality bird an inch or two shorter.

The normal gray, the fore father of all the mutations, is a strikingly handsome bird. The gray plumage, ranging from pale to almost black, contrasts beautifully with the yellow face and crest and the typical bright orange cheek patches. Dozens of variations in color and patterns are generally available while others are still being developed. Except for the prestige of owning a cockatiel different from all of your friends', there is no advantage in acquiring a rare mutation as a companion bird. The color of their plumage does not affect their sweet and sociable natures in any way, and they are all pretty birds.

WHICH ONE SHOULD I TAKE HOME?

When choosing a pet it is desirable to find a hand fed baby bird which has already had a start on being tamed and socialized. It is only after their first molt at about six months of age that the bird's sex can be definitely determined by its plumage. Only the females retain their under tail striped feathers and in the Pearls retain their decorative lacings. The bright yellow face is typical in the adult male.

There is a simple method of determining sex in the babies which, although not infallible, is surprisingly accurate. In the greys, cinnamons, and pearls the underwing spots or bars extend only half way up the wing in the males. In the hens they extend up the full length of the wing to the body. Most of these methods are difficult to apply to the pieds, but the birds' behavior even at an early age is a strong indication of their sex. The males are much more vocal, whistling and chirping, strutting about. The females are generally more cuddly and quiet.

More important than determining sex is to examine your potential purchase very carefully for indications of good health. Your baby should be bright eyed and alert with no ruffled feathers or drooping posture when on the perch. A healthy Cockatiel is an active busy one. The vent feathers should be clean, no discharge from the nares, and plumage smooth and shiny.

ABOUT YOUR NEW PET'S CAGE

Your pet Cockatiel has only modest cage requirements. The minimum size for a bird that has the opportunity for frequent exercise outside the cage is 18 inches by 18 inches by 18 inches. This allows sufficient room for wing flapping and moving about. If the bird is to be allowed outside the cage only occasionally a minimum of 36 inches in length, 18 inches in width, and 24 inches in height is more suitable to its needs. For the bird's safety the bars should be no more than 3/4 inch apart. They should run horizontally on two sides of the cage to allow ease in climbing. Bars on curved portions of the cage should not converge; at the narrowest point there should be adequate space to prevent the trapping of toes and beak. Add a swing and a few brightly colored toys and your bird will have a happy and safe home.

WHAT TO FEED YOUR COCKATIEL

Good nutrition is an all-important factor in maintaining your bird's health. We rely mainly on pelleted foods because we know that each morsel of food that the bird consumes is a perfect balance of all the nutrients it requires. Some pet owners and breeders still prefer to feed various seed mixtures formulated for Cockatiels. These have the disadvantage of allowing the bird to select its favorites and ignore a good portion of the food that is required for a balanced diet.

If you elect to feed seed check the label to be sure that it contains a variety of seeds including millet, hemp, oats, safflower, canary, and sunflower. Then be sure that you are not emptying out the same variety of seed as you discard the hulls and refill the cup.

Especially with a seed diet additional foods should be offered daily. Most Cockatiels are slow to eat new foods offered to them, but persistence pays off. One inch pieces of corn on the cob, raw spinach, endive, small pieces of carrot, halved grapes and small pieces of apple all provide good nutrition. Whole wheat bread, corn muffins, almost all greens, a spray of millet - actually any food that supplies good nutrition for humans is good for our birds, and your devoted pet will enjoy sharing with you.

Any food containing a significant amount of salt, sugar, or fat should be limited to very tiny portions at rare intervals. Both alcohol and caffeine wreck havoc with your bird's rapid metabolic rate so do not share your morning coffee or your evening glass of wine. Both chocolate and avocado can be poisonous and should be strictly avoided.

A supply of fresh clean water needs to be available at all times. Keep drinking containers scrupulously clean and change water at least daily.

Because the pelleted food that supplies 90% of our birds' diets contains optimum amounts of minerals and vitamins, we use no supplements or additives. Supplementing a formulated diet can result in an overdose of vitamins and can be harmful.

If you are deciding on a companion bird who will be your introduction to the wonderful world of birds, or perhaps adding to your already established bird family, you will have no regrets if your choice is a cockatiel.

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Last Updated:  April 26, 2013

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