How to Care for Cockatiel

how to care for cockatiel

Caring for Your Cockatiel

Before you bring your feathered friend home, you have a lot of shopping to do. Selecting your cockatiel’s cage will be one of the most important decisions you make for her.

You must also decide where she will live in your house or apartment.

Don’t wait until you bring your bird home to think this through. You’ll want your new pet to settle in comfortably right away, rather than adding to her stress by relocating her several times before you decide on the right spot for the cage.

Choosing a Cage

When selecting a cage for your cockatiel, make sure the bird has room to spread her wings without touching the cage sides. Her tail should not touch the cage bottom, nor should her crest brush the top. A cage that measures eighteen-by- eighteen-by-twenty-four inches is the minimum size for a single cockatiel, and bigger is always better. If you are planning to keep a pair of birds, the cage should be at least twenty-four-by-twenty-four-by-forty inches.

Simply put, buy the largest cage you can afford because you don’t want your cockatiel to feel cramped. Remember, too, that any parrot is like a little airplane, which means she flies across an area, rather than a little helicopter hovering up and down. For this reason, long, rectangular cages that offer horizontal space for short flights are better than high, tall cages that don’t provide much flying room.

Wire Cages

Chances are you’ll select a wire cage for your cockatiel. Some cages are sold as part of a cockatiel start-up kit, while others are sold separately. Discuss your options with the salesperson at your local pet supply store. Find out what advantages there are to purchasing a complete kit.

Regardless of whether it’s part of a kit, carefully examine any cage you choose before making your final selection. Make sure the finish is not chipped, bubbled, or peeling, because your pet may find the spot and continue removing the finish, which can cause a cage to look old and worn before its time. Also, your bird could become ill if she ingests any of the finish.

Reject any cages that have sharp interior wires or wide spaces between the bars. (Recommended bar spacing for cockatiels is about half an inch.)

Sharp wires could poke your bird, she could become caught between bars that are slightly wider than recommended, or she could escape through widely spaced bars. Finally, make sure the cage you choose has some horizontal bars in it so your cockatiel can climb the cage walls easily for exercise.

Cage Door Options

Once you’ve checked the bar spacing and the overall cage quality, your next concern should be the cage door. Does it open easily for you, yet remain secure enough to keep your bird in her cage when you close the door? Will your bird’s food bowl or a bowl of bath water fit through it easily? Is it long and wide enough for you to get your hand in and out of the cage comfortably—with the bird perched on your finger? (Remember, cockatiels have high crests and long tails!) Does the door open up, down, or to the side? Some bird owners like their pets to have a play porch on a door that opens out and down, drawbridge style, while others are happy with doors that open to the side. Watch out for guillotine-style doors that slide up and over the cage entrance, because some cockatiels have suffered a broken leg when the door dropped on them unexpectedly.

Cage Considerations

Your cockatiel will spend much of her time in her cage, so make this environment as stimulating, safe, and comfortable as possible. Keep the following things in mind when choosing a cage for your cockatiel.

  • Make sure the cage is big enough. The dimensions of the cage (height, width, and depth) should add up to at least sixty inches for a single bird.


  • An acrylic cage may be easier to clean up. Wood or bamboo cages will be quickly destroyed by an eager cockatiel’s beak.


  • Make sure the cage door opens easily and stays securely open and closed. Avoid guillotine-style doors.


  • The cage tray should be a regular shape and easy to slide in and out. There should be a grille below the cage floor so you can change the substrate without worrying about the bird escaping.

Finally, check the floor of the cage you’ve chosen. Does it have a grille that will keep your bird out of the debris that falls to the bottom of the cage, such as feces, seed hulls, molted feathers, and discarded food? To ensure your cockatiel’s long-term health, it’s best to have a grille between your curious pet and the remains in the cage tray. It’s also easier to keep your cockatiel in her cage while you’re cleaning the cage tray if there’s a grille between the cage and the tray.

What About Acrylic Cages?

Birdcages are traditionally made of metal wire, but you may see acrylic cages in magazine advertisements or at your local pet store. These cages are better at containing seed hulls, loose feathers, and other debris your bird creates, which may make birdkeeping easier and more enjoyable for you. Although it sounds like a sales pitch, I can attest to the fact that acrylic cages clean up easily by wiping inside and out with a damp towel and regularly changing the paper in the tray that slides under the cage itself.

If you choose an acrylic cage for your pet, make sure it has numerous ventilation holes drilled in its walls to allow for adequate air circulation. Be particularly careful about not leaving your cockatiel in direct sunlight if you house her in an acrylic cage, because these cages can get warm rather quickly and your bird could become overheated. (Cockatiels in wire cages shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight either, as they can also overheat.)

If you select an acrylic cage for your cockatiel, make sure to include a couple of ladders between the perches to give your pet climbing opportunities she won’t be able to take advantage of on the smooth sides of an acrylic cage.

No Bamboo

If you find wooden or bamboo cages during your shopping excursions, reject them immediately. A busy cockatiel beak will make short work of a wooden or bamboo cage, and you’ll be left with the problem of finding a new home for your pet! These cages are designed for finches and other songbirds, who are less likely than a cockatiel to chew on their homes.(alert-passed)

The Cage Cover

One important, but sometimes overlooked, accessory is the cage cover. Be sure you have something to cover your cockatiel’s cage with when it’s time to put your bird to sleep each night. The act of covering the cage seems to calm many pet birds and convince them that it’s really time to go to bed, despite the sounds of an active family evening in the background.

You can purchase a cage cover or you can use an old sheet, blanket, or towel that is clean and free of holes. Be aware that some birds like to chew on their cage covers through the cage bars. If your bird does this, replace the cover when it becomes too tattered to do its job effectively. Replacing a well-chewed cover will also help keep your bird from becoming entangled in the cover or caught in a ragged clump of threads. Some birds have injured themselves quite severely by being caught in a chewed cage cover, so help keep your pet safe from this hazard.

Cockatiels may also benefit from a night-light left on for them at bedtime.

Some cockatiels are prone to night frights, in which they thrash around the cage and can injure themselves quite seriously. Having a low-wattage light on helps these birds find their way around the cage at night, which may make them less prone to being startled.

What to Put in the Cage Tray

It is recommended that you use clean black-and-white newsprint, paper towels, or clean sheets of used computer printer paper. Sand, ground corncobs, or walnut shells may be sold by your pet supply store, but are not recommended as cage flooring materials because they tend to hide feces and discarded food quite well.

This can cause a bird owner to forget to change the cage tray on the principle that if it doesn’t look dirty, it must not be dirty.

This line of thinking can set up a thriving, robust colony of bacteria in the bottom of your bird’s cage, which can lead to a sick bird if you’re not careful. Newsprint and other paper products don’t hide the dirt; in fact, they seem to draw attention to it, which leads conscientious bird owners to keep their pets’ homes scrupulously clean.

You may see sandpaper or “gravel paper” sold in some pet stores as a cage tray liner. This product is supposed to provide a bird with an opportunity to ingest grit, which is purported to aid indigestion by providing coarse grinding material that helps break up food in the bird’s gizzard. However, many avian experts do not believe that a pet bird needs grit, and if a bird stands on rough sandpaper, it could cause foot problems. For your pet’s health, please don’t use these gravel-coated papers.

Cage Location

Now that you’ve picked the perfect cage for your pet, where will you put it in your home? Your cockatiel will be happiest when she’s part of the family, so the living room, family room, or dining room may be among the best places for your bird. If your cockatiel is a child’s pet, she may do well living in her young owner’s room. (Parents should check on the bird regularly, though, to make sure she’s being fed and watered and that her cage is clean.)

Avoid keeping your bird in the bathroom or kitchen, though, because sudden temperature fluctuations or fumes from cleaning products used in those rooms could harm your pet. Another spot to avoid is a busy hall or entryway, because the activity level in these spots may be too much for your pet.

Set up the cage so that it’s at your eye level if possible, because it will make taking care of the cage and visiting with your pet easier for you.

It will also reduce the stress on your cockatiel, because birds like to be up high for security.

They also do not like to have people or things looming over them, so please don’t place your bird near items such as ceiling fans, chandeliers, or swag lamps.

If members of your family are particularly tall, they may want to sit next to the cage or crouch down slightly to talk to the cockatiel.

Regardless of the room you select for your cockatiel, be sure to put the cage in a secure corner (with one solid wall behind the cage to give your cockatiel a sense of security); near a window is recommended. Please don’t put the cage in direct sun, though, because cockatiels can quickly overheat.


Food and Water Dishes

You want the dishes to be easy to clean and heavy enough so that when your bird perches on the edge, they will not tip. Cockatiels seem to enjoy food crocks, which are open ceramic bowls that they can hop up on the edge of and pick and choose what they will eat during the day. Be sure to buy shallow dishes that are less than one inch deep to ensure that your bird has easy access to her food at all times.

When buying dishes for your cockatiel, be sure to pick up several sets so that mealtime cleanups are quick and easy. Never buy plastic dishes, because the pores in plastic can harbor bacteria even when the dishes are washed daily.


When choosing perches for your pet’s cage, try to buy at least two different diameters of materials so your bird’s feet won’t get tired of standing on the same-size perch made of the same material day after day. Think of how tired your feet would feel if you stood on a piece of wood in your bare feet all day, then imagine how it would feel to stand on that piece of wood barefoot every day for ten or fifteen years. Sounds pretty uncomfortable, doesn’t it? That’s basically what your bird has to look forward to if you don’t vary her perching choices.

The recommended diameter for cockatiel perches is five-eighths of an inch, so try to buy one perch that size and one slightly larger (three-quarters of an inch, for example) to give your pet a chance to stretch her foot muscles. Birds spend almost all of their lives standing, so keeping their feet healthy is important. Also, avian foot problems are much easier to prevent than they are to treat.

You’ll probably notice a lot of different kinds of perches when you visit your pet supply store. Along with the traditional wooden dowels, bird owners can now buy perches made from manzanita branches, and PVC tubes, rope perches, and terracotta or concrete grooming perches.

Manzanita offers birds varied diameters on the same perch, along with chewing possibilities, while PVC is almost indestructible. (Make sure any PVC perches you offer your bird have been scuffed slightly with sandpaper to improve traction.) Rope perches also offer varied diameter and a softer perching surface than wood or plastic, and terracotta and concrete provide slightly abrasive surfaces that birds can use to groom their beaks without severely damaging the skin on their feet in the process.

However, some bird owners have reported that their pets have suffered foot abrasions with these perches, so if you choose to use them, watch your pet carefully for signs of sore feet (an inability to perch or climb; favoring a foot; or raw, sore skin on the feet). If your bird shows signs of lameness, remove the abrasive perches immediately and arrange for your avian veterinarian to examine her.

When placing perches in your bird’s cage, try to vary the heights slightly so your bird has different levels in her cage. Don’t place any perches over food or water dishes, because birds will contaminate food or water by eliminating in it.

Finally, place one perch higher than the rest for a night time sleeping roost.

Cockatiels and other parrots like to sleep on the highest point they can find to perch, so please provide this security for your pet.

toys for cockatiel


Choosing the Right Toys for Cockatiel

Cockatiels need toys to occupy their minds, bodies, and beaks. Accept that your bird will chew on any toy you buy, and that you will eventually have to replace it. When selecting toys for your cockatiel, keep a few safety tips in mind.


Is the toy the right size for your bird? Large toys can be intimidating to small birds, which makes the birds less likely to play with them. On the other end of the spectrum, larger birds can easily destroy toys designed for smaller birds, and they can sometimes injure themselves severely in the process. Select toys that are designed for cockatiels and small parrots when choosing toys for your pet.


Is the toy safe? Good choices include sturdy wooden toys (either undyed or painted with bird-safe vegetable dye or food coloring) strung on closed-link chains or vegetabletanned leather thongs, and rope toys. If you buy rope toys for your cockatiel, make sure her nails are trimmed regularly to prevent them from snagging in the rope, and discard the toy when it becomes frayed to prevent accidents.

Unsafe items to watch out for are brittle plastic toys that can easily be shattered into fragments by a cockatiel’s busy beak, lead-weighted toys that can be cracked open to expose the dangerous lead to curious birds, loose link chains that can catch toenails or beaks, ring toys that are too small to climb through safely, and jingle-type bells that can trap toes, tongues, and beaks.

Cockatiel Favorite Toys

Cockatiels enjoy the following types of toys: chewable wooden items, ranging from clothes pegs (not clothespins, which have springs that can snap on a bird’s wing or leg) to thread spools; wooden ladders, sturdy ropes or cords to climb on; bells to ring; knotted rope or leather toys to preen and chew on; and mirrors to admire themselves in. Be warned, though, that if you give a single cockatiel a mirror toy, she may bond to the reflection she sees and consider the bird in the mirror a more interesting companion than you!

Homemade Toys for Cockatiel

As an alternative to store-bought toys, you can entertain your cockatiel with some everyday items you have around the house. Give your bird an empty paper towel roll or toilet paper tube (from unscented paper only, please) to chew. Let her shred subscription cards from your favorite magazines or chew up some clean computer paper. Give her a Ping-Pong ball to chase. String some Cheerios on a piece of vegetabletanned leather or offer your bird a dish of raw pasta pieces to destroy.

When you’re introducing new toys to your cockatiel for the first time, you might want to leave the toy next to the cage for a few days before actually putting it in the cage.

Some birds accept new items in their cages almost immediately, but others need a few days to size up a new toy, dish, or perch before sharing cage space with it.

The Playgym

Although your cockatiel will spend quite a bit of time in her cage, she will also need time out of her cage to exercise and to enjoy a change of scenery. A playgym can help keep your pet physically and mentally active.

If you visit a large pet supply store or bird specialty store, or if you look through the pages of any pet bird hobbyist magazine, you will see a variety of playgyms on display. You can choose a complicated gym with a series of ladders, swings, perches, and toys, or you can purchase a simple T-stand that has a place for food and water bowls and a screw or two from which you can hang toys. If you’re really handy with tools, you can even construct a gym to your cockatiel’s specifications.

As with the cage, the location of your cockatiel’s playgym will be an important consideration. You will want to place the gym in a secure location in your home that is safe from other curious pets, ceiling fans, open windows, and other household hazards. You will also want the gym to be in a spot frequented by your family, so your bird will have company while she plays and supervision so she doesn’t get into unsafe situations.

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