Cockatiels at Home

By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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My single female bird is laying eggs. What should I do?
Do NOT remove the eggs. Leave them in the cage. Replace the eggs with white marbles or wooden dummy eggs if they break or if your bird starts pecking at them to eat. Broken eggs should be removed immediately and the area cleaned thoroughly to prevent bacteria from growing. You can put the eggs on top of a  wash cloth or put them inside of a little plastic container that has been lined with a wash cloth or white paper towels. This will make her more comfortable and prevent the eggs from rolling around. Allow your cockatiel to nest (sit) on the eggs for 21-30 days.  Cockatiels usually wait until they lay 2 or 3 eggs before starting the nesting process. If you remove the eggs, your bird will just go into another breeding cycle and start laying more eggs. This will lead to chronic egg laying. The hormone prolactin is needed for her to stop the egg laying cycle. When the first egg is laid, her level of prolactin is low. The prolactin level will increase with each additional egg laid and the amount of time she nests on the eggs.  (Source: Facts on Hormones: Exotic Bird Report, Psittacine Research, Univ. of Calif. Vol 2, Number 3.)

Cockatiels are opportunistic breeders and will lay eggs all year long if conditions are right. Normal breeding season is Spring to early Fall.  Manipulating a bird's environment to resemble Winter months may help stop chronic egg laying. First try cutting back by 2 hours, the amount of daylight hours that your bird is exposed to for 2 weeks. If this doesn't help, only expose your bird to  8 hours of daylight then cover the cage so it's in complete darkness for 16 hours for 2 weeks.  Cut back on the amount of baths or water misting as well as any soft foods your bird eats. Re-arrange the toys, perches and feeding dishes in the cage, move the cage to a different location, so the cage does not feel like a secure place to nest. If you notice your bird investigating dark, enclosed areas like cabinets, open bureau drawers, the inside of shoes etc.  don't allow it. Your bird may be seeking a place to set up a nest. Those little sleeping tents that are sold for birds can also encourage a cockatiel to start laying eggs. Don't use them. Do not pet your bird on the back or stomach and take out any mirrors that are inside of the cage, all of which can stimulate breeding hormones. Hopefully, future egg laying will be prevented.  If your bird continues to lay more than 2 clutches of  eggs per year, despite all of these measures, take her to an avian veterinarian. Hormone therapy is available for chronic egg layers. Chronic egg laying leads to low blood calcium, soft shelled eggs, egg binding and sudden death. 

Note  Females laying eggs will lose calcium. Provide plenty of extra calcium in her diet from cuttlebone, fresh dark, leafy green vegetables such as boy choy, kale, endive, chard, carrot tops, chicory, endive, mustard greens,  watercress and other dark lettuces. Make sure your bird has access to UVA/UVB lighting, 15 minutes each day in order to metabolize calcium. Low blood calcium causes soft shelled eggs and egg binding as well as seizures and sudden death in birds as young as 2 years of age. Click Here to read more about Egg Binding It may save your bird's life. Click Here to read more about chronic egg laying and the egg laying process as well as more ways to prevent it. Egg Laying,  Egg Laying Process and Chronic Egg Laying.
I have a question about breeding. Can you help me?
Please read the 2 pages about breeding on this site as well as the links on the bottom of both pages. Click Here .They will most likely provide you with  a much more detailed answer than I can in an email. If you have a question that you can not find the answer to on either page, then by all means, please email me. I will gladly help you if I can. If you think one of your babies is sick, it probably is. Please take it to an avian vet immediately. If you don't have an avian vet and live in the USA or Canada you should be able to find one  Click Here.
How can I tell if my bird is a male or female?
Most cockatiels are monomorphic, meaning there are no visual differences in the appearance of a male or female bird for most color mutations. Normal grays are dimorphic, with males having bright yellow faces and crests, females having bars on tails and wings. The 100% accurate way to determine gender of most color mutations is for a bird to have a  DNA test performed from a blood sample, chest feathers, or the actual egg shell from which a bird hatched from. Surgical sexing is usually reserved for large species of bird. Your avian vet can perform both of these tests. For more background information on DNA testing, visit Avian BioTech There are some visual signs that suggest whether or not a cockatiel is a male or female. Females may have bars on the undersides of their tail feathers, but these can be very difficult to see. Cockatiels have 2 bony ridges at the base of their abdomen. In the female, the ridges are more flexible and further apart. An avian veterinarian or an experienced breeder may be able to feel the difference when examining the bird.  Click Here and read my page on visual clues. This will help you.
I work all day, should I get a cockatiel?
No, not unless you plan on getting a pair of birds. Cockatiels are  intelligent, sociable companion birds and need interaction with a human or another bird throughout the day. Leaving a single cockatiel home alone all day will eventually cause problems like screaming, feather plucking, biting, territoriality. Singles that are left home alone are also high candidates for becoming depressed and cage bound .Cockatiels suffer from loneliness the same as a human. A single cockatiel is totally dependent upon you for companionship. It just doesn't seem very fair or very kind to leave a sociable bird home all day with a TV or radio either.
I have allergies should I get a cockatiel? Those with allergies should consult with their medical doctors before bringing any new pet into their home. Pets are a life time commitment and they deserve a forever home. Getting a bird "to see" if allergies and asthma worsen isn't fair or kind to a bird. Having said this, if you do have allergies or asthma, birds are probably not the best pets for you to be around. The majority of people I have met who have allergies or other family members with allergies, sadly ended up giving their birds away.  E
xcessive dust from a bird's feathers can aggravate a person's allergies or asthma.  All birds have a type of feather called Powder Down Feathers. These feathers disintegrate when a bird preens to form a white powder which  conditions and waterproofs a bird's feathers. Cockatiels and cockatoos in particular are known to be extremely dusty birds because they have an excessive amount of powder down compared to other species. You'll find white powder all over the cage, on objects near the cage and on your cloths. Watch a cockatiel or any bird shake out his/her feathers after preening and you may see a small cloud of white dust. If you pet a bird with your chin or cheek, you may even have a coating of white powder on your skin.  For those with allergies who already own birds, frequent misting baths will help to remove and control some of the excess powder that is on your bird but will not eliminate it. When changing cage papers,  misting the paper with water right before rolling up for the trash will prevent some dust from dispersing into the air. Some people with allergies have found that  hepa-filters help to control dust from their bird as well. 

Should I get 1 bird or 2 and will it affect my first one's bond with me?
I think most birds would enjoy the presence of another bird in the home but if you can spend enough time with your single cockatiel throughout the day and do not work or go to school, getting a 2nd bird is really entirely up to you. People who work or go to school should always get 2 birds. Factors to consider before getting a 2nd bird include the cost of medical treatment for 2 birds, the possibility of unexpected breeding or possible incompatibility. There is no guarantee that any 2 birds will be compatible and want to interact with each. Each bird is an individual and there isn't any way to predict how they are going to react to another bird outside of the cage. Mama and my rescue cockatiel, Cookie are good examples. Cookie enjoys watching Mama from a distance, but Mama would be a "loving memory" if I let her get near him when he was eating, playing, preening,, breathing. The sad thing is that Mama really likes Cookie and I thought he would be company for her. They are both just about the same age too. Some birds don't want anything to do with a new bird and will only have eyes for you. Others will be so enamored with another bird they will start courting rituals  before the second bird even comes out of quarantine. If you spend enough time with each bird separately, you should still be able to maintain a strong bond with your first bird. The unexpected can always happen and the close bond could be lost.
If I get a second cockatiel, can I put it in the same cage as my other bird?
No, not immediately. The birds may fight over territory and one bird may peck the other bird to death, or prevent it from eating and drinking water. Keep the birds in separate cages in the same room after the 30 day quarantine. In a few weeks, move the 2 cages closer together so the birds can get to know each other better. After another week or so, take the 2 birds out of the cage and play with both of them together to see how they get along. Let them play together for a few more weeks, then put them in a brand new cage so that neither one of them fights over territory.
Can I keep a parakeet or lovebird in the same cage as my cockatiel?
Some people do, but it's not safe or advisable. Only the same species of birds should be kept in the same cages. Parakeets and lovebirds are much more aggressive than cockatiels. They will aim for a cockatiel's feet and toes, pecking at or attacking them. Your cockatiel can be severely injured and may end up with missing toes or other types of injuries. Parakeets also tend to over preen their companions. Your cockatiel may end up with bald patches.

Do I really have to quarantine my new bird?
Yes, absolutely and for 30-60 days. New birds should also be taken to an avian vet for a new bird check up and to be screened for major diseases. New birds may have fatal diseases, viruses and infections which can be transmitted to birds we already own, through the air that they breath or though direct contact. Quarantining new birds helps to protect birds that we already have from getting sick. Besides infections there are some deadly diseases lurking in pet shops. Psittacine Beak and Feather Disorder (PBFD) Proventricular Dilation Disease , (PDD), Polyoma, Pacheco's Disease, Chlamydia (Psittacosis) Aspergillosis, Giardia, E. Coli are some of them. Many of these diseases are transmitted via airborne spores or air circulation of dried feces, nasal discharge, dander or other particles.  All new birds, should be kept in a different room where breathing air space isn't shared with birds you already own. Sometimes healthy looking new birds  have a serious/fatal disease or illness in the early stages and clinical signs are not present. The stress of moving into a new environment will trigger the onset of symptoms. (Source: Exotic Bird Report, Psittacine Research, Univ. of Calif. Vol 2, Number 2) What about taking birds to pet shops for wing and nail clippings or going into pet shops to purchase supplies? If you take your bird into a pet shop or go into a pet store to shop, contaminated particles listed above can infect your bird or get onto you skin, clothing and into your hair to bring home to your bird.  Never take your bird into a pet shop. Shower and change your clothes when you come home from one. 
What type of cage should I buy?
Purchase the largest cage that you can afford. The recommended minimum size cockatiel cage by most manufacturers is 20 inches by 20 inches by 30 inches in height. Other manufacturers state that cages which are 18 inches by 18 inches by 23-27 inches are safe as well. Your bird should be able to completely stretch out its unclipped wings and flap them vigorously.  Cockatiels will grasp onto a perch and start flapping their wings for exercise. If the cage is too small feathers and blood feathers will break. Spacing between bars should be  no wider than 5/8ths of an inch. Manufacturers claim that 5/8 to 3/4 of an inch wide bar spacing is safe. However, I personally think that smaller sized cockatiels could get their heads stuck in between bars and break their necks if bars are spaced 3/4 of an inch apart. Cage bars that are constructed horizontally instead of vertically will make it easier for your bird to climb up and down to food dishes, toys and perches that are placed in the upper level of the cage. Having little doors to access the food and water dishes is very  convenient. A cage that has a door that will stay open for a landing or perching platform is also a desirable feature. Purchase a cage that has 4 corners instead of one that is round.  A cockatiel feels more secure in a cage with corners. The cage should also have a grate over the bottom to keep your bird's feet out of droppings. Cockatiels will hold pieces of food with their feet. This will also prevent your bird from eating contaminated food that has fallen to the bottom of the cage. Perch diameter should be 5/8 to 3/4 of an inch. Use a variety of different materials for perches. Avoid abrasive and sandpaper perches that claim to keep nails trim. They will eventually cause pressure sores and lesions on your bird's feet. 
Where should I place my bird's cage?
Place the cage up against a wall in a well lit area, but out of direct sunlight, where there is plenty of family activity. The bird's perches should be about level with your chest. Keep it away from any inside doorways or halls. People coming and going unexpectedly can startle your cockatiel. Keep it away from drafty windows and outside doors. Hold a lit candle in the area to test for drafts. If the flame flickers, there's a draft.
Should I have the cage all set up before I bring my bird home?
Yes,  have all of the perches, feeding dishes and toys already set up. This way when your bird enters the cage it can immediately start becoming familiar with its new surroundings without being disturbed by you and your hands. You can buy a little travel cage and bring your new bird home in that. A travel cage will also come in handy when you bring your bird to your avian vet.
What should I put on the bottom of the cage? Is the ink from newspaper toxic? 
One of the most essential elements in helping to keep a bird healthy is a clean cage, free from dust, fumes, droppings,  mold spores and bacteria.  The use of corn cob, walnut shells, kitty liter, pine, aspen or cedar shavings or chips on the bottom of the cage should be avoided.   Corn cob, walnut shells, kitty litter, pine, aspen and cedar all contain excess dust or fumes, (pine and cedar) which can irritate a bird's eyes and delicate respiratory system. All of these materials retain moisture, decay rapidly and promote the growth of bacteria and fungus that can make your bird sick as well.  Although the bottom of the  cage may look nice and clean, it's not clean at all.  Feces are buried under wet, decaying, moldy material.  Urine soaked bedding produces ammonia fumes that are harmful for birds to inhale. Living in a cage with a a buildup of feces and fumes is not a healthy environment for birds.  If your bird ingests any of these materials, health complications include internal bleeding, deadly digestive impactions or obstructions that may require surgical removal. Safe, recommended cage liners include white paper towels, black and white newspaper, butcher paper and  commercial paper cage liners available at pet shops, (NEVER gravel or sand coated paper.) Plain paper liners are dust and fume free. Paper liners also dry quickly when wet to help control bacterial and fungal growth. ( IF changed daily. ) Black and white newspaper is probably the most popular cage liner because it's so economical, Newspapers are usually printed with  a safe, non toxic, soy based ink in the USA. (Call your local press to check first).  Most newspapers also sell their end rolls of paper, blank, ink free paper that is left on a roll after printing. By pre-cutting an entire newspaper or two into a stack of pieces that custom fit the bottom of the cage, daily paper changing takes less than 30 seconds. If you are concerned about your bird chewing on paper, having a grate over the bottom of the cage will help to discourage this behavior. If ingested paper can usually be partially digested.
What should I do when I bring my bird home?
Place your new cockatiel in his cage and try to keep the noise level in your home low. Avoid shouting and loud noise from TV or music. If your bird is not tame, give him a few days to a week, to adjust to you and a new environment before trying to take him/her out of the cage and actively taming or teaching the step up command. Go about your normal routine, and let your bird observe the family activities. Do NOT put your hand inside of the cage or grab your new bird. This will frighten him and could start biting problems. (Most cockatiels do not like to be held or restrained with a closed fist.) You want your new bird  to come to you willingly, not by force. Go over to your bird and talk to him throughout the day in a soft, reassuring voice. Cockatiels respond to our voice tones the same way children do. This will help start the bonding process between you and your cockatiel. Don't hover over your new bird every second of the day for the first few days or handle it during the first week. Keep strangers and visitors away from your bird until it adjust to you and its new family.

If your new bird is a hand tamed, hand fed bird he may want to come out of the cage within a few hours. Hand fed, hand tamed birds are not afraid of humans from day 1 and they will enjoy the attention and companionship that they are already accustomed to from being with their breeder and clutch mates. (or family if you adopted a previously owned bird).  Take your new bird out of the cage by using the Step Up Command. DON'T EVER put your hand inside of the cage and grab your bird. Keep bonding sessions short, 10-15 minutes and have several bonding sessions a day. Always return you bird to the cage before you bird becomes over tired and aggressive. You want the last experience out of the cage to be a positive one. Learn to read you your bird's body language. Body language can be found on the fourth page of questions Click Here Keep strangers and visitors away from your new bird until he has bonded with you family members.
How do I tame my bird and teach the Step Up Command?
DON'T EVER put your hand inside of the cage and grab your bird to take it out of the cage for taming or for any other reason. Cockatiels can become very territorial about their cages, toys, food dishes etc. and will become biters if they feel you are threatening their home or their possessions. Think how you would feel if somebody barged into your home, picked you up bodily, tied you to a chair and forced you to sit in it. You want your bird to come to you willingly and not by force. Keep taming sessions short, 10-15 minutes and have frequent sessions throughout the day. Taking the bird into a different room where it can not see the cage as well as getting the wings clipped will help by making your bird feel more dependant on you. Ask for a moderate clipping, just the tips of the first 4 flight feathers so your bird will not drop to the ground like a rock, get hurt or break tail feathers and blood feathers when it does try to fly. An avian vet will clip them for you and can teach you how to safely and properly clip the wings yourself at home. Specific directions for taming your bird and teaching it both the Step Up Command for taking it out of the cage, as well as the Go Home command, so it goes back inside of the cage, can be found on this page Click Here There is no average time for taming a bird because each one is an individual. The more time you spend with your bird the sooner it will trust you and become a tamed bird. Watch your bird's body language. Body Language be found on the fourth page of questions Click Here
My bird is facing the wall and won't turn around. Doesn't my bird like me?
Your cockatiel is very frightened. All cockatiels will face the wall when they are frightened. This does not mean that your bird doesn't like you. It's also normal behavior for new birds the first few days in a new home. Think of the back turning bird as having the same thoughts as a toddler. "If I can't see you, then you don't exist."

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