All About the Cockatiel: The Gray Australian Parrot 

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 31st October 2023

Scientific nameNymphicus hollandicusWeight80 to 90 grams (2.8 to 3.2 ounces) 
Pronunciationkaa-kuh-teelLength30 to 33 centimeters (12 to 13 inches)
ClassificationAves, Psittaciformes, CacatuidaeLocationAustralia

The Cockatiel

Front view of one Cockatiel bird resting on top of a branch. | 49pauly via Getty Images

The cockatiel is one of the most famous pet birds in the world. 

As a caged bird species, it is only second in popularity to the budgerigar.

This medium-sized bird of the parrot family is native to Australia but is also found in the wild in Tasmania. 

The bird is also commonly referred to as quarrion or weiro in Australia. 

As a popular companion bird, the cockatiel has been exported to various countries all over the world and is now commonly found in homes and pet shops worldwide. 

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

They have also been introduced into the wild in certain places outside their natural range, where they escaped or were intentionally released. 

In the wild, the cockatiel lives in arid or semi-arid areas.

Wild cockatiels are often gray-colored, but pet breeds of this bird come in a wide range of fascinating color variations, which makes them quite fascinating. 

In this post, we’ll explore all the fascinating facts about the cockatiel 

Taxonomy and Classification

Gage Beasley's Cockatiel Bird Soft Stuffed Plush Toy
Gage Beasley’s Lifelike Cockatiel Bird Soft Stuffed Plush Toy

“Cockatiel” is the common name for Nymphicus hollandicus

This is a medium-sized bird in the cockatoo branch of the broader parrot family. 

This means it belongs to the family Cacatuidae within the parrot order (Order Psittaciformes).

The cockatiel belongs to the Nymphicus genus, which has only one species.

Historically, it wasn’t clear if the cockatiel was a species of cockatoo or a type of crested parakeet. 

Grey cockatiel resting on a branch | Satephoto via Getty Images

However, more recent studies have helped to clarify the bird’s position within the family Cacatuidae. 

The cockatiel is now classified in its own subfamily, Nymphicinae, the smallest subfamily within the cockatoo family. 

Cockatiels shared a common ancestor with other members of the Cacatuidae family. 

It isn’t clear when cockatiels themselves evolved, but the cockatoos branched off from the common ancestors of all parrots about 50 million years ago. 

Physical Characteristics

A comfortable branch for this cockatiel | 49pauly via Getty Images

The cockatiel is a small to medium-sized parrot. 

In fact, they’re the smallest species in the cockatoo family. 

While most cockatoos have a body size of 30 to 60 centimeters (12–24 inches), cockatiels have a total body length of about 30 to 33 centimeters (12 to 13 inches). 

Half of this length is taken up by the bird’s long tapered tail feathers, which are longer than that of other parrot species. 

The rest of this bird’s body is compact and slender. 

They weigh roughly 80 grams on average. 

Like other parrot species, cockatiels have strong, curved beaks ideal for cracking seeds and nuts. 

One of the most distinct physical features of the cockatiel is the mohawk-styled crests on their heads. 

The classic cockatiel mohawk! | David Kenny via Getty Images

This crest can be raised or lowered based on how the bird is feeling, which means the position of the crest can convey information about the cockatiel’s emotional state. 

In the wild, cockatiels have gray plumage with prominent white flashes on the underside of their wings. 

Wild male cockatiels have a yellow or white face, while the females have a gray face. 

Both sexes have “cheddar cheeks.” 

This is an area with bright orange coloration around both ears. 

The color of the cheddar cheeks is typically more vibrant in males than in females. 

Pet cockatiels come in a wider variety of color mutations caused by deliberate crossbreeding to change their appearance. 

Habitat and Distribution

The cockatiel is originally native to Australia. 

It lives in the Australian outbacks, characterized by arid and semi-arid habitats. 

The cockatiel can also be found in various other habitats in the wild, such as wetlands, scrublands, and bushlands.

The bird’s range cuts across several states and territories across Australia, including Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

Their range in Australia depends on the availability of food and water sources. 

Cockatiels are adaptable birds known to thrive in various conditions. 

They’re present in the harsh, arid interior of the continent and the more temperate coastal areas.

Cockatiel staring far and wide | Khanh Le via Getty Images

Although cockatiels are native to Australia, they have also become popular pets around the world.

They are easy to breed in captivity, and this has led to many pet cockatiels in various countries worldwide. 

In some of these countries, cockatiels have also been introduced into the wild due to accidental and intentional release. 

As a pet species, cockatiels can be kept in cages. 

The cage should be spacious enough to contain the bird’s perches, toys, and food bowls while leaving plenty of room for the cockatiel to flap its wings without hitting anything. 

The cage should also have a large front door to make it easy for the bird to leave and return. 

Behavior and Social Structure

Cockatiel in its territory | CraigRJD via Getty Images

In the wild, cockatiels are not highly territorial birds. 

They tend to move around instead of staying within the same area for long but may establish territories in periods of scarcity or during their typical breeding season. 

During such periods, cockatiels may remain within a specific area where they nest and feed. 

These parrots are non-migratory, meaning they do not travel long distances in search of food or during breeding season. 

However, they do move locally within a limited range in search of food and water. 

They’re most active when they forage for food and socialize while they rest at night. 

Cockatiels have distinctive vocalizations which they use for communication in the wild. 

In the wild, cockatiels are often seen in pairs or small groups. 

Such flocks may contain a mated pair and their offspring. 

However, some cockatiel groups have been known to include thousands of unrelated birds. 

Close up of four cockatiels | 49pauly via Getty Images

Cockatiels are known to form strong bonds with their mates.

As pets, they’re best kept in pairs and small groups like this since the bird loves social interactions. 

Pet cockatoos may also be raised with other bird species but are best kept in separate cages. 

Although they are not known to exhibit strict hierarchies, cockatiels may exhibit some dominance behaviors within a flock. 

They exhibit a wide range of behaviors, including physical posturing and vocalizations, to demonstrate their dominance. 

Cockatiels are expressive birds. 

They mainly communicate with their head crests, which can be moved to different positions to communicate their mood. 

The crest is typically oblique or neutral when the bird is in a relaxed state. 

A raised crest could signal curiosity or excitement, while the crest is typically flattened all the way down when the bird is frightened or aggressive. 

Is it curious or excited? | Wirestock via Getty Images

Some cockatiels may also hiss as part of this visual display.

Cockatiels can be quite vocal. 

In the wild, they use various calls and vocalizations, which may include whistles, squawks, and chirps, to communicate with each other. 

Pet cockatiels can be trained to whistle and sing specific melodies.

Some individuals may even be able to synchronize their melodies with human songs. 

Cockatiels may also be trained to speak specific words and phrases. 

However, they’re not as skilled at this as some other parrot species. 

This is because they’re more inclined to whistle than talk.

Male cockatiels are generally easier to train to speak compared to females. 

Diet and Feeding

Enjoying some grass, cockatiel? | passion4nature via Getty Images

Cockatiels are natural herbivores. 

Like other parrot species, they feed mainly on seeds, which they crack with their tough, curved beaks. 

Wild cockatiels feed on the seeds of various plants, including Acacia, wheat, sorghum, and sunflower. 

They are found foragers, which means they use their feet and beaks to manipulate and collect seeds on the ground.

In some places, this bird has been known to eat cultivated crops, which can be a problem for farmers.

Although seeds form the bulk of their diet, cockatiels may also eat some vegetation, herbs, or plants. 

A Pair of Cockatiel’s Feeding on Millet | Ian Fox via Getty Images

They may also supplement their diet with insects and other invertebrates occasionally. 

Pet cockatiels are mainly fed on a diet of pellets, seeds, and fresh vegetables. 

Both wild and pet cockatiels need access to fresh water sources. 

In the wild, they often visit freshwater sources such as rivers or puddles to drink and bathe. 

Individuals in captivity should also be supplied with fresh water for this purpose. 

Foods that should not be fed to pet cockatiels include avocados, onions, chocolate, caffeine, or any food with salt.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Pair of Cockatiel’s preening | Ian Fox via Getty Images

Wild cockatiels breed once a year, and their breeding is triggered by seasonal rainfall. 

They exhibit a wide range of mating behaviors, which can range from physical contact to vocalizations. 

Mated pairs may also build nests together. 

Wild cockatiels typically make their nest in tree hollows close to a freshwater source. 

Most individuals prefer eucalyptus or gum trees, although other suitable trees may be used. 

The female cockatiel lays one egg every other day until there’s a total of about four to seven eggs. 

The incubation period for the cockatiel is between 17 and 23 days. 

During incubation, the male cockatiel provides food for the hen and also protects the nests from potential predators. 

The chicks remain in the nest and are fully dependent on the parents until they’re about five weeks old. 

Two cockatiels making love | Manu1174 via Getty Images

Like many bird species, cockatiel chicks tend to get attached to the first things they see immediately after hatching. 

This behavior aids their integration into the flock in the wild. 

In captivity, imprinting helps birds bond with their owners but can be a problem if the owner tends to be gone for long periods. 

This is why it’s always recommended to have more than one cockatiel, as the pair can support each other socially. 

Cockatiels become sexually mature by the end of their first year. 

They’re the only cockatoo species known to mature this early. 

The average lifespan of a cockatiel is about 12 to 15 years. 

However, pet cockatiels may live for up to 25 years in the right conditions. 

The oldest individuals in captivity lived for about 36 years. 

Ecological Role and Interactions

Male cockatiel eating seeds on a wooden plank | Charlotte Bleijenberg via Getty Images

Cockatiels are granivorous, meaning they feed primarily on grains and seeds. 

Their feeding activities have a significant impact on plant populations in the areas they forage. 

In addition to eating up the seeds of certain plants, they also disperse seeds through their droppings. 

This process contributes to the distribution of plant species and aids the expansion of vegetation in their habitat beyond the places where they’re typically found. 

Wild cockatiels are also prey for bigger animals within their ecosystem.

Some of their natural predators include bigger raptorial birds, snakes, and mammals. 

Predation helps to regulate cockatiel populations and contributes to the distribution of nutrients from lower to higher energy levels within the ecosystem. 

Conservation Status and Threats

Cockatiel in the wild | mb-fotos via Getty Images

The cockatiel currently has a stable population both in the wild and as a pet species. 

This is why they’re classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. 

They’re among the most popular companion bird species in the world and are relatively easy to breed in captivity, contributing to their overall abundance. 

But while they’re not considered threatened globally, there are various potential threats that may put cockatiel populations at risk. 

Cockatiel in its typical habitat | CraigRJD via Getty Images

The biggest of these threats is the loss of their typical habitat to agriculture, urban development, and other human activities. 

Also, as with other pet bird species, the capture of wild cockatiels for the pet trade can reduce wild populations and impact their overall diversity. 

Like other animal species, change in climate patterns is affecting the availability of food and water sources for the cockatiel within their natural range. 

This lack of food and suitable water sources may affect the overall health and breeding success of this bird species. 

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

Watch out for the beak! | ozflash via Getty Images

Cockatiels, like other parrots, are known for their strong, curved beaks. 

This beak is a crucial adaptation for cracking seeds and nuts, which form the bulk of their diet. 

Cockatiels are ground foragers. 

They use their zygodactyl feet, which consist of two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward, to spread the ground in search of seeds and grain. 

The specialized feet are also useful for grasping and perching securely on tree branches, making it easier to stay away from ground predators. 

A cockatiel parrot gliding gracefully through a lush green grassy field. | Wirestock via Getty Images

Wild cockatiels are agile birds. 

Although they’re not true migratory birds, cockatiels can move to different locations within their range in search of food and water.

They use their long tails, which can be spread out into a fan-like shape for stabilization during flights. 

Cockatiels also have distinct head crests, which they can raise or lower to express their emotional state. 

Communicating with their crests this way is useful for social interactions in flocks and also helps human caregivers understand what’s going on with their birds. 

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

Cockatiel close-up | Ian Fox via Getty Images

In Australia, where this species is endemic, the cockatiel is part of the continent’s rich fauna and a significant part of the natural ecosystem. 

The species is also present in neighboring Tasmania, where it is believed to have been introduced. 

The cockatiel is also part of the natural landscape in various countries all over the world, where they’re considered an invasive species since they were introduced accidentally. 

In Australia and other places where cockatiels exist in the wild, their foraging activities and tendency to eat cultivated crops may be a problem for farmers. 

Beyond their natural significance, cockatiels are most popular as pets. 

Cockatiel bird giving a sweet little girl a peck | JLBarranco via Getty Images

This bird has been exported to various parts of the world and is considered one of the most common pet birds in the world. 

Cockatiels have a friendly and sociable nature, which makes them cherished companion birds for many people. 

The bird is often recommended as an easy-to-raise species for beginners in aviculture. 

In the past, cockatiels and other parrot species were hunted for their feathers and as trophies.

These days, such practices are frowned upon and are considered illegal in many places. 

Future Prospects and Research

Cockatiel pet on a human hand | sapozhnik via Getty Images

As a common pet species, investigating the health and disease of cockatiels is very important. 

Learning more about these avian diseases will help mitigate the impact of disease outbreaks and ensure proper veterinary care. 

Experts also seek to know how these disease outbreaks could potentially affect humans who share a home with these birds. 

Research into the dietary and nutritional needs of captive cockatiels is also very vital. 

Advancements in this field can lead to improvement in overall care within their domestic environment. 

A separate branch of genetics known as cockatiel color genetics is dedicated to the study of the heredity of color variation in cockatiels. 

This has led to many different color combinations and unique color mutations. 


The cockatiel is one of the most popular pet bird species in the world. 

This slender parrot is closely related to cockatoos and parakeets. 

It is endemic to Australia, where it is mainly found in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. 

The cockatiel has also been exported to various countries worldwide, where it now exists as a companion pet and in the wild. 

Cockatiels are agile birds known for their impressive chirps and whistles.

They’re social birds and are relatively easy to breed. 

This has contributed to their popularity and abundance both in the wild and in domestic environments all over the world. 


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