Cockatiels and Lovebirds
A small introduction
Warning: This is just an intro page. I am not a trained
aviculturalist. This is not and should not be your final guide to
bird-keeping!! IF YOUR BIRD IS SICK OR INJURED PLEASE TAKE IT TO AN
I'm limiting this to cockatiels and lovebirds because I have only
owned two cockatiels and one lovebird (and a bunch of untame budgies).
Larger parrots share much in common with these smaller members of the
family, but their needs and their abilities differ greatly.
If you are planning on getting a pet bird, or are a new owner, I
highly recommend the magazine BIRD TALK. In addition, you
should buy/borrow books on bird keeping at a library, bookstore, or
good petstore. And definitely locate a good, qualified avian vet
right away, if you haven't already! He or she will be much more
qualified to answer your health/medical questions than me.
Other related pages at this site:
Cockatiels are small, usually grey birds with a movable crest, long
tail, and white "racing stripes" on their wings. (They are, by the
way, native to Australia and I think are considered desert birds.)
They are also available in all white, and all sorts of other shades of
grey. Mostly, the color doesn't matter (though white ones are said to
be more prone to panic). Adult males usually have a yellow face,
which often, but not always, distinguishes them from the females (two
of the biggest exceptions to this rule are with Lutino cockatiels
(cockatiels without the grey pigment), in which both genders have
yellow faces, and apparently adult pied cockatiel males may have grey
faces like females!).
In general sweet-tempered, a tame cockatiel will often love to do
things like: take showers with you, wolf-whistle, eat off your plate
of spaghetti, demand headscratches, demand to be let on your shoulder
for a ride, and in general make cute noises and ask to be picked up
and played with. If they learn to associate crackers or corn chips
with the sound of crinkling bags, beware! You'll have a cockatiel
demanding whatever crunchy food it is you're eating out of a bag.
Cockatiels are generally quiet and clean, but they produce lots of
"cockatiel dust," which resembles a cross between dandruff and fine
grey greasy powder.
(Tiels compared to lovebirds) Cockatiels seem more content to just
generally hang out on your person than the more active lovebirds
(which would climb all over you and explore sleeves, collars, etc.);
however, in my experience, they don't like a lot of physical touching
(except for having their heads scratched), and they are more flighty
(literally) than lovebirds. They are also active in demanding
headscratches by plunking their heads down or by butting your face :)
Their voices can be piercing and persistent but nothing like a
shrieking lovebird! Their biting style tends to be rapid and not as
precisely and deliberately applied as a lovebird's, but it can still
hurt! Finally, older cockatiels are apparently far more easy to tame
than lovebirds (especially with poor hand-feeding or no
Cockatiels do have some minimum maintenance requirements: they want
nice big cages (big enough for them to stretch their wings), and they
should be converted to a high-nutrition diet. This means DO NOT LET
THEM EAT JUST SEEDS if at all possible. A good choice is to feed them
a diet of pet bird pellets (but NOT JUST pellets), fresh veggies, and
treats like whole-grain bread, bits of chicken meat, boiled egg (boil
for at least 15 minutes), and an occasional bit of fresh
seed. (Recently, vets are finding that too much of a dry pellet diet
can cause problems like kindey failure from lack of moisture - fresh,
moist food is good, as is some percentage of seed.) If your bird
refuses to eat new foods, though, certainly don't let it starve! Work with patience.
It's the owner's job to get to know the pet and its needs, and to help
introduce it to healthy foods safely.
A cockatiel also needs companionship. If you can't devote at least 15
minutes to half an hour per day of intensive company to your bird,
either don't get it in the first place, or buy it a cockatiel
companion (make sure to quarantine the new bird for at least a month
A hand-fed cockatiel (which comes "pre-tamed") will range in price
from $40 to $130. Look for an alert (and curious!) bird with clean
feathers, a clean vent, clear eyes, and good posture; make sure the
pet shop or breeder keeps the cages, food bowls, and water bowls
mostly clean as well. See if the seller has a guarantee --- a
contract that says you can bring back the bird if an avian
veterinarian's exam shows the bird is sick. Birds hide sickness very
well (it's a bird thing), and so careful tests must be made. Here are some beginners' guidelines.
Female vs. male difference: from what I have observed of my male
cockatiel, I agree with the general assertion that males seem to be
quite vocal and somewhat easily offended - watch for a personality
change after adolescence (as happens with some male cockatoos). Mine,
for example, earned the title of "hissy bird" when he got into one of
his bad moods (it doesn't help that he was a morning bird and I'm a
night owl). But if you want a bird that's likely to learn to whistle
short tunes or maybe talk, a male is a good choice (they're cute when
they sit on your shoulder intently staring at you as you whistle).
Too bad our first 'tiel, Torque, was tone deaf! Females supposedly
are mellower and just love to snuggle, but they are quieter than
males. However, young birds are all colored like adult females, and
most cockatiels are generally sweet birds (even when in a bad mood,
they mostly just squeal and attack your fingers without causing real
pain or damage). In other words, don't worry about it too much.
Cockatiels can live from 15 to 25 years, with good care. The
record holder is in his thirties.
Lovebirds, little green or yellow birds with orange, pink, and blue
highlights, are smaller than cockatiels, but you wouldn't know it by
watching them. They're much louder, generating high-pitched
shrieks that could wake the dead. They're also far more active,
preferring to do things like run in hamster running wheels (shop
carefully so you don't get one that might injure your bird), climb up
and down ladders, hang from things, shred toys, and generally expend
lots of energy, rather than sit around and be mellow like a cockatiel.
They're also aggressive little birds; a lovebird often gets away with
bullying a much larger bird (and quiet, peaceful cockatiels are easy
victims!). (Lovebirds, by the way, are originally from Africa.
Contrary to what I wrote before, the peach-faced lovebird habitat
apparently is a lot drier than your average jungle.)
But tame lovebirds can also be extremely cute and adorable. They're
curious, intelligent little birds, who love to climb down T-shirts,
explore pockets, sit on shoulders, take baths in the kitchen sink, and
play with watches, eye-glasses and anything else that looks interesting.
A tame lovebird will cheep and dance to be picked up and played with,
and it's hard to ignore their little beady black hopeful eyes.
(Lovebirds compared to cockatiels) In my opinion, lovebirds tend to be
more willful, mischievous, and exploratory than adult cockatiels, and
they are also more willing (if you're good friends) to let you do
things like gently turn them over on the palm of your hand (my tiels
never allow this). They are a bit less flighty, but they can be just
as wary, and if they do fly and land on the floor, they can be very
hard to see (and hence easier to step on) because at least my bird
tends to become very quiet and just scuttle around silently. Don't
forget that lovebirds have a piercing shriek that outdoes cockatiel
whistling in volume and ear-pain -- and when they feel ignored, they
have shrieking loud ear-piercing temper tantrums! They also tend to
bite harder when annoyed; training them to bite less is very important
- if you succeed your lovebird may well bite less frequently
than the average male cockatiel (but you will probably never get a
completely bite-free bird, because just like any friendship, you will
piss the bird off on occasion if you interact with him enough). I
also have the impression lovebirds potty
train more easily than cockatiels.
Lovebirds should be bought hand-fed, if you hope to get a tame pet out
of your purchase. Their prices are generally less expensive than
cockatiels; here in Boston, they tend to be about $80. The same
criteria apply for buying lovebirds as cockatiels: healthy, alert,
clean birds in a clean, caring environment.
Lovebirds should also be converted to pellets as part of their diet,
and should also be introduced to new foods like broccoli and lettuce
as soon as safely possible. (See the cockatiel section above.) Like
cockatiels, lovebirds need attention from their owners. Lovebirds can
be a little nippy, but with discipline they tend to straighten out.
Female vs. male: I've heard that the opposite of cockatiels is true of
lovebirds; the female lovebirds are supposedly more aggressive than
the males. Our male is a sweet, if sometimes obnoxious, little bird.
Once we taught him that biting is bad (by lightly shaking whatever he
was perched on when he bit -- what I call the "earthquake" method), he
quickly learned to enjoy things like head scratches and being carried
around. "Cute" is defined as a little lovebird head peeking out of a
shirt-sleeve, very obviously perfectly content to be where he is.
Lovebirds can live from 10 to 20 years, with good care.
Bird info top level
- Do extensive research, via more than one source! Read magazines
(like Bird Talk or The Pet Bird Report) and
books devoted to bird care, specifically tailored to your pet's
species. Here's the North
American Cockatiel Society web site; it also has a list of
frequently asked questions. My site is not a comprehensive
birdie-care page, and what I have written are just some suggestions.
Talk to your vet, too. Speaking of which:
- GET YOURSELF AN AVIAN VET, BEFORE YOUR BIRD GETS SICK! If
you don't like your current vet, get a different one. Don't be afraid
to be choosy. Don't be afraid to spend money on your bird. Don't be
afraid of asking lots of questions of your vet. Don't be afraid of
hauling your bird to the avian vet at the first sign of sickness (especially as a new
bird owner). Don't waste precious time asking about symptoms on
the 'Net if you think your bird is sick; just take it to your avian
vet pronto and ask him/her the questions! Isn't your bird worth a
little extra hassle, money, and even embarrassment? (This page of symptoms is simply a guideline.
If you see those symptoms, don't write me -- call your avian vet
- Teach your bird to eat veggies and pellets, rather than straight seeds. But
be patient, and know about these common
- Never hit your bird. They don't understand, and they aren't dogs
(not that hitting dogs is recommended). If your lovebird bites you,
you can try shaking whatever it's sitting on (preferably your hand) to
create a minor earthquake. This tends to deter them after a while.
- If you want a pet that will never bite you, don't get a bird.
(I write this as my cockatiel has a little fit and bites my ear.)
- Birds are NOT quiet. Sometimes the adorable lovebird can be a
royal pain in the ears --- though often he has good reason, like his
water bowl tipped over without me noticing. But if you have a
continuous screaming problem with a larger bird, it's time to start
reading Bird Talk for heavy-duty re-training (usually of both
owner and bird!).
- If your bird is loud, it may be best to ignore it for awhile
(after you make sure the reason isn't that (1) its food or water bowl
is empty (2) your toaster is burning, or (3) that someone has broken
into your house (true stories from Bird Talk)). Ignoring it
prevents the bird from learning that being loud will get it the
attention it wants. (Oh yes, (4) --- just maybe your area is due for
- Have your bird's wings clipped by a professional whenever new
flight feathers grow in. This will help prevent your bird from flying
away or flying into windows (but don't count on it --- cockatiels can
fly with almost no full-length wing feathers). It will also make your
bird less dominant, and hence sweeter, less nippy, less aggressive,
and in general a happier and nicer pet.
- NEVER FEED YOUR BIRD CHOCOLATE. It's poisonous to birds. So is
avocado (parts of the fruit are toxic to birds). No alcohol. No
caffeine. No lead (e.g., from stained glass), no cigarette butts
(cigarette smoke is bad, too). Watch out for poisonous houseplants,
too. The Pet Bird
Report's list of dangers.
- NEVER USE TEFLON COOKWARE IN A HOUSE WITH BIRDS. When heated to
a certain temperature, teflon produces an invisible, odorless gas that
won't hurt you, but which will kill your birds (remember the coal mine
- DON'T LET YOUR BIRD NIBBLE HOUSEPLANTS. Some are toxic and can
kill. And watch for anything else that's not meant to be nibbled on
-- like paint, plastic, glass, whatever. If your bird flies around a
room, take everything potentially toxic out that you possibly can. In
addition to other dangers I've mentioned below, problems can occur
with moving ceiling fans, torchiere lamps, stoves, ovens, you name it!
- Avoid letting out a bird who can fly when near large windows,
especially during the day. I'm not even talking open windows
(which is an obvious danger), but large windows (or even mirrors) that
a bird might flight into. Try having obstacles (e.g., curtains) or
markings (e.g., window stickers) to help your bird figure out the
window glass is not "free sailing" airspace. Our cockatiel, who can
fly even with clipped wings, has been known to leave bird-shaped
collision imprints (via 'tiel-dust) on the local mirror and window....
- Never let your bird loose when you're not around. Birds have
been known to drown in open toilets, land in boiling pots, get eaten
by the family four-footed pet, or eat things they shouldn't and get
sick and die (as noted above!). Birds have also been known to jump
off their cages when no one's looking and then get stepped on!! Our
current cockatiel Tcsh loves flying even when we are around, and has
nearly gotten into trouble several times. We really have to watch
him, and it's extra bad when he's flown off somewhere and we have no
idea where! (And for Heaven's sake, don't let your bird out loose in
- Some birds can figure out how to escape from cages, especially
through the simple sliding doors. If your bird can do this, either
get a cage with locking/latching doors or find a bird-safe mechanism
for "locking" the doors shut. I once came back to find the lovebird
missing ... some time later he was found (safe but thirsty) in the
laundry basket, where he had burrowed into the clean laundry and
rendered it in need of another wash. Soon after, I got a cage
originally intended for rodents, with nice built-in prongs that keep
the doors latched (it was, in all other respects, a fine birdcage with
a removable plastic running wheel (which the bird liked) and correctly
- Speaking of cages, don't get "decorative" or antique cages (which
may be made of toxic materials), and make sure the bars are narrowly
spaced enough that the bird can't fit his head through. There are all
sorts of other cage do's and don't's, but most are common sense.
Size, strength, ease of cleaning, etc., are all important factors.
- Don't give your bird extra attention when you first get it
(though this may be more applicable to large parrots than small
birds). Give it as much attention as it will be getting from you the
rest of its life. This will prevent it from getting spoiled, and then
being disappointed as its owner gets bored with it and stops spending
as much time with it. Of course, if you can't spend some time every
day with a bird ... don't get it in the first place.
- Stupid Bird and Owner Tricks ...
examples of funny, dangerous, and both funny and dangerous things that
have happened. Don't be stupid with your bird!
- Enjoy your bird! You can do things like make toys for them, try
to teach them tricks, potty train them,
build playgrounds for them, and do all sorts of other things. They're
smart little creatures, and extremely cute to boot.
- To reiterate: read BIRD TALK magazine!!! Preferably
before even buying your new pet!
Back to my homepage
< 0 )
| \ \