The Downsides of Owning a Cockatiel

With their vibrant colors, Mohawk-like head feathers, and animated personalities, it’s easy to see why cockatiels are such popular pet birds. 

While their intelligence and affectionate nature can make them wonderful companions, cockatiels do require extensive care and have some significant drawbacks to consider before bringing one home.

Expensive Initial Costs

Cockatiels aren’t cheap pets. Depending on factors like rare color mutations, show quality, and breeder reputation, they can cost $80 to over $1000! 

You’ll also need a large cage (minimum $100), perches, food bowls, toys, and other essential supplies which quickly add up. Annual costs for food, vet care, and replacing toys/accessories cost approximately $400 per bird. 

Unexpected medical expenses also arise, with bird vet visits easily costing over $100 per incident.

Substantial Time Commitment

To stay happy and healthy, cockatiels need a LOT of daily time and attention from their owners:

  • At least 2 hours per day of direct supervised playtime outside the cage is recommended so they can properly exercise and socialize. You need to fully birdproof whatever room they’ll be in.
  • Their food and water bowls require twice daily washings/refills plus wiping down cage bars to remove feces and debris.
  • Their cage needs a full cleaning weekly, including replacing cage lining, washing perches/toys/dishes, etc.
  • Social flock birds like cockatiels will become neurotic and depressed without adequate daily interaction. They demand time for grooming, cuddling, training and more.
  • Providing new toys and foraging activities is important for mental stimulation. They chew through toys quickly.
  • Illness or injury can arise rapidly in birds, requiring immediate vet attention which may require leaving work or other obligations.

Cockatiels simply aren’t pets that can be left alone all day while you’re at school or work. They require a substantial time investment every single day for proper care.

Potentially Ear-Piercing Noise Levels

Cockatiels are naturally noisy birds that vocalize frequently with loud screeches, chirps, whistles and more. Their peak calling hours are early morning and evening but vocalizations continue throughout the day. Some specific examples:

  • Their signature call is an extremely loud and shrill whistle the male especially uses to claim territory and seek a mate.
  • Startled or unhappy cockatiels screech loudly. Opening their cage or entering the room often triggers excited screeching.
  • They demand attention with loud beeps and squawks if you leave their line of sight or stop petting them.
  • Some males “flock call” by screeching as though calling a lost flock. This can go on for 15 minutes or more nonstop.
  • Birds suffering from boredom or lack of socialization may scream for hours on end.

Their voices are part of cockatiels’ charm, but the noise levels easily become problematic in apartments, condos, or homes with nearby neighbors. Ear piercing volumes are to be expected especially at dawn and dusk. Even well-trained cockatiels are naturally inclined to be loud.

Destructive Chewing Habits

Cockatiels love to chew, which often turns destructive when directed at household items. Their strong beaks can splinter wood, shred fabric, and destroy electrical cords if left unsupervised. Some problem behaviors include:

  • Chewing through drywall, wood furniture, baseboards, door frames, etc. This can cause serious property damage.
  • Shredding fabric such as curtains, pillows, stuffed animals, and clothing. They may ingest pieces that can obstruct their crop.
  • Gnawing electrical cords which can electrocute them. Rubber coatings and lead may also poison them when ingested.
  • Chewing paper including books, mail, money, important documents, and wall posters. Paper products can jam up their digestive tract.
  • Eating houseplants, which are often toxic. Common houseplants poisonous to cockatiels include lilies, pothos, philodendron, dieffenbachia, croton, and more.

Their environment must be thoroughly bird-proofed by removing or covering anything vulnerable to chewing. However, cockatiels are ingeniously persistent at finding and destroying new items so vigilance is needed.

Potential Aggression and Behavior Problems

While well-socialized cockatiels are usually gentle and affectionate, they sometimes develop problematic aggressive behavior including:

  • Biting owners when over-excited or territorial. Their needle-sharp beaks can pierce the skin and be quite painful.
  • Lunging, hissing, and nipping at perceived intruders into their space, even their owners.
  • Screaming matches/scuffles with other birds in the same cage that occasionally escalate into physical fights.
  • Plucking out their own or cagemates’ feathers due to over-preening, boredom, or stress. Feather loss leaves bald patches.
  • Mimicking unpleasant sounds like alarm beeps, coughing, crinkling paper, etc. This can worsen owner migraines and anxiety.
  • Refusing being caged/tamed or bonding too much to one person. This can make them territorial and aggressive.

With patience, consistency and an abundance of toys/activities, most problematic bird behaviors can be improved. However, they sometimes persist long-term and make a cockatiel an unpleasant pet.

Potential Health Problems

Cockatiels are prone to a variety of illnesses and injuries, which birds often mask until in critical condition. Common health issues include:

Health IssueDescription
Respiratory infectionsCongestion, discharge, and difficulty breathing. Poor environment/diet causes susceptibility.
Gastrointestinal issuesVomiting, diarrhea, undigested food passing, constipation from problematic diet.
ParasitesWorms, mites, lice, and more can rapidly infest cages and birds.
ObesityExcessive fatty seed-based diets lead to obesity which strains the heart/lungs.
Vitamin A deficiencyDiet lacking vitamin A causes blindness, lack of appetite, seizures, and bone deformities.
Egg bindingDifficulty passing large eggs stresses female reproductive organs and can be fatal.
Constricted nostrilsSmall nostril slits can impede breathing, especially when agitated. Surgery may be needed to widen openings.
Night frightsSudden night panics where they can self-mutilate by flying into cage walls.
Feather cystsIngrown feathers form painful cysts needing surgical removal.
TumorsCommon in older cockatiels, either malignant or benign masses.
ElectrocutionChewing live electrical wires electrocutes them.
PredatorsOutdoor predators like hawks can grab and injure cockatiels. Even house cats seriously wound them.
ToxinsHousehold cleaners, oils, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, and more toxins can be lethal.

Vet exams and preventative care reduce risks, but expenses quickly add up. Exotic bird veterinary visits easily exceed $100, not including lab work, medications, or procedures. Potentially fatal issues can arise without warning.

Short Lifespans

The average cockatiel lifespan is only 10 to 15 years, far shorter than dogs or cats. Genetic issues mean many don’t reach over 10 years. Seniors (over 5 years) also start developing age-related illnesses needing veterinary care. 

Signs of aging include

  • Gradual onset vision/hearing loss. They become more clumsy and startled.
  • Arthritis causing difficulty perching. Low-mounted perches and joint supplements help.
  • Loss of flight feathers or bald patches. Molting issues arise.
  • Diminished vocalizations. Their calls become weaker and raspy.
  • Weight loss from frail digestive tracts. Nutritional supplements help keep weight on.
  • Fatty benign lipomas that don’t harm them. Larger ones can be surgically removed.
  • Increased sleeping and napping. They lose energy and prefer to stay perched.
  • Lethargy and loss of previous spunky personality.

While a 10-15 year commitment may seem short compared to cats or dogs, cockatiels become deeply bonded to owners, and the end of their lifespan leaves a painful absence. Their short life expectancy should be carefully considered.

Strict Environment Requirements

Cockatiels need very particular environments to thrive which can be challenging to provide:

  • Ideal temperature range of 70-80°F. Temperatures over 80°F can cause fatal heat stroke. Being too cold stresses their immune system.
  • Draft-free room away from air vents, windows, doors. Drafts can cause life-threatening respiratory infections.
  • Low humidity around 30-50% to prevent dangerous molds/bacteria. High humidity causes deadly fungal/yeast infections. A hygrometer monitors home humidity.
  • Abundant natural light but avoid direct sunlight shining into the cage, which overheats them.
  • Keeping living areas well-ventilated but avoiding drafts means monitoring window and vent positions daily.
  • No chemical fumes from household cleaners, candles, air fresheners, non-stick pans, etc. which are toxic to birds. Using natural cleaners is safest.
  • No cigarette smoke, scented oils (Teflon, essential oils), incense, or vaped chemicals that can sicken birds. Cockatiels are especially sensitive.
  • Location away from loud noises like TVs, radios, shouting, machinery, musical instruments, slamming doors, etc. which stress and terrify birds.

Providing the ideal cockatiel environment in a household can be nearly impossible, especially in apartments. They don’t adapt well to changing conditions. Sudden environment shifts quickly cause illness.

Separation Anxiety When Left Alone

Cockatiels are affectionate flocking birds that become incredibly bonded with their owners. But this leads to anxious behaviors when left unattended:

  • Panicked flying around the cage, potentially injuring themselves.
  • Screaming/vocalizing at deafening levels until owners return. This frustrates neighbors.
  • Chewing cage bars or plucking out feathers due to stress.
  • Refusing to eat or drink when owners are away.
  • Becoming neurotic and depressed when frequently left alone.

While proper training and distraction techniques help ease separation anxiety, cockatiels simply don’t do well when left unattended for more than 4-6 hours. Their extreme social dependency makes travel or vacations difficult too. Boarding birds can be expensive and highly stressful.

Difficult Vet Care

Seeking veterinary care for cockatiels has some unique challenges including:

  • Finding an avian-experienced vet. Bird-specific vets are rare compared to cat/dog vets. Poor medical advice leads to health declines.
  • Transporting birds causes them immense stress. Just traveling to the clinic exacerbates medical issues.
  • Expense for exams, diagnostics, and treatments. Bird vet visits often exceed $100 even for basic check-ups. Any lab work, x-rays, and medications quickly increase costs further.
  • Hospitalizing birds is extremely problematic. Being caged and handled by strangers is traumatic.
  • Limited at-home care options. Bird owners can rarely provide subcutaneous fluids, tube feeds, or other supportive home treatments.
  • Spotting symptoms of illness is difficult. Cockatiels hide symptoms until near death. Preventing problems is key.
  • Follow-up care must be rigorous. Medicating birds and ensuring they eat is challenging for owners.

Getting cockatiels prompt, appropriate vet care when sick is especially crucial but has many difficulties compared to other pets. This makes health issues more risky.

Potential to Outlive Owners

With proper care and diet, cockatiels can easily live 15-20 years and have been known to reach up to 30 years of age. Their long lifespan means they will likely outlive elderly owners in their twilight years. 

Rehoming senior birds is incredibly challenging. Senior birds passed between multiple homes often fail to thrive. Euthanasia may ultimately be the most humane option as the original owners age.

Planning lifetime care for a cockatiel is essential – who will care for them when you no longer can? Passing birds between unfamiliar homes is very stressful. Cockatiels bond uniquely to owners and losing their special person is devastating. Their potential longevity requires thought.

Finding Suitable Homes

If rehoming eventually becomes necessary, finding a suitable new home is difficult:

  • Pet stores rarely accept surrendered birds. Avian rescues are few and constantly at maximum capacity.
  • Adopting out older or special needs birds is especially hard. Most adopters seek young, healthy birds.
  • Screening potential adopters is important but challenging. Home visits are ideal but seldom possible. Lack of vet references is common.
  • Rehoming fees help limit impulse buyers, but even $50 deters some ownership-ready adopters. Getting attached to surrender fees may backfire.
  • Out-of-state adoptions mean no home visits and require trusting online vet checks. Transport is problematic.
  • Parrot rescues are overcrowded, and underfunded and focus on larger parrots in dire need. Cockatiels are a lower priority to take in.

Rehoming cockatiels is difficult at every age. When elderly owners can’t care for them, euthanasia may ultimately be the best option to avoid further stress on the bird during extended rehoming. Their lengthy lifespans need consideration.

Extensive Chewing Damage

Cockatiels spend over half their day chewing as a natural behavior. But their strong, continually growing beaks inflict serious damage unless vigilantly redirected to appropriate items. 

Potential areas of destruction include

  • Window sills, blinds, curtains, wall trim, door frames, baseboards, and other home fixtures. Cockatiels chew whatever their cage is nearest.
  • Furniture, especially vulnerable areas like table edges, legs, arms, and backs. Cushion fringe tassels and fabric are irresistible.
  • Houseplants cause poisoning if ingested. Toxic houseplants must be kept out of reach.
  • Electrical cords when able to access them. proprietarily bird-safe cords are ideal.
  • Books, important documents, money, etc. will be shredded if within reach.
  • Drywall can be quickly carved out, leaving expensive damage. Placing cages against drywall is unwise.
  • Parrot toys are demolished rapidly. Providing a rotating variety of natural wood/concrete toys is ideal.

With free roam time, cockatiels chew everything accessible. Owners tire of constantly replacing destroyed belongings. Even closely monitored, their desire to chew is unending.

High Costs of Proper Nutrition

Feeding cockatiels correctly is expensive, but essential for longevity. Consider:

  • A formulated pellet optimized for cockatiel nutrition should be 75% of their diet. Lower-quality mixes lead to obesity and illness. Vet-recommended pellets cost $20 and up monthly per bird.
  • Supplementing pellets with fresh human-grade produce adds $10-20 monthly per bird. Vegetables, greens, sprouted seeds, appropriate fruits, and grains provide vital phytonutrients lacking in pellets.
  • High-quality, chemical-free cooking oils for adding beneficial fats cost approximately $5 monthly per bird.
  • Natural, additive-free Vitamin/UV supplements are ideally rotated to provide key micronutrients missing from the diet. These average $15 monthly per bird.
  • Foraging toys and shredding toys with natural wood, chunks, and pieces add enrichment. $20+ per month supplies enough rotating variety.
  • Organic bird-safe seeds/nuts can be given sparingly as foraging treats. But just 3-4 tablespoons total daily prevents obesity.
  • Natural wood perches, swings, and hanging toys need replacing every 2-3 months as they are destroyed. $20 every 2-3 months.

Good nutrition is possible on a budget but does require research and planning. But given how rapidly health declines with poor diet, proper nutrition remains essential.

Extreme Mess

Cockatiels generate a constant state of mess needing cleaning:

  • Food bits and hulls get flung beyond cage bars as they eat, requiring floor sweeping/vacuuming twice daily.
  • Poop sticks to cage bars, perches, toys, and dishes. Droppings must be cleaned multiple times daily or toxic fumes arise. Newspapers simplify underneath cage cleanup.
  • Their dusty down/dander constantly floats around their environment. Air filters/ionizers help capture airborne particles they generate.
  • They love to shred toys, especially paper, creating extensive debris.
  • Bathdays mean water splashed out of bowls onto surrounding surfaces.
  • Discarded food is inevitably left out to spoil, attracting ants and other bugs if not cleaned up promptly.

Their cages require full cleaning weekly to keep them sanitary. Owners quickly tire of the cleaning regimen required with messy cockatiels. Daily cleaning is a non-negotiable requirement.

Expert Escape Artists

Cockatiels are clever birds adept at escaping enclosures:

  • Their slim bodies allow squeezing through cage bar spacing barely wider than their heads. Horizontal bars must be less than 5/8 inches apart.
  • Broken blood feathers or night frights lead to frantic flying into cage sides until wires weaken or pop loose.
  • Chewing wire cage bottoms eventually create holes to squeeze out of. Covering wire flooring helps prevent this.
  • Door latches get quickly figured out and opened if not securely fastened. Numerous backup latches are needed.
  • They climb down cage sides using beaks and feet with surprising dexterity. Having cage walls extend under the cage pan prevents this.
  • When doors open, they rapidly recognize the opportunity and fly out before owners can react. This leads to dangerous loose bird chases.
  • Clip-on bowls are easily popped off, creating openings. Heavy crock bowls prevent dislodging.

Constant vigilance and cage reinforcement are essential to contain clever escape artists like cockatiels

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier is a New-York based freelance writer, professional blogger and certified dog trainer. She networks shelter pets to help them find homes and volunteers for rescue groups as she is passionate about dog rescue and adoption. From a very early age, she developed extensive animal handling skills from her dad, and that’s where her love for animals started.

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