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Basic Cockatiel Care

Written by Bea

To get things started in the Cockatiel Articles i thought it would be a good idea to cover some basics of cockatiel care. I'll talk about what i've learned about housing, feeding, entertaining and generally keeping your cockatiel happy.

First things first, your cockatiel will need a cage to call it's own. When i was researching cockatiels before i became a tiel owner i found varying opinions on what size a cage should be for a single cockatiel. Personally i feel that the minimum cage size a cockatiel should be kept in is approx. 18"d x 18"h x 30"w. Obviously your cockatiel will appreciate as much space as you can give it, the bigger the better! Bar spacing for cockatiels should be no larger than 5/8". For a longer lasting cage it's a good idea to look for a powder coated cage. These are slightly more expensive but will last for ages and are rust free. Definitely worth the extra money! The cage should be kept clean for your cockatiels hygiene. Cage floor lining (paper towels, newspaper, etc) should be changed every day or two and once a week everything should be wiped down and scrubbed if necessary.

Once you've got a cage, you need toys and perches to fill it with and to keep your cockatiel entertained during the hours it's confined to it's cage. What toys and perches you use is entirely up to your preferences, but remember that a variety or perch sizes/textures is important to keep your cockatiel's feet in good shape. You should avoid harsh textures like sandpaper covered dowel perches. I would recommend using rope perches, cement perches and natural branches (safe wood only of course). In my experience i've found that cockatiels like to shred things, so it's a good idea to put some toys that can be shredded in your cockatiels cage. This can be as simple as a cut piece of paper, or as fancy as a parrot pinata. Either way, something to chew is always a welcome toy in the cage. While it can be fun to find lots of new toys and perches for your cockatiel try not to make the cage over crowded or cramped. Keep some things aside and swap them around every week or two.

So you've got a cage, and you've filled it with things for your cockatiel to do! Now you need to think about what to feed it. I feed my cockatiels a mixture of seed, pellets and vegetables. I will also feed them cooked foods like egg, legumes and wholegrain rice or pasta from time to time. You will want good quality seed and pellets, both of which can usually be found in your local pet store. You want to avoid foods that have lots of preservatives and added colours. In particular you need to avoid the preservative ethoxyquin as this is extremely harmful to your bird. Never feed your cockatiel chocolate, alcohol, avocado or apple seeds. Also avoid foods high in sugar and salt. If it's not good for you then it's certainly not good for your cockatiel. Offer your cockatiel fresh veggies everyday. Some examples of good ones to try are: broccoli, carrot, sweet potato (cooked), dark leafy greens (spinach, bok choy), and other similar vegetables. Avoid watery ones like celery and lettuce as these can give your cockatiel diarrhea. At all times your cockatiel should have access to a mineral block and fresh water.

That's pretty much the basics, with one exception: playtime! Cockatiels are social birds and will want to spend as much time with your and your family as possible. You should aim to have your cockatiel out of the cage for at least one hour a day, but i'm sure that you'll find you want to spend much more time with it than that. Cockatiels can be extremely friendly and interactive members of the family. They enjoy kisses and cuddles and many love a nice head scratch from their favourite flock member. Male cockatiels are known to be rather talented whistlers which can provide hours of entertainment for everyone.

All in all, cockatiels are wonderful pets for anyone with the time and love to care for them properly. I hope you've found the information in this article helpful whether you have just found your newest flock member or are looking to find one in the future!

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General Care FAQs
So you are interested in getting a bird as a pet but have questions about how to take care of one. This is a thread for frequently asked questions when people get a bird or when people are interested in getting a bird.

Where can I find a pet bird?

You can find birds in pet stores, at breeders, from rescues, or from advertisements online such as craigslist, hoobly, or kijiji. Just be sure to make sure the bird is healthy before bringing it home.

What kind of cage do I get?

Make sure the cage meets the minimum requirements at least and make sure the bar spacing is proper. The cage should be a square/rectangle type cage. Round cages are generally too narrow and many birds feel insecure in these type cages. Also with round cages, the bars meet at the top and the space becomes narrow. Feet, toes, and wings can get stuck and can seriously hurt the bird. Doors should be secure or made secure if your bird tends to know how to escape.

What do I feed my bird?

Birds need a variety of food in their diet. They should get seeds, pellets, fruits, and veggies. Some birds do not need fruit and some are fruit eaters. Pellets can be replaced with foods such as Nutriberries or Avicakes, and may be excluded from the diet if the bird's diet is varied properly and carefully. Some species have certain diet requirements, so please look into your species of bird and what it eats. Please also be sure to read about what foods are NOT good for birds.

What perches should I use?

The best perches are natural branches from bird safe trees. These vary in diameter along the same branch and they're more natural for the bird. These also naturally keep the nails from over growing and are a much better alternative to sand paper perches and other pedicure perches. Perches with sandpaper or sandpaper covers should never be used as these scrape the feet and cause sores and infection. Cement perches should be carefully used if used at all. These can damage the birds feet as well. These should not be a main perch (sleeping) as they are not good for birds feet. Rope perches are excellent for birds and are great for comfort. Older birds or birds with foot deformities benefit from these perches as they are soft and have good grip. Watch for loose strings and trim any you may see. If the bird chews through the perch to the wire, the perch should be replaced. Dowel perches should not be used, but if they are used, do not use them as a main perch as these can cause foot problems for the bird. Plastic perches also can cause foot sores, but can be used in moderation. Swings and boings are great for many birds, especially birds who love to swing. Make sure they are securely hung in the cage, you don't want the bird to fall!

How often do I feed and water my bird?

You should feed your bird fresh food daily and change/clean their water bowl each day and each time during the day that they dirty their water. Dump the old seed out and refill it each day.

How often do I clean the cage?

Paper changes should be done every day or every other day, though if you have a grate, it can go for one week at the longest. A big clean should be done once a month. This includes washing down the bars, disinfecting the cage with a water-bleach solution, and completely washing down the cage and perches. At least once a week the grate should be washed down, if you use a grate. It may be easier to do if you wipe it down with each paper change. Toys should be cleaned of poop and food.

What do I use for bedding?

Newspaper is best. Plain paper can be used and so can paper towels, however, newspaper is the cheapest option for most people. Sandpaper should not be used as it can be harsh on a birds feet and if the bird ingests the sand they can get sick. Wood chips should be avoided. IF you do choose to use wood chips, use aspen or kiln dried pine and it MUST be changed daily. Wood chips breed bacteria and mold. Corn cob bedding should never be used as they can grow mold and cause aspergillosis. Sand can cause some issues as well.

Does my bird need toys?

Yes, your bird needs toys to keep itself entertained. A bird that becomes bored are prone to plucking and screaming. Just be sure to check toys for safety.

Do I get one or two birds?

This depends on you and your situation. If you can afford two birds and really want two birds, then this is your choice.
So you are considering pet birds, but you don't know if you should get one or two. Or, you have a single bird and are considering a buddy.

A common myth is that two birds will not bond to their owner.

If enough individual time is spent with each bird they will still have a bond with their owner. Each bird is an individual. Some birds are more bird oriented than others. These type of personalities do better with a bird companion.
Some birds are more human oriented and these birds are perfectly happy as single birds. As long as they get enough attention from their owners, these birds do just fine.

Some pros to two birds:
Your bird has a constant buddy when you are not home.
You get to watch how they interact together and play together.
You bird can learn to be a bird and learn more independence.
You can curb some flock calling.

Cons to two birds:
May not get along as expected.
If they do get along, you need a bigger cage.
If incompatible, they need separate cages.
Twice the food ration.
If one gets sick, there's risk of both birds getting sick--therefore higher vet bills.
Injuries may happen.
Unplanned breeding behaviours.
Most birds double noise level.
If incompatible, twice the time spent on each bird.
Twice the toys.
Disputes over territory.
Twice the mess.
More money for continuous upkeep.

There may be more cons listed, but the pros' quality outweigh the cons. Think of your situation and your bird.
Avoid getting a bird for your bird. If they don't get along, you now have TWO needy birds! You should get another bird if YOU want another bird.
If you are considering a buddy for your bird, it is less complex to stick with the same species. Different species should not be housed together, some species are more aggressive and dangerous than others. Even birds like lovebirds are known to kill other birds--including those larger than them.

Always prepare for things to not work out and hope for the best if you opt to get another bird.

How do I know if my bird is sick?

A sick bird may sit on the cage floor fluffed up and sleeping all day. It may not eat or drink and may act lethargic. It may not vocalize as much as it used to and it may not play as much. If it acts differently than normal it may very well be sick. Sick birds often show the first sign of illness in the droppings and it is very important to pay attention to the birds droppings each day to know what is normal and what is not. If there is a change, it may be a cause for concern. If you are looking at a bird that you may want to bring home you should look for general signs. If the bird is fluffed up and not active, you may want to look elsewhere. Look at the other birds in the cage. If any act sick, you may not want to bring home any birds as birds hide their illnesses easily and any bird can be sick if one is showing signs. Check bottom of the cage to see the droppings, they should look normal. Look at eyes, nostrils, vent, feathers, and the bird as a whole. Plumage should be neat and smooth. Keep in mind birds do molt so molting birds can look a bit rough. Look for pin feathers on the body and this may be a clue that the bird is molting. The eyes should be clear, bright and open fully. There should be no discharge or redness to the eyes. The nostrils should be clear and clean with no swelling or discharge. They should not be clogged or dirty. The vent should be clean and should not have any stains or droppings stuck to the vent or feathers around the vent.

Can I get sick from a pet bird?

Yes, there are some diseases that birds can transfer to humans, though it is not common. The most common zoonotic disease that birds get is Psittacosis. Giardia is another zoonotic disease that can be given from birds to humans and other animals. Psittacosis is among the most dangerous to be transferred. If you suspect your bird gave you an illness, go to the clinic and let them know you have a bird and bring your bird to the vet.

How often should I let my bird out of its cage?

It should be let out daily for at least two hours a day. Birds enjoy company of their flock, and a single bird considers their owners their flock. This means you must give your bird attention. Parrots require a lot of attention a day because they are such flock oriented animals.

My bird won't try new food, what do I do?

To get some birds to try new foods such as veggies or fruit or even pellets can be very difficult. To get a bird to try new veggies, it may be worthwhile to try cutting them in different ways or hanging them in the cage in different places, or even sprinkle a favourite treat on top of the new food. A bird sees its flock eating and will want to try to be with the flock, this includes you. So try eating the new food in front of your bird, or at least pretending to eat the food. Offer the new food then to your bird. Keep offering the new food, they may eventually try the new food.

What behavioural problems are common in birds?

Plucking, screaming, biting, feather chewing, hormonal related behaviours, cage territorial aggression, bonding to one person only, paper shredding, and jealousy. Cockatiels are prone to screaming, hormonal related behaviours, biting, and sometimes jealousy. They can show other signs, but plucking and feather chewing are not as pronounced in cockatiels as it is in other species.
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