Cockatiels are a small parrot species that have become one of the most popular birds to have as a pet.
They are easy to find in stores, and their calm, social personalities have won over many bird enthusiasts.
You will fall in love with this small parrot, and you will want to keep them around as long as possible.
Most people know that larger parrots, such as macaws, can live more than 50 years and sometimes as long as 75 years.
How long do cockatiels live? With proper care, cockatiels can live 15-25 years in captivity. Wild cockatiels live between 10 and 15 years. Their lifespan is directly impacted by factors such as nutrition, exercise, hygiene, veterinary care, enrichment and socialization, and the environment in which they live.
In 2016, the Guinness Book of World Records named Sunshine, a 32-year-old cockatiel from New Mexico, the oldest cockatiel.
If you want your cockatiel to give Sunshine a run for the title, it is imperative to provide your bird with excellent care, a nutritious diet, and a safe environment.
Read on to see how to optimize your cockatiel’s care.
Average Cockatiel Lifespan in Captivity: Influencing Factors
While cockatiels have an average life expectancy of 15-25 years living as pets, there are numerous factors that can affect their lifespan.
The good news is that you can control nearly all of them to help your cockatiel achieve a long and happy life.
The number one contributor to cockatiel health and life expectancy is the quality of their diet.
There are many options out there for bird food, but it is important to provide a balanced, nutritious diet that is appropriate for cockatiels.
Outdated information that recommends a diet of mostly seeds for cockatiels is still commonly spread around.
In the wild, cockatiels will eat a lot of fatty seeds to provide them with enough energy to travel long distances in search of food and water.
No matter how much free flight time you give your cockatiel, they will never match the energy expended by a wild cockatiel.
Since cockatiels in captivity do not have to burn nearly as many calories, their diet does not need to be as rich and should instead focus on variety and nutrients.
In a recent interview with Anna from Sunset Beach Exotic Birds, I asked what, in her opinion, is the most important thing to ensure a long, happy life for your cockatiel.
Her answer surprised me:
No sunflower seeds! Owners love to give sunflower seeds as a treat or even as regular part of their diet, but they are simply not healthy for birds. Also, never use Teflon or any artificial cleaning products and things like air fresheners.
Ideal Cockatiel Diet
The optimal diet for your cockatiel will include a variety of vegetables and fruits. Some fresh and sprouted seeds can be included as well.
Occasionally, grains such as cooked rice can be added.
Commercial pellet diets can be used, since they provide a balanced diet for your bird. However, pellets should never be the only source of food.
Commercial pellet diets can lead to obesity if overfed and nutrient deficiencies if fed exclusively.
Treats, like honey sticks and sprigs of millet, should be fed sparingly. This diet mimics the many different food items that wild cockatiels encounter as they travel around.
In addition to healthy food, multiple sources of clean water will keep your cockatiel well hydrated.
Mineral blocks and/or cuttlebone will also allow your cockatiel to have access to essential minerals while keeping your bird’s beak in top shape.
Since birds have the freedom to roam high and low, it is important to set up your home and any area the cockatiel will be spending time in to be as safe as possible.
Keeping your cockatiel indoors with windows closed or screens in place will prevent your bird from escaping.
The outside world is full of potential dangers, such as feral cats and raptors. By keeping your bird in an appropriately enclosed space, you can control the safety of their environment.
Cockatiel Cage Safety
For a cage, bigger is always better, but the size requirement will be determined by how much time your bird is spending in there.
When birds are able to roam the house during the day, they will be okay with a smaller cage that is only used for sleeping.
Cockatiels tend to prefer more horizontal cages that provide them multiple perches to move around on.
Inside their enclosures, make sure that perches and toys are in good condition without sharp edges or pieces that can be broken off and eaten.
Any ropes utilized should be replaced at the first sign of damage, since frayed ropes can be ingested or trap small feet.
Chains or metal rings should also be avoided since feet or a curious head could become stuck and injured.
Not all bird-related items sold in pet stores, like hanging toys, are safe for your cockatiel, so do your research before purchasing.
While your cockatiel has the freedom to roam the house, it is important to keep toxic plants or foods put away.
Some of our favorite human foods, such as avocados, coffee, and chocolate, are actually toxic to cockatiels.
(Learn what’s safe to feed cockatiels in our article, “What Can Cockatiels Eat?“)
Just like the canary in the coal mine, birds need clean air and can be sensitive to many products, like essential oils, cleaners, and non-stick cookware coating.
Research any products that could put off fumes in your home.
As the bare minimum, your cockatiel should be seen by a veterinarian when you first get them and anytime you have concerns about their health.
Ideally, they would be seen annually by their veterinarian because birds can be very good at hiding medical issues.
There are some symptoms you can look for to determine if your bird should be seen by a vet:
- Lethargy or unresponsiveness, especially if their feathers are unkempt and puffed out.
- Loss of appetite.
- Any abnormal fluids, including feces, nasal discharge, or even vomit.
- Major behavioral changes.
You know your bird best, so if you feel like something is off, always err on the side of caution and call your vet’s office.
It can also be helpful to keep some supplies handy at home in case of an emergency, such as styptic powder to stop minor bleeding.
It is recommended to have the contact information for at least two avian vets in your area and a travel cage available.
Enrichment and Exercise
A body in motion stays in motion, or at least that’s how the saying goes.
It is true that exercise is very important to your cockatiel’s overall health and therefore lifespan.
Exercise could mean moving around a large cage or being able to fly freely throughout a house.
A lack of exercise could lead to obesity-related health problems for your bird, including fatty liver disease.
For birds, mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. These are intelligent animals that thrive when they are able to use their brains.
Enriching their lives can be done in a number of ways. The most important way, especially for a highly social bird like a cockatiel, is interaction.
Socializing can take place with other birds or a beloved human. Some cockatiels bond with their owners just like they would a mate, so the interaction is even more powerful.
Training is another great way to keep your cockatiel’s mind engaged.
You can work on helpful behaviors, such as stepping up onto your hand or fun behaviors, like mimicking songs.
Either way, your bird will reap the benefits of the stimulation. In addition to learning the new behaviors, your bird will also enjoy the one-on-one time with you.
Many different toys and enhancements are available for your bird’s enclosure. Some are made of natural materials in bright colors to peak the bird’s interest.
You don’t have to look too hard for fun play time implements though. Many cockatiels enjoy tearing apart paper towel rolls or making a mess with shredded paper.
Mirrors are also a favorite toy for many bird species. The males are regularly seen talking and singing to their reflections.
It should go without saying, but it is still worth mentioning that keeping your bird and their environment clean is a basic necessity for owning a cockatiel.
Enclosures should be cleaned regularly, especially for birds who spend many hours a day in the cage.
Birds are sensitive to their environment, and pathogens can quickly infect their fragile bodies.
Best practices include removing uneaten food daily. This will also minimize the chance of attracting pests.
Water should be changed daily or more frequently, since cockatiels will regularly dip their food into their water bowls.
Cockatiels also enjoy giving themselves daily baths when offered a large enough bowl of water.
How Long Do Cockatiels Live in the Wild?
Wild cockatiels are native to the dry Australian bush, which means they are regularly traveling long distances to find food and water.
Due to their environment, wild cockatiels live 10-15 years.
Many chicks will not reach adulthood because of the harsh conditions. Also, cockatiels do not have any defenses against their main predator – birds of prey.
When caring for your pet cockatiel, it is important to reference how their wild counterparts live and eat.
We know from their nomadic nature that your cockatiel will thrive with regular exercise.
While wild cockatiels eat a lot of fatty seeds, they also eat a variety of plants and even the occasional insects. This should inspire your varied diet of fruits and vegetables for your bird.
How Do I Know How Old My Cockatiel Is?
If you purchase your cockatiel from a breeder, they should be able to tell you the exact hatch date of your bird.
Otherwise, you may need to use a few clues to determine the age of your cockatiel.
Most pet stores will sell birds that are less than a year old. Also, if your bird has a leg ring, you will most likely be able to find out the hatch date.
If you got your bird at an older age or from an unknown source, it might be a little hard to age your bird.
Here are a few tips that can help:
- Male cockatiels have the same plumage as females until their first molt around 6 months of age.
- Older cockatiels are more proficient in singing, especially the males.
- Males begin showing courting behaviors around 6 months of age while females will begin to go broody around 1 year of age.
- Some cockatiel experts will be able to estimate the age of your bird by looking at their feet and face.
Common Causes of Cockatiel Early Death
While some accidents are unavoidable, most untimely deaths of cockatiels are entirely preventable with proper care.
Following the recommended care we’ve outlined will help keep your cockatiel healthy and safe.
- Obesity: Obesity is commonly caused by lack of exercise and a diet high in seeds. Both can also contribute to fatty liver disease, which will lead to additional health problems and eventually death.
- Escape: Since a pet cockatiel is used to being fed in its safe, temperature-controlled environment, most will not survive if they escape or are “set free.” Without access to food and clean water, their health can quickly deteriorate, and they are susceptible to numerous predators.
- Chronic stress: Boredom and loneliness can create constant, low levels of stress for your cockatiel. Add on potential stressors from improper handling (usually from children) or harassment from other pets in the home, and your bird’s body will no longer be able to operate in top shape.
When Do Cockatiels Mature?
Male cockatiels will typically begin showing courtship behaviors around 6 months of age.
Female cockatiels will become broody around one year of age. Since they bond for life, they will quickly find their lifelong mate once they reach maturity.
Can a Cockatiel Die From Loneliness?
While the phrase “dying from loneliness” is anthropomorphizing the cockatiel, research does show that lack of social interaction can cause chronic stress, which can then lead to health issues and potentially death.
In the wild, cockatiels live in large flocks, sometimes numbering hundreds of individuals. They depend on other members of the flock for safety, finding food, and breeding.
In captivity, we can help our cockatiel to feel like they are a part of our flock. Spending time with their human family can help the cockatiel socialize.
Loving behaviors, such as head scratches, simulate the social grooming that takes place in the flock.
While cockatiels are not expected to live as long as larger parrots, proper care can keep your cockatiel living for over 20 years.
By focusing on top-notch nutrition and a clean, safe environment, your cockatiel can be happy and healthy for years to come.