Cockatiel

Cockatiel:  Nymphicus Hollandicus

Cockatiels are by far one of the most popular pet bird species in captivity. They are relatively easy to care for, fairly nondestructive and can be very entertaining. Although most cockatiels can not mimic words as well as other pet bird species, they are very good at whistling.

Quick Facts:

Natural Habitat: Primarily Arid Regions of Continental Australia
Body Weight: 75-100 g
Age of Sexual Maturity: 6-12 months
Life Span: 15-20 years
Clutch Size: 5 eggs
Incubation Period: 19 days

Husbandry (the general care, necessities and special considerations) and dietary requirements are relatively straight forward.

Enclosure/Cage (i.e., size, perches and substrates/bedding, etc.)

The enclosure/cage should be large enough for the bird to have adequate mobility and be able to spread the wings out completely without coming into contact with the cage walls. Multiple perches of varying diameter should be available and positioned to prevent food and water contamination with fecal material. This will inevitably happen regardless of our efforts, so it is important to change water and food daily if possible. The positioning of the perches is also very important. Most birds like to spend the majority of their time on the highest perch. Be sure not to make this perch the widest or largest perch, as this can lead to pressure sores over time. Ideally it should allow for 3/4 of the birds foot to wrap around the perch.  Note:  Avoid birdy beds, tents, boxes or any other structure that may mimic/resemble a nest or cavity.  These structures will only stimulate unwanted and unhealthy reproductive behavior in both male and female birds.

Cage bedding should consist of should consist of newspaper or some other paper based product (e.g., carefresh or yesterdays news) and placed under a grate to prevent contact with the bird. While this grate may prevent contact to bedding, it can accumulate a significant amount of fecal material if not cleaned/checked daily. Keeping the environment clean (changing papers at bottom of cage, cleaning grate, cleaning bowls) is of vital importance as unsanitary conditions provide ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and fungus. This is one of the principal reasons why organic substrates (coconut bark, walnut shells, corn cob, etc.) are NOT recommended.

Toys and other enrichment may be placed in cage (avoid objects that may contain zinc or lead as these are toxic to birds), but the cage furniture should not prevent adequate movement around the cage. Mental enrichment allows for a better socialized and interactive pet. Birds spend the majority of their day foraging and looking for food. Therefore, it is important to encourage captive birds to occupy their time with healthy, beneficial and natural activities. Failure to do so may result in difficult situations, including feather destruction, mutilation, biting/re-directed aggression, etc.

Diet

Cockatiels are primarily seed eaters in the wild, but it is not limited to only seeds. They have the ability, unlike other species, to metabolize the few nutrients found in seeds. To reflect this, the captive diet should include seeds in addition to a high quality pelleted ration (harrison’s, zupreem, roudy bush, etc.). There are many commercially available pelleted diets and they are used primarily to assist in providing essential micronutrients that are lacking in an all seed diet. The pelleted diet should comprise about 50-60% of the daily caloric intake, while seeds and vegetables high in beta-carotene (e.g., sweet potato, carrots and dark leafy greens) should comprise approximately 30-40% of the diet. Treats should comprise of no more than 10% of the daily caloric intake.

Grooming/Bathing

Both grooming and bathing are natural behaviors inherent to all birds. Many birds in captivity come from a relatively humid environment. In addition to being a normal behavior, it serves to occupy their time and improve the general condition of skin and feathers, as well as providing hydration to their nares (i.e., nostrils). While they may come from an arid environment there is still a certain level of humidity that their natural environment provides. If we do not mimic this in captivity problems can develop (e.g., dry skin, feather destruction/over grooming, rhinoliths/obstructed nares, over abundance of dander – which can be harmful to humans, etc.). Old World Species- Africa and Australia, are high feather dander species. So it is of even greater importance to provide increased humidity (i.e., bath), in these species. In order to prevent this it is recommended that your bird should receive or at least offered a bath every 2-3 days if possible, if not at least a minimum of once a week, more during winter/dryer months.

Nail Trims:  Even if rough, sand or concrete perches are provided often birds require routine nail trims.  The tip of the nail should be even (e.g., form a straight line) with the toe pad.  Failure to maintain this could result in improper stance and therefore pressure being placed on a non-leadbearing structure causing sores (“bumble foot” or pododermatitis).

Wing Trims:  It is always a good idea to maintain your birds wings trimmed.  This is solely for the safety of both you and your bird, it does not hurt and should not be considered cruel or inhumane (feathers are like hair and will eventually grow back).  Birds can become spooked or excited and fly out an open door or window.  Once outside the bird may become disoriented in the new environment and seek the highest perch, which is often a tree branch well out of reach, or just continue to fly/glide away.  Since they have never been outside and in an unfamiliar environment they will not know how to find their way back home.  Some owners may desire to keep their birds fully flighted which is perfectly fine as long as they are cautious and aware of the consequences.  In rare circumstances not trimming the wings may be recommended by your veterinarian.

Beak Trims:  In most circumstances birds do not require beak trims.  They may be required if your bird has a malocclusion (e.g., scissor beak), abnormal growth as a result of previous trauma or some other pathologic condition.

Droppings/Stool

There are three components to bird droppings. There is a liquid portion – urine, a white paste – urates, and feces – typically the largest portion of the dropping and will be either a green or brownish tubular shaped substance. NOTE: a quick way to tell if your bird is eating is to observe the droppings. The stool should be the largest portion. If there is consistently more urates and urine, then it is a good indication that your bird may not be eating as well as you would think.

Common Disease Syndromes

Chronic Egg Laying: 
Females may interpret a toy, mirror or even you or other member of the household – “flock.” Like chickens they are capable of laying eggs without the presence of a male. These eggs are not viable as they have not been fertilized, but the risk is still the same. Chronic egg laying is a significant drain on energy and calcium stores and can lead to pathologic fractures and the life threatening condition referred most commonly to as “egg binding.”

Upper-Respiratory Infections/Pneumonia:
Chronic respiratory infections are common. Decreased humidity and poor nutrition can lead to this condition. Treatment is aimed at correcting the underlying cause and elimination of any bacterial or fungal infection present.

Tumors:
A high incidence of tumors is commonly seen in older birds. Some common tumors include tumors of the preening gland, liver and skin. Surgical removal if possible, is considered treatment of choice.

Bumble foot/Pododermatitis:
This condition results from too much pressure being placed on a non-weight bearing structure or overstrain (i.e., excessive weight). The tissue, muscle and skin in these areas are not designed to sustain the entire weight of the body. As a result, the area initially becomes red and inflamed, then can become an open wound and eventually infected. This condition can usually be attributed to incorrect perch size, obesity, arthritis, anatomical abnormalities, trauma, etc.

Parasites:
Parasitic infestations are relatively uncommon in the captive pet bird. With that being said, there are several parasites both external and internal that can affect most birds. The most common occurring parasites include but are knemidokoptes – scaley face mite, sternostoma – tracheal/air sac mites, and giardia.

Symptoms include:
Knemidokoptes: honeycomb appearance around cere, beak, eyes, leg and feet
Sternostoma: labored breathing, an audible clicking noise, and tail bobbing
Giardia: deliberate itch (particularly under wings and around legs), greasy appearance to feathers

Feather Destruction/Mutilation:
Also known as feather picking, chewing or mowing. This can be a very complex and multifaceted issue. While it can initiate as a result of a medical condition it does have a large behavioral component as well, which makes treatment/diagnosis very difficult. If it is not solely related to a medical problem it is most likely that it will only be controlled but never completely resolved. It can become an extension of normal grooming/preening, in addition to becoming an attention grabbing behavior (e.g., bird picks or mutilates, you come running or yell, to the bird this is a positive reaction and well worth the damage).

Blood Feathers:
Blood feathers are a normal stage of development for every feather on the bird’s body. As a new feather grows there is a purple/blue shaft that contains a blood supply. Some birds will injure these shafts either by falling or thrashing in the cage. The blood-filled shaft is broken/cracked and bleeding occurs. These immature feathers are sensitive and can be painful when broken. The largest feathers on the body are wing feathers and tail feathers. These are the blood feathers most often broken by birds. Frequently, broken blood feathers need to be pulled out in order to stop bleeding. Pain management is also an important part of blood feather treatment. In most occasions all that is required is direct pressure. A clotting surface such as flour, cornstarch or styptic powder will aid in the hemostasis (stopping the blood). While it may seem there is a significant amount of blood loss occurring it is unlikely that the bird will bleed out. If untreated it may continue to bleed.