Cockatiel vs lovebird | Finding the parrot for you

Are you thinking about adding a parrot to your family but stuck between going for a cockatiel or a lovebird? Not surprising! Both are among the most popular pet parrot species for a reason. But which is best for you?

Let’s go into the differences and similarities between cockatiel vs lovebird to help you figure out which species suits your family best.

Cockatiel vs lovebird: Differences

Unlike some other popular pet parrot species, cockatiels and lovebirds don’t have much in common. Both make great pets, but their appearance, personality and other factors are quite different. It’s important to consider what you’re looking for in a bird before you take the plunge.

Below, we’ll discuss a few of the most prominent differences between lovebirds and cockatiels.

The species

  • Taxonomy. Only one species of cockatiel exists: the species Nymphicus hollandicus, which is part of the cockatoo family (Cacatuidae).

    ‘Lovebird’ refers to any of the 9 species in the genus Agapornis, which is part of the Psittaculidae family. The most popular members of this genus are Agapornis roseicollis (rosy-faced lovebird), fischeri (Fischer’s lovebird) and personatus (yellow-collared lovebird).
  • Habitat. The two species hail from entirely different areas of the world: inland Australia for wild cockatiels and much of sub-Saharan Africa for wild lovebirds. Feral lovebird populations can also be found throughout the world, including some states in the US.

    The actual habitat types aren’t too dissimilar: both bird species are commonly found in relatively arid savannahs and lightly forested zones.
  • Size. Cockatiels are the larger of the two, especially because they sport a much longer tail than lovebirds. They grow to up to 13.5″ (34 cm) in length and 70 to 120 grams in weight. They need a relatively large cage to be able to spread their wings and avoid messing up their tail.

    Lovebirds max out at 6.5″ (16.5 cm) and 70 grams. This means they can make do with a slightly smaller cage in captivity, especially if you let you bird out for most of the day.
Male cockatiel parrot (Nymphicus hollandicus) | Cockatiel vs lovebird, which is the parrot for you?

Personality

  • Activity level. Cockatiels are known as one of the most ‘chilled out’ parrots you can keep as a pet, while lovebirds are a lot more bouncy. They don’t exhibit budgie-like levels of hyperactivity, but the average lovebird is definitely more active than the average ‘tiel.

    I’d describe cockatiels as laid-back, although they’re no pushovers either and they do love exploring. Lovebirds are more boisterous, curious, all-over-the-place and sometimes aggressive.
  • Noise levels. Although a flock-calling cockatiel can be very loud (no parrot is truly quiet), the sound isn’t quite as constant as with a lovebird. It’s also not quite as shrill: I’ve seen lovebirds being compared to fire alarms and that seems fitting!
  • Affection levels. Actually, the two species are quite similar in terms of the close bond they can establish with their owner, but there are some differences. Cockatiels are absolute suckers for head scratches, while lovebirds are more of the velcro type. Lovebirds can be a bit more bitey, but that’s something that proper taming should be able to fix.

Other

  • Allergies. As always in these parrot comparison guides, I have to mention that cocktiels are particularly dusty creatures. They have powdery down feathers that may aggravate allergies more than a lovebird will.

    If you’re unsure, try visiting cockatiels and lovebirds at pet stores or friends’ houses to assess whether they trigger your allergies.
Infographic showing the differences between two pet parrot species: Agapornis (lovebirds) and Nymphicus hollandicus (cockatiels).

Cockatiel vs lovebird: Similarities

  • Diet. In their natural habitat, cockatiels are specialized seed eaters with a preference for grass seeds (a 1987 study by Jones found the group of cockatiels the author studies preferred sorghum). They tend to forage on the ground.

    The same goes for lovebirds! For example, a study by Ndithia & Perrin (2006) concluded that rosy-faced lovebirds in Namibia preferred Anthephora grass seeds and ground-level foraging.

Who is a cockatiel better for?

In my opinion, cockatiels make better beginner birds than lovebirds. They’re simply a bit more forgiving; ending up with an untame cockatiel usually won’t get you bitten as often as when you end up with an untame lovebird (although there are always exceptions). Cockatiels are family-proof and a well-tamed one will be friendly and cuddly.

Cockatiels do need a bit more space and their powder down can be bothersome if you have allergies. Some folks opt for an air purifier to keep things under control.

Who is a lovebird better for?

If you’re looking for some spunk, you’re probably the right candidate! Lovebirds are great for people who want a bit of life in the house and enjoy taming and training exercises. There are more different color varieties available and also more species to choose from.

A lovebird can be a wonderful friend, especially if you have kept parrots before.

Conclusion

Having kept both cockatiels and lovebirds, I personally can’t say I have a clear preference. It just depends on my mood; both make great pets and can be very cuddly. That being said, if you’re looking for your first feathered pet, I would generally recommend a cockatiel.

If you go for a lovebird, it may be a good idea to find a breeder who pays individual attention to their birds, so you hopefully end up with a well-socialized parrot. Skittish pet store lovebirds and cockatiels can both lash out due to fear, but lovies are definitely feistier and can be more difficult to tame.


Still not sure which parrot species to go for? Check out the other parrot comparison guides to help narrow it down.

Sources

Jones, D. (1987). Feeding ecology of the cockatiel, Nymphicus-Hollandicus, in a grain-growing area. Wildlife Research14(1), 105-115.

Ndithia, H., & Perrin, M. R. (2006). Diet and foraging behaviour of the Rosy-faced Lovebird Agapornis roseicollis in Namibia. Ostrich-Journal of African Ornithology77(1-2), 45-51.

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