All about the life span of a cockatiel | How long do cockatiels live?

Better known scientifically as Nymphicus hollandicus, the cockatiel is among the most popular pet bird species out there. Not surprising, as these small cockatoos make a great addition to the family! If you just got yours or are looking to get one, you might be asking yourself: how long do cockatiels live?

The answer to this question depends on many factors. Let’s go into the life span of a cockatiel and how to make sure yours makes it to a ripe old age.

How long do cockatiels live in the wild?

As discussed in the article about the life of a cockatiel in the wild, the life of a wild cockatiel is not always easy. The lands they inhabit can be harsh and many flocks need to be nomadic in order to find the food and water they need to survive. Apart from being swift fliers and their grey camouflage coloration, cockatiels don’t really have any defense against natural predators like raptors.

Despite the above, cockatiels can actually make it quite long in the wild if circumstances are favorable. The life span of a cockatiel in the wild is 10-15 years, although it can be much less if the bird is unlucky. Many chicks don’t make it to adulthood at all.

Gray cockatiel with yellow face | Guide on the life span of a cockatiel

How long do cockatiels live in captivity?

As you could have guessed, captive cockatiels have a better life expectancy than wild ones. Before we discuss their actual potential lifespan, though, I’d like to stress that you are the one responsible for ensuring your cockatiel makes it to a respectable age.

They are entirely dependent on the care provided, so it’s incredibly important to do as much research as you can before you get your bird and to never stop wanting to learn once it’s in your care.

A well-cared-for cockatiel is a friend that can be around for a very significant chunk of your life. Up to 15 years should be very attainable given there are no genetic defects or unlucky accidents. In fact, even 20 to 25 years and up are not unheard of by any means for captive cockatiels!

Considering the above, if you’re thinking about buying a cockatiel right now, make sure that you can offer a stable home for years to come before adding one to your family.

I dove into the Guiness Book of World Records for this article and found out that their oldest listed cockatiel was named Sunshine, lived or lives in New Mexico and got the title in 2016 when he was 32. If Sunshine is not around anymore, he might have been overtaken by Buddy Walders the cockatiel, who was 31 in December 2018 and lived or lives in New Zealand.

Gray female cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) | Guide on the life span of a cockatiel

Life span of a cockatiel: contributing factors

Now that we’ve established the potential life span of a cockatiel, let’s move on to the more important bit: keeping your bird happy and healthy so it can actually live to those impressive ages.

There are many factors that influence a cockatiel’s health. As mentioned earlier some are genetic and you can’t do much about them, but many others are in your hands.

We will divide the factors that influence the life span of a cockatiel into diet, arguably the most important, and general care.


As with us humans, a proper diet is absolutely crucial in keeping a cockatiel happy and healthy. And as with us humans, diet is often unfortunately not approached the way it should. The myth that a cockatiel can thrive on a diet of only dry seeds is still very pervasive.

It’s true that seeds make up part of a wild cockatiel’s diet, but even the type of seed is different from the dry mixes that you can buy at the pet store. Some seeds will be fresh, others will be partly sprouted.

Then there’s also grains, berries and anything the birds can pick off a farmer’s fields: they will eat anything available, much to the dismay of those who grow crops. Even unlucky insects might find their way into a cockatiel’s beak.

Is it absolutely impossible for a cockatiel to live off just seeds? No, some of the oldest birds survived on a diet like this. But the truth is that with a less fatty and more varied diet, the chances of a domestic cockatiel living a long life are simply greater. Their diet doesn’t need to be as calorie-rich as that of their wild counterparts either, because they expend less energy daily.

It’s handy to have a high quality seed mix on hand and make it a part of your cockatiel’s diet. Specially formulated pellets can also be fed, although neither pellets nor seeds should make up the bulk of what’s in the bird’s food dish. Mimic the natural diet by offering a wide variety (though one that is less calorie rich than wild ‘tiels would get):

  • Fresh vegetables. Leafy greens are appreciated but you can try almost all veg.
  • Some fresh fruits. Apple, berries, mango, and more will work.
  • Sprouted seeds. Try sprouting bird seed, legumes and more at home or buy sprouts.
  • Treats (in moderation). Millet, honey seed stick and similar snacks can be especially helpful as motivation when you’re trying to train your cockatiel.
  • Extras: some unsalted rice, pasta or lentils. Boiled egg, herbs, some garden weeds and even some wild grasses work well and can be used to keep the bird busy for hours.
  • A mineral block is generally a good option. The use of cuttlebone has recently been debated but many bird owners still have one in their bird’s cage.

Keep in mind that clean water is of course also crucial to your cockatiel’s health. Ideally you should be offering more than one source, by going for both a dish and a bottle for example.

Gray female cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) eating seeds.


Apart from a suitable diet, there are also some very important care requirements that should be kept in mind for any cockatiel. Accidents can happen easily and remember that birds are very sensitive to stress, among other things.

  • Obesity. A varied diet containing lots of veggies is an important factor in making sure your bird doesn’t pass away prematurely from fatty liver disease and other obesity-related issues. However, you should also be making sure its cage is large enough and that it gets plenty of opportunity to fly and play. Exercise is important!
  • Safety. I can’t stress enough how easy it is for a cockatiel to have an accident and be injured or even killed. An open window, an unsafe toy… scrutinize and cockatiel-proof everything before letting your bird close to it.
  • Stress. This is a big bird killer, but a slow one that you might not notice. Make sure your cockatiel lives a relaxed life. No kids teasing it, plenty of socializing (or a friend) to avoid loneliness and lots of safe toys to avoid long-term boredom are all important.
  • Air quality. Cockatiels, like all birds, have very sensitive respiratory systems. The room that your bird’s cage is in should be free of fumes at any times. These might not be what you expect: non-stick pans emit dangerous fumes, as do candles. Other common culprits are cigarette smoke, air freshener and perfume.
  • Vet check ups. Your cockatiel should be checked by an avian vet at least when you get it and whenever anything appears wrong. Ideally, you should visit your vet semi-regularly for a check-up. Remember, birds are very good at hiding that anything might be wrong and when you finally find out it might already be too late! Also have a bird emergency kit in your own home.
Gray cockatiel with yellow face spreading its wings.

How old is my cockatiel?

If you already have a cockatiel and are wondering how much longer you might be able to enjoy its presence, it’s helpful to know how old the bird is.

When buying your ‘tiel, make sure to ask at the pet store, as they might be able to give you a rough estimate. Buying from a breeder gives you even more security, as they will know exactly when the bird hatched.

If your place of purchase was unhelpful in telling you anything of value about your cockatiel’s age, you might get lucky in rare cases if it’s ringed. The leg ring should generally have a code that you can use to figure out when the bird hatched. Additionally, if it’s a bird from a pet store, it’s usually relatively safe to assume that the bird is less than a year old.

If you adopted your bird from someone else or want to be more precise in determining its age but don’t have a breeder or ring to give you any pointers, you’re in a tough spot unless you’re a trained expert yourself. If the bird is under two years old there are some small clues that might help you out; above that it’s going to be next to impossible to pinpoint a cockatiel’s age.

  • A young male cockatiel before its first molt will actually look like a female: its face will be grey instead of the typical yellow that adult males sport. This molt occurs after around six months.
  • Young cockatiels will generally not be able to sing very clearly or at all (it’s mostly the males that produce tunes).
  • Males won’t start showing courting behavior until they’re about six months old and females usually become broody for the first time at around a year.
  • If you’re very experienced you might be able to use the appearance of the bird’s feet and face as rough indicators, though the differences are extremely subtle.

If you have any more questions about the life span of a cockatiel or want to share your own experiences with these delightful mini cockatoos, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. ?

33 thoughts on “All about the life span of a cockatiel | How long do cockatiels live?”

      • Mine is over 25 years old and stopped flying. One of his wings is missing feathers so I am assuming that’s the reason he doesn’t fly. Is it normal that old birds can’t fly?

        • It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. What are you feeding? If the diet and other factors are adequate then I’m afraid it is what it is, I suppose the feathers just lost their capacity to grow back in. An article on Northern Parrots states the following: “Some older birds lose feathers (like humans lose hair) but it’s not a fatal condition. When Lena first lost some feathers, I rushed to the vet, who reassured me kindly but said there was nothing to be done.”

          Congrats on your bird making it to that age, that’s amazing 🙂

          • My cockatiel is 13 and I’ve noticed she hasn’t been able to grow back one of her long middle tail feathers this past year. It started growing but looked small and unhealthy, and she would just pull it out long before it finished growing. That happened twice, and it hasn’t come back since. Her diet is pretty good (about 60% pellets) and this is the first I’ve read online about this happening to other birds. Could this be a genetic thing? Or is it a sign that my cockatiel is getting “older”? Or both?

          • 13 is still on the young side for this I’d think. You could always consider getting a basic blood panel done at the vet if it’s been a while since you’ve done that. But yeah, it could also be genetics, age or just bad luck I suppose!

        • Stopped flying / missing feathers for how long? As they get older, molts take a harder toll than when they were young ( just like when we get older everything is just a little harder). My oldest tiel was an amazing flyer till the end, but a heavy molt with several missing wing feathers would really both mellow her flying, and make her less agile. You could tell it frustrated her a lot. And a ‘ tiel who normally only flys say, from cage to you, etc never really develops the big beefy pecs my gal had. She really LOVED to fly, every morning when I came in she would be doing laps and figure 8s around the room, flying thru hoops we had at different heights, etc. The other birds would do some morning flying but they all settled down to just watch Kali. She’d finally have enough and then go shower and eat. She was a big bird my biggest tiel at her heaviest was 155 grams, and none of it was fat, she just was muscular and like to show off. Funny, the love of her life was my runt, who barely made 72 grams, and every morning when she made her laps, he would serenade her the entire time!

      • Our cockatiel, a male gray one, just now died. He lived a long long life, apparently for a cockatiel, as I read your articles and thoughts. He died at 34. Lots of different life stages, our Pavarotti the Bird “Birdie” finally ran into the end. Beautiful voice, but not an obnoxious noisemaker ever.
        He ate pellets, and quite a lot of snack millet. A little scrambled egg, and chicken bits. He for sure ate more millet and pasta and rice than anyone recommended over the years. We were lucky or he was, or our measure of how much of the empty snacky starches is off. He worked over his plates of little colorful pellets, snapping them and making a mess of the area, but always was up for a half a teaspoon of the candy starches or a branch of millet. Green leafy veggies? Yeah, right is what he said. We tried all that we could! Chewed on a piece of coral I brought back from Hawaii these last couple of years. A flyer, cuddler, communicator. He and I developed a pretty short whistle greeting that he mimic’d from me when he was surprised I KNEW HOW TO TALK!! as a form of communication and and a way of showing off creativity. He never repeated the original or any other similar pattern he ever did. Like a whalesong, he always made some changes. Almost the last thing I got to do with him this morning was whistle that greeting and he snapped his eyes up, as far as he could as he lay dying, gently lying on a soft towel in my wife’s hands, where he spent as much time every day as he could. He opened the single feather covering over his ear to hear better while I talked to him in our whistle song. He moved his head feathers in response to his head scratches he loves and closed his eyes to slits, and opened them up to look at us when we changed scratches. That only lasted a little while before he did not react anymore.
        When we brought our 1st daughter home, of 2, he immediately flew to her side on the bed and began making soft noises to her. He adopted her as his own, that moment and forever since. That was 22 years ago. The love and recognition and bond he kept over the years with her (and the rest of us, still, but secondarily) is so much like the movie it cracks us up. The movie Polly got it right. What a bird. We are still dropping some tears. What a bird.

    • My cockatiel used to come to my gym everytime with me 5 times a week and would fly around the gym to me counting him
      He would fly ap and down the stairs to play
      He would go into a pringle tin and get pringles out
      He was so clever ,when i told him to go to bed he did

    • As far as I know they can technically breed within their first year but I would wait until she’s at least 1.5-2 years old. If the male woos her to her liking with his dances and song, she’ll assume a typical breeding position and they’ll mate for a few consecutive days before starting to finish up work on their nesting spot. 🙂

  1. Magic our cockatiel is 23 and apart from spending more time foraging in the bottom of his cage he’s as he was as a youngster

    • Thanks for sharing, I love reading about readers’ parrots with impressive ages! Hope you get many more great years together.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss, but congratulations as well, that’s amazing. That must have been one happy bird. 🙂 Hope you had great years with him.

  2. My cockatiel will be 29 in July. He was hatched in my bedroom so I know how old he is within two days as he had two siblings that hatched around the same time. He has been fed a diet of organic pellets all his life and is offered greens every day and papaya every other day. Sometimes he won’t touch his greens or papaya for days or longer, but I still offer them. He seems to like beet greens the best, then red leaf lettuce.
    My avian vet can not believe how old he is because he still looks great but he has a hard time flying now – it takes too much effort. His cage door is left open all day so he goes in and out as he pleases depending on what he wants to do.

  3. Freddie, our cockatiel died a couple of years ago at the age of 30. We know exactly how old he was bc our neighbor bred cockatiels and gave him to us when we moved into our home. Freddie had a broken beak from flying into a moving ceiling fan when he was young. He could not eat normal cockatiel food but survived on a diet of canary seed. In fact, he would not eat the large seeds but only ate the small seeds that were easy for him to crack. He also had a broken wing from another accident. He could not fly but he got around well. Vet thought he had a stroke bc he could not stand on his perch any longer. We also could not get to his water and food. We decided to euthanize him and his ashes remain in our dining room with ashes of cats that also died over the years. Btw, vet said Freddie was actually a girl but we always talk of him as a boy.

  4. my name is DIANE i have a cockatial named nigel the last 3 weeks he has not been flying and falling of his perch and just picking the sead of the floor he sleeps a lot of the time i have had him for 11 years not sure what to do any thorught woud be welcome

    • Hi Diane! You need to contact an avian vet in your area ASAP. Nigel sounds ill and probably needs medication. Don’t wait, call now to prevent it getting worse. Look for a vet that treats exotic animals or is specifically an avian vet.

  5. My cockatiel died last night. ??
    He was nearly 14 so not that old really. He started struggling to breathe & died before I could get him to the vet. I wish I could have saved him. I already miss him so much ???

    • I’m so sorry to hear that. 14 is a respectable age, as mentioned in the article, unfortunately sometimes even the best care can’t prevent underlying genetic issues or just plain old bad luck. Be nice to yourself and take some time to grieve. I hope you feel better soon.


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