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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🦜