Cockatiel Advice and First Aid 101

Frequently Asked Questions

Everything you need to know in one place

Cockatiels

BEAK GRINDING

Why do cockatiels grind their beaks? New parrot owners are often alarmed by the sight of their bird beak grinding. The exact reason why parrots grind their beaks has not been discovered yet. Some experts say it’s to wear down their beaks, but this hasn’t been proven. What we do know, is that parrots do it when they are relaxed and contented. You are most likely to see a bird beak grinding when he’s about to fall asleep.

CAN I BATH A SICK BIRD?

NO! you should never bath a sick bird, this can worsen his condition. 

CAN I FEED MY BIRD NUTS ?

Yes, there are many safe nuts you can feed your birds, but make sure that you ONLY feed them human grade nuts. Please never feed your birds peanuts!! See article entitled “Never feed birds peanuts

CAN I FEED PEANUTS ?

No, you should NEVER feed your bird peanuts. For more information read my article entitled "Never feed birds peanuts".

CAN I PET MY INJURED BIRD?

Some owners may feel that they need to constantly pet their parrot to make it feel comforted when injured, this in fact can cause more harm than good. Parrots like many animals, want to have minimal contact when injured, they want and need to be able to relax and recover.

When a bird is injured first aid should be performed, and an appointment made with an avian vet ASAP. The bird should then be placed in a travel cage and kept warm and quiet until you see the vet. Petting an injured bird can cause stress, and make the injury worse, especially if the bird has a broken bone, or internal damage.

Handling a bird that is in shock can cause death, the bird needs to be placed in a travel cage and kept warm (30-32 degrees C/ 86-90 degrees F) in a dimly lit room. Call the vet for further instructions.

COCKATIEL CREST PURPOSE

Cockatiels have a crest and it’s not for decoration, it is there for them to use to communicate as part of their body language. Cockatiel owners can learn to read their bird’s body language and crest to help them determine what mood their bird is in.

Reading your cockatiel's crest:

  • When the crest is flat against their head with the tip arching upwards, it means the bird is relaxed and contented.
  • When the crest is completely raised upwards, it means that the bird is on alert as something has startled him, he is excited or frightened.
  • When the crest is between relaxed and alert (half masked) it means that the cockatiel is inquisitive.
  • When their crest is plastered completely against their heads WATCH OUT this means that the bird is very angry and upset. This crest position is usually accompanied with hissing which means you are more than likely going to receive a bite if you don’t leave the bird to calm down.

COCKATIEL DANDER

Cockatiels are dusty birds and should not be purchased as a pet if an owner has breathing issues or allergies (Please speak to your doctor first before buying ANY species of parrot if you have breathing issues or allergies) The fine dust comes from their powder-down feathers. This powder keeps their feathers waterproof and clean. An air purifier can be a big help in a home with a dusty bird such as a Cockatiel or an African Grey. To help keep down the dander, cages should be kept spotless and regular baths should be given, at least 3 times a week.

DO COCKATIELS TALK?

Yes, cockatiels can learn to talk. However, they are not known to be the most proficient speakers in the bird kingdom. Males are more likely to learn to talk than females. Cockatiels are very good whistlers, and many will whistle more than they talk. Teaching any parrot to talk takes time and perseverance. Repeating the word in the same tone and in the correct context, will give the best results. The best times to teach a parrot to talk is in the morning, and early evening; both are times when parrots are naturally more vocal.

DO PARROTS NEED A MATE?

Yes, just like humans, birds need company. Parrots live in flocks; so instinctively they do better when they have a mate. Without company they can become depressed, feather pluck, scream, and take on all kinds of behavioural issues.

 

HOW DO I CATCH MY BIRD?

Catching a bird can be very stressful for both the owner and the bird.  The most effective and stress free way of catching a bird, is to make the room they in as dark as possible. Making the room dark temporally stuns the bird, and you can then catch it quickly. For more information on how to catch a bird read my article entitled “How to catch your bird easily

HOW DO I TAME MY BIRD?

The best way to tame your bird is within their cage. Taming within a cage means your bird will be safe, you won’t have to clip their wings, and you will have your bird’s full attention. In my article entitled “Taming a bird in the cage” I go into detail on how to start taming your bird, and how to teach your bird to step-up onto your hand.

IS A PARROT THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU

Believe it or not, some people shouldn't own a parrot! As harsh as that sounds, it is the truth, which is why SO MANY birds get re-homed over and over again to no fault of their own. Many people do not take the time to research just how difficult, time consuming and expensive it is to own a bird. Over the years, numerous people have complained to me that they just didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. For example, they didn’t realise birds need to see a specialised veterinarian, therefore, vet bills are higher because of the expertise required, often, resulting in many birds never receiving the care they desperately need because the owner has not considered the price of a specialised avian vet.
 
Parrots require A LOT of time and patience; they are not happy with a bit of attention occasionally. A bird will scream for your attention, and rightly so, they are very active and intelligent enough to require mental stimulation to prevent boredom. If you work all day, are a frequent traveller or love to take long vacations, then a parrot is not the right pet for you. Without adequate time and attention, they will become neurotic, withdrawn, unmanageable and probably develop many behavioural issues such as feather plucking, biting, screaming and some may begin to self-mutilate. Additionally, a parrot depending on the species, can live sixty plus years. If a cockatiel is taken care of it can live into its late twenties. When you buy a bird, it should be a life decision, often requiring you to add these birds into your will or asking family members to care for them when you die, which of course is a huge responsibility for that family member.
 
A few more things to consider before rushing out and buying a parrot are:
 
The space they require in your home; unless the bird is going to be out the cage for the majority of the day, require a very large cage to exercise. A bird’s entire body is built for flight, therefore, not allowing a bird to exercise and fly can lead to many physical ailments, as well as psychological issues such as depression, phobias, feather plucking etc. A parrot’s diet is also very important in order for the bird to stay healthy; a wide variety fresh food needs to be prepared and fed daily, if you are on a strict budget this can become expensive, however imperative, for the bird to live a long healthy life.

Personally, my heart breaks for all the thousands of neglected birds out there. Some are rehomed so many times they end up becoming just an empty shell; their spirits completely broken by mishandling and never knowing who to trust. They can never fully settle in their environment because they waiting to be dumped again at any moment by an ignorant owner. It is heart breaking to say the least…….
 

IS MY BIRD DEHYDRATED?

Birds hide their illness very well; often by the time the owner has spotted their bird is sick, they are now too weak to put on the “healthy bird act,” and they now need emergency treatment. By this time the bird is usually already quite dehydrated, especially if it has had diarrhoea or vomiting.

For information on how to spot symptoms of dehydration read my article entitled “Dehydration symptoms and recipe for parrots

IS MY BIRD IN SHOCK?

Any serious injury or illness can leave a bird in a state of shock. A bird in shock is a true medical emergency. For information on how to recognise symptoms that your bird maybe in shock, read my article entitled “A Bird in shock symptoms

 

IS MY BIRD MALE OR FEMALE

It can be quiet difficult sometimes to sex parrots, often the only way to be sure is by having a DNA test done. Cockatiels are quiet easy to distinguish between sexes just by watching their behaviour. To learn more about male and female cockatiel behaviour, read my article entitled “Male or female cockatiel

IS MY BIRD VOMITING?

Yes birds do vomit, and it means that the bird is sick and needs to see a vet ASAP! Many people confuse regurgitation and vomiting, which can be very dangerous because a bird can dehydrate quickly when vomiting. For more information on the difference between regurgitation and vomiting, read my article entitled “Vomiting or regurgitation

 

MY BIRD FLEW INTO A WALL

A bird may spook and fly into a wall or window; if this happens it is extremely important that the owner watches closely for signs of concussion. Firstly, the owner should remain calm and pick up the bird gently, all the time supporting the head (Do not allow your birds head to flop around) check your bird over for any visible injuries and then watch their behaviour closely. For information on signs of concussion read my article entitled “Concussion in birds

MY BIRD HATES MY FINGERS!

Many parrots hate fingers until they get used to them and don’t see them as a threat. Cockatiels are one species of parrot that often hate being petted, regardless of how tame they maybe. Owners sometimes handle the bird incorrectly on their hand, resulting in a bite. For more information on how to handle a bird correctly on your hand, and why many birds hate fingers, read my article entitled “Cockatiels hate fingers

MY BIRD IS NOT SINGING?

A healthy bird will be a vocal bird. Males are generally more vocal than females in some species of parrot. If your bird is usually chirpy or talkative and then becomes very quiet, this can be a cause for concern. One of the very first signs of illness is a bird becoming very quiet and withdrawn. A vet check is always recommended when a bird has a change in vocalisation or a change of voice. For additional information read my article entitled “Lack of vocalisation

MY BIRD SIPPED MY COFFEE

Caffeine is terribly detrimental to a parrots health and cause cardiac arrhythmia and death. Please never feed your birds caffeine! If your bird has sipped your coffee by mistake watch him closely. 

AUTHORS NOTE: I’ve unfortunately encountered too many owners that think it’s comical, clever, or even kind to have their birds drink coffee with them. I personally think such owners that know the dangers (have common sense) should not own birds. If they loved them they wouldn’t take such a terrible risk with their health and life.

MY BIRD WONT EAT VEGGIES

Birds that have not been introduced to fruit and vegetables at a young age, will take a bit of convincing to eat them when they are older. Birds will instinctively only eat what they are used to eating. But that does not mean that birds won’t try new foods. They are highly inquisitive creatures, and it won’t take too long before their curiosity gets the better of them.

One mistake that some owners do make; is that they are not consistent when introducing new food to their birds. When introducing new food to a toddler the mother does not give up, regardless how many times the child spits it out. The mother offers and encourages the child to eat those foods daily, and offers a wide variety of food. The parent gives lots of praise when the toddler eventually swallows the food. There is no difference between introducing food to a baby or a parrot. It has to be a daily event  with a wide variety of food, prepared in different ways.

QUARANTINE PERIOD FOR A NEW BIRD

You should quarantine your new bird for 8 weeks, this is the recommended time given by avian vets. A new bird may look healthy when you first pick it out at the pet store or breeder, however, the stress of the move can trigger symptoms of any underlining illnesses. The new bird should be vet checked in the same week you bring them home, then assessed again by the vet after the quarantine period is over. Quarantining a bird may seem daunting; however, it is to protect your healthy birds, as well as protecting your new bird if your own flock is poorly.

The quarantine period is an excellent opportunity to tame and bond with the bird, without him being distracted by his new flock mates.   

SHOULD I CLIP WINGS?

NO, sadly people do clip their bird’s wings as some owners are unaware of the physical and psychological damage it can have on their parrots. There are myths claiming that in order to tame a bird their freedom of flight has been taken away from them. That is nonsense, you can safely tame a bird without clipping. For more information on why it is NEVER a good idea to clip your bird’s wings, read my article entitled “Bird wing clipping".

For information on how to tame your bird without needing to clip their wings read my article entitled “Taming a bird in the cage

 

SHOULD I TRIM MY BIRDS BEAK MYSELF?

NO! Please don’t ever attempt to trim your bird’s beak yourself, unless instructed to by your vet that has given you detailed knowledge on how to do it correctly! A healthy bird does not have an over grown beak, many avian illnesses can cause the beak to over grow, such as liver disease. A vet would have to examine the bird to check for the underlying causes of the over grown beak, and then trim it professionally using the correct tools.

The beak is full of blood vessels and nerve endings, cut badly can leave your bird in severe pain and bleeding profusely! It can also leave the bird’s beak permanently disfigured and the bird unable to eat correctly or at all!

SHOULD I WEIGH MY BIRD?

Yes it is recommended to weigh your birds daily or at least weekly to spot first signs of illness. For more information read my article entitled “A parrots weight”.

WHAT CAGE LINER IS BEST TO USE?

The best cage liner to use is plain unprinted paper, or un-waxed butcher paper. 

WHAT CAGE SHOULD I BUY FOR MY PARROT?

When it comes to cages BIGGER IS ALWAYS BETTER! The size of the bird doesn’t matter, whether you are buying a cage for a Budgie, Finch, Cockatiel or a large Macaw, they all need a huge amount of space. Parrots such as cockatiels are incredibly acrobatic, they require a very large cage! Bar spacing is also extremely important for the safety of the bird. 

 

WHAT DOES FORAGING MEAN?

Foraging is one activity which takes up a huge portion of a parrot’s day in the wild. What does foraging mean? Foraging requires you to NOT have food available in one stationary source; rather, to have the bird find the food themselves. So, this can be achieved by hiding food in paper wrappers, boxes , foraging toys, hanging food, spreading food on the bottom of the cage, placing different food in various cups around the cage , threading food though cage bars , cracking open seed pods and nuts , feeding from safe grasses, flowers and plants. How much healthier does this sound already? In comparison with having their diet in a bowl, in the exact same place day in day out?! 

 

WHY DO COCKATIELS HISS ?

Cockatiels hiss when they are angry or scared. When they hiss the owner should allow the cockatiel to calm down. A cockatiel will hiss often as a warning before they bite.For more information on why they hiss, read my article entitled "cockatiel hissing".

WHY IS MY BIRD BITING ME?

One thing all owners should know from the first day they bring their new bird home is that parrots ONLY bite for a very good reason! There are many reasons why parrots bite and it is the owner’s job to learn to read their body language to respect what they don’t like and to avoid the bite. Biting is not common in the wild, because the birds can read each other’s body language and they back off at the warning signals before there is any confrontation.

Some owners are their own worst enemy because they reward their birds for biting... And they do this by giving them DRAMA! A parrot loves drama, screaming “Ouch”! , shaking their hands about, and screaming “NAUGHTY BOY”, is so much fun for the bird. So the parrot ends up getting what they want and a free show. For more information on why parrots bite please read the article entitled “Parrot biting”

AUTHOURS NOTE: When I want my own parrots to learn something quickly, I put a bit of drama into it when they listen. I use a great deal of enthusiasm and put on a little show for them. I will do a little dance or clap my hands (not too loud obviously) and tell them how wonderful they are etc. It’s not too long before they are very willing to do my request over and over again. So when teaching a good behaviour, it is worth giving them lots of praise and a bit of entertainment. (Of course giving healthy treats for good behaviour works too)

WHY IS MY BIRD FLUFFED UP ?

Parrots can fluff up their feathers for a few reasons, when they are cold, when they are relaxing/sleeping or when they are sick and trying to keep warm. If your bird is fluffed up constantly check your room temperature to see if it’s not too cold for your bird. If it’s not cold then it means your bird is sick and needs to see a vet. This is one of the first signs of illness that owners notice. For more information read my article entitled "Signs of illness in parrots"

WHY IS MY PARROT SNEEZING ?

Parrots, like humans can sneeze when a little dust gets up their nostrils.Parrots usually don’t sneeze that often unless their environment is very dusty and dirty. If your parrot is sneezing often and its environment is clean, the excess sneezing can be a sign of illness.

WHY WILL MY BIRD NOT TRY NEW FOOD

I want to try and put this into perspective. If someone came right this very second to your home, picked you up and dropped you in the middle of the jungle and told you to live off the land for a month, what would be your first thought? Mine would be how am I going to survive as I do not know what I can and can-not eat in the jungle. The jungle is full of berries, plants, flowers, herbs, fruits etc, however, I would fearful that eating the wrong thing would kill me. I’m sure I would eventually take a tiny nibble of something, wait to see if it had any effect, if not and if it didn’t taste too bad consume the whole thing.

Birds are taught by their parents what is safe to eat, and if hand reared by the breeder introducing new foods while weaning. If that bird has never been weaned onto healthy foods, then it does not know that broccoli is edible and safe to eat. However, by offering it daily, the bird will become curious and take a tiny nibble, if it tastes good, they will start to recognise it as food and consume more each time it is placed in the cage.

If the introduction of a particular food is not persistent the bird will never have time to become curious enough to take that first step and nibble to try it out. When I rescued one of my budgies, she had been fed nothing but the cheapest pet shop own branded seed, £1 it cost that is how poor quality it was. It took me 6 weeks of placing one floret of broccoli and one slice of apple in her cage every single day without fail before she tried it. I still remember the day she did try it for the first time, I froze as I didn’t want to move and disturb her. From that day she was quick to sample a wide variety of new foods. Persistence is the key when it comes to introducing new foods. You have got to offer it in multiple ways to make it look enticing enough to try it.

Put yourself in your birds’ shoes, would you have burst into that jungle and started eating things you had never seen in your life, or would you have taken the time to think about what may be safe and build up the courage to eventually sample something? Have patience, these things take time.
In my book “What the flock do I feed my parrot?” I have listed many ways to introduce new foods as well as giving numerous recipes of yummy treats with healthy foods hidden for the very picky eaters. The book is available on amazon.

A cockatiel

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