Conservation status Least concern
A wild cockatiel
Psittacus hollandicus Kerr, 1792
The cockatiel is a small parrot of the Cacatuidae family. Like some other cockatoos, as for example the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the cockatiel has an erectible crest. Cockatiels and cockatoos in general also share other features, such as the facial feathers covering the sides of the beak, which are rarely - if ever - found outside the Cacatuidae family. In contrast to most cockatoos, the cockatiel has long tail feathers, roughly making up half of its total length. The cockatiel's distinctive pointed yellow crest is held erect when startled or excited, while a crest slightly tilted indicates a relaxed state of mind.
The plumage is generally mid-grey, lighter underneath, with an almost perfectly round orange patch of feathers covering the ear opening (usually referred to as a "cheek patch") and a prominent white blaze on the wings. A row of yellowish spots can be found underneath the wings of female cockatiels, but not on the males. Some other mutations exist, such as the Lutino, which lacks black and grey color, being a light yellow colour overall. Female Lutinos also have barred tail feathers. Both the cock and the hen have yellow facial feathers: the female has a yellow wash around the beak and eye, in the male, yellow covers most of the head and the fore part of the crest. Male cockatiels are very protective and nurturing of their offspring and are known to be very capable of raising their newborns if the mother is unable to.
This is the only species in its genus Nymphicus. Its relationships were long disputed; it was usually placed into a monotypic subfamily Nymphicinae or even allied with the broad-tailed parrots. But while most other cockatoos are 500 mm to 600 mm in length, cockatiels are normally 300 mm to 330 mm. There are several significant characteristics that ally cockatiels with cockatoos though, including an erectile crest, a gallbladder, and powder down patches.
Mitochondrial 12S rRNA sequence data (Brown & Toft, 1999) has finally resolved the question of its affinities by placing it in the "dark cockatoo" subfamily closest to the genus Calyptorhynchus. The unusual, parakeet-like appearance is a consequence of the decrease in size and accompanying change of ecological niche. In spite of all its unique adaptations, features such as the dark plumage, the barred feathers of the female and the orange cheek patch are clear morphological indications of its affinities.
The cockatiel's scientific name Nymphicus hollandicus reflects the experience of one of the earliest groups of Europeans to see cockatiels in their native habitat. Travellers thought they were so beautiful that they named them after the mythical creatures, the nymphs (Nymphicus means literally "little nymph"). The species name refers to New Holland, an old name for Australia.
Cockatiels are native only to Australia where they are found largely in arid or semi-arid country, but always near water. Sometimes hundreds will flock around a single such body of water. They are absent from the most fertile southwest and southeast corners of the country, the deepest Western Australian deserts, and Cape York Peninsula. They are the only cockatoo species that can breed in their first year.
Cockatiels as Pets
Cockatiels are popular household pets in many parts of the world. Today all pet cockatiels are bred in captivity, as Australia no longer permits the export of native wildlife, whether endangered or not. Pet cockatiels have been bred to have many different colorations (called mutations). Mutations include lutino, pearl, cinnamon, pied, fallow, recessive and dominant silver, whiteface, pastelface, yellowcheek, and olive or 'spangled.'
Mutations can appear both individually or in a wide variety of combinations such as lutino pearl, whiteface pied, and whiteface lutino (which is often called albino, but is not a true form of albinism). Still fairly hard to find is the rather new 'olive' mutation. An olive cockatiel does not actually have green pigment to its plumage, but rather an overlapping pattern of yellow and grey that create the illusion of a greenish cast.
Many mutations retain the black eyes, beak, nails and grey feet of the normal grey cockatiels, however the lutino, cinnamon and fallow mutations have pink to deep plum red eyes, pink toenails and feet, and a horn colored beak. While most mutations persist into adulthood for all cockatiels, certain mutations like pearl are molted out in the males and retained in the adult females. Sex-linked mutations such as lutino and cinnamon have a higher ratio of female offspring to male due to the mode of inheritance from parents to offspring.
If hand-fed as chicks, cockatiels can form strong bonds with their owners. Otherwise quiet birds will frequently make contact calls with their owners, calls that sometimes can be quite loud if the person is out of sight. Their popularity as pets is in part because of their calm and timid temperament, to the point that they can even be bullied by smaller but more confident birds such as Budgerigars. Great care and supervision should be provided when mixing cockatiels with other birds. It is not uncommon at all for a larger or smaller bird to maim the cockatiel, creating life-long disabilities and potentially life threatening injuries. However, some cockatiels can "scrap."
Although cockatiels are part of the parrot order, they are better at imitating whistles than speech. Some do learn to repeat phrases, and the males are generally better at mimicry than the females. Cockatiels can mimic many sounds, for example the bleep of a car alarm, a ringing telephone, or the calls of other bird species such as blue jays or chickadees.
- BirdLife International (2004). Nymphicus hollandicus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 06 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
- Brown, D.M. & Toft, C.A. (1999): Molecular systematics and biogeography of the cockatoos (Psittaciformes: Cacatuidae). Auk 116(1): 141-157.
- Cockatiel Information, images, quick information, health, news, chat, links, survival guide, and photo contest. Voting has begun!
- bittybirds.com Photo collection of Cockatiels
- Pacific Crest: The Cockatiel Resource General information about the care of cockatiels
- National Cockatiel Society
- The Happy Cockatiel Music Page
- North American Cockatiel Society
- Cockatiel Behavior Page
- Cockatiel Cottage Great resource for the care of Cockatiels