Cockatiel Care 101 – Diet, Enrichment, and Health

Young girl with pet cockatiel at veterinarian's office

Author: Dr. Veronica Pardini, DVM, CertAqVET
Published: May 31, 2024

Cockatiels are charming birds that are full of personality! These playful birds can be very affectionate and will bring joy to any home. Ensuring their well-being involves a combination of proper nutrition, a comfortable living environment, and engaging playtime activities. This guide aims to offer valuable insights from nutrition to playtime, so your little bird can have a happy and healthy life!

Albino cockatiel eating from metal dish

Cockatiel Nutrition 101: The Essential Components of Your Bird’s Diet

Seed Mixes vs. Pellets

Cockatiels, much like many parrot species, are frequently provided with a diet based of seed mixes. While seeds offer a palatable option, opting for a well-balanced pellet diet provides a more nutritionally complete choice.

Ongoing studies are essential to fully understand the optimal diet for our little companions. Presently, the recommendation is to offer pellets daily, accompanied by a measured portion of approximately two teaspoons of a high-quality seed mix. It is advisable to choose a seed mix with no sunflower seeds, with ZuPreem’s Sensible Seed standing out as an excellent option.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Make your cockatiel’s diet more fun and nutritious by incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider adding these tasty options: parsley, dill, and cilantro, which are often preferred over larger leaf varieties.

Offer nutrient-rich choices such as sprouts, broccoli, a medley of squash, green beans, and peppers. For extra sweetness and added vitamins, offer treats like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, figs, kiwi, persimmons, mango, and lychee.


With the proper diet, cockatiels do not typically require supplements. However, for those who prefer an extra layer of caution (especially for egg-laying females), a good addition to their cage is a cuttlebone.


Make sure your cockatiel has access to fresh, clean water at all times. While I find that a bowl is the optimal method to provide water for most birds, there are alternative options such as water bottles and dispensers. Regardless of the chosen method, the key is to make sure that your feathered friends have a consistent and clean supply of water to meet their hydration needs.

Two cockatiels on perch in cage

Cockatiel Housing: There’s No Place Like Home

Cage Size

Despite their small size, cockatiels are incredibly active birds! It’s crucial to provide them with a large space to move freely within their cage. Include at least two perches spaced sufficiently apart, allowing them the opportunity to jump or fly between them. While a cage size of 20-24 inches square is the minimum, if you can opt for a larger enclosure, it is highly recommended.


Cockatiels, like many birds, greatly benefit from a diverse range of perch sizes within their environment. Varied perch sizes contribute to optimal foot health. Different perch diameters simulate the varying surfaces birds would encounter in their natural habitats, promoting healthy feet and reducing the risk of pododermatitis.

When it comes to selecting perches, consider incorporating natural branches, rope perches, and platforms with varying thickness.


Providing your cockatiel with toys provides many benefits – supporting both the physical and mental health of your bird.  When selecting toys, it’s important to choose safe, stimulating options to keep your bird healthy and engaged.  From chew toys to interactive, noise makers, offer a variety daily.

Foraging Toys

Conceal treats within toys that require effort to access, encouraging problem-solving and mental stimulation.

Chew Toys

Birds have an instinct to chew. Offer safe, bird-friendly materials like wooden blocks or natural fiber toys to satisfy this instinct and promote beak health.

Interactive Toys

Toys that produce sounds, such as bells or toys with mirrors, can captivate a cockatiel’s attention and keep them entertained.

Swinging Perches

Swings not only provide physical exercise but also offer a change in scenery, enriching their environment.

Rotate Toys Regularly

Keep the environment dynamic by rotating toys every 2 weeks. This guarantees continued interest and engagement.

Woman petting cockatiel perched on her shoulder

Bonding With Your Bird: There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Fun!

Spending quality time with your bird is essential for building a strong bond and a trusting relationship. Allow your feathered friend to become familiar with your presence by spending consistent, positive moments together.

Clicker training is a fantastic method to enhance communication and reinforce positive behavior. By associating the sound of a clicker with treats and praise, you create a language that your bird can understand. This form of positive reinforcement not only strengthens your bond but also provides cognitive stimulation.

Remember, each bird is unique, so it’s crucial to respect their preferences and pace during interactions. Patience, gentleness, and a consistent approach will go a long way in developing a trusting connection with your pet.

Playtime and Mental Stimulation

Here are some tips on how to make playtime enjoyable for both you and your cockatiel:

Interactive Play

Engage in interactive play by using toys that you can manipulate. This could include dangling toys for them to grab or rolling a small ball for them to chase.

Obstacle Courses

Create simple obstacle courses using perches, toys, and other bird-safe items. This adds an element of physical activity and mental stimulation.

Treats and Foraging

Hide treats in toys or create foraging opportunities to keep your cockatiel mentally engaged. This mimics their instinct to search for food.

Musical Instruments

Cockatiels often enjoy musical sounds. Offer small, safe musical instruments or play gentle music during playtime.

Quality Time Together

Spend time interacting with your cockatiel during playtime. Gently talk to them, sing, or mimic their sounds.

Always be mindful of your cockatiel’s body language and preferences during playtime. If they show signs of fatigue or disinterest, allow them to rest.

Young girl with pet cockatiel at veterinarian's office

Veterinary Care for Cockatiels: Prevention is The Best Medicine!

Before welcoming a new feathered companion into your home, it’s crucial to locate a nearby avian veterinarian. Establishing a relationship with a trusted, qualified veterinarian is an important, proactive step that will help ensure your bird receives proper care – both preventatively and in times of potential emergencies.   

Annual Wellness Exams

Annual wellness exams are imperative for the well-being of cockatiels, encompassing a thorough physical examination, radiographs, and blood work.

Signs of a Potential Emergency  

Are you familiar with the signs of an ill bird? There are a number of symptoms that can indicate a serious health issue with your cockatiel that should be evaluated right away. Always remember that timely intervention is key to maintaining your bird’s health. 

Signs your cockatiel may be sick include:

  • Excessive sleeping
  • Changes in your bird’s droppings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Regurgitation

Caring for a cockatiel is a rewarding journey that requires dedication and attention to detail. By understanding their nutritional needs, providing a comfortable living environment, and engaging in playtime activities, you’ll create a happy home for your beloved bird.


Featured articles

Top categories

Want a quick tour of Help Scout?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Related posts

Scroll to Top