Cockatiels and Lovebirds

A small introduction

Warning: This is just an intro page. I am not a trained aviculturalist. This is not and should not be your final guide to bird-keeping!! IF YOUR BIRD IS SICK OR INJURED PLEASE TAKE IT TO AN AVIAN VET!!!

I'm limiting this to cockatiels and lovebirds because I have only owned two cockatiels and one lovebird (and a bunch of untame budgies). Larger parrots share much in common with these smaller members of the family, but their needs and their abilities differ greatly.

If you are planning on getting a pet bird, or are a new owner, I highly recommend the magazine BIRD TALK. In addition, you should buy/borrow books on bird keeping at a library, bookstore, or good petstore. And definitely locate a good, qualified avian vet right away, if you haven't already! He or she will be much more qualified to answer your health/medical questions than me.

Other related pages at this site:


Cockatiels are small, usually grey birds with a movable crest, long tail, and white "racing stripes" on their wings. (They are, by the way, native to Australia and I think are considered desert birds.) They are also available in all white, and all sorts of other shades of grey. Mostly, the color doesn't matter (though white ones are said to be more prone to panic). Adult males usually have a yellow face, which often, but not always, distinguishes them from the females (two of the biggest exceptions to this rule are with Lutino cockatiels (cockatiels without the grey pigment), in which both genders have yellow faces, and apparently adult pied cockatiel males may have grey faces like females!).

In general sweet-tempered, a tame cockatiel will often love to do things like: take showers with you, wolf-whistle, eat off your plate of spaghetti, demand headscratches, demand to be let on your shoulder for a ride, and in general make cute noises and ask to be picked up and played with. If they learn to associate crackers or corn chips with the sound of crinkling bags, beware! You'll have a cockatiel demanding whatever crunchy food it is you're eating out of a bag. Cockatiels are generally quiet and clean, but they produce lots of "cockatiel dust," which resembles a cross between dandruff and fine grey greasy powder.

(Tiels compared to lovebirds) Cockatiels seem more content to just generally hang out on your person than the more active lovebirds (which would climb all over you and explore sleeves, collars, etc.); however, in my experience, they don't like a lot of physical touching (except for having their heads scratched), and they are more flighty (literally) than lovebirds. They are also active in demanding headscratches by plunking their heads down or by butting your face :) Their voices can be piercing and persistent but nothing like a shrieking lovebird! Their biting style tends to be rapid and not as precisely and deliberately applied as a lovebird's, but it can still hurt! Finally, older cockatiels are apparently far more easy to tame than lovebirds (especially with poor hand-feeding or no hand-feeding).

Cockatiels do have some minimum maintenance requirements: they want nice big cages (big enough for them to stretch their wings), and they should be converted to a high-nutrition diet. This means DO NOT LET THEM EAT JUST SEEDS if at all possible. A good choice is to feed them a diet of pet bird pellets (but NOT JUST pellets), fresh veggies, and treats like whole-grain bread, bits of chicken meat, boiled egg (boil for at least 15 minutes), and an occasional bit of fresh seed. (Recently, vets are finding that too much of a dry pellet diet can cause problems like kindey failure from lack of moisture - fresh, moist food is good, as is some percentage of seed.) If your bird refuses to eat new foods, though, certainly don't let it starve! Work with patience. It's the owner's job to get to know the pet and its needs, and to help introduce it to healthy foods safely.

A cockatiel also needs companionship. If you can't devote at least 15 minutes to half an hour per day of intensive company to your bird, either don't get it in the first place, or buy it a cockatiel companion (make sure to quarantine the new bird for at least a month first, though).

A hand-fed cockatiel (which comes "pre-tamed") will range in price from $40 to $130. Look for an alert (and curious!) bird with clean feathers, a clean vent, clear eyes, and good posture; make sure the pet shop or breeder keeps the cages, food bowls, and water bowls mostly clean as well. See if the seller has a guarantee --- a contract that says you can bring back the bird if an avian veterinarian's exam shows the bird is sick. Birds hide sickness very well (it's a bird thing), and so careful tests must be made. Here are some beginners' guidelines.

Female vs. male difference: from what I have observed of my male cockatiel, I agree with the general assertion that males seem to be quite vocal and somewhat easily offended - watch for a personality change after adolescence (as happens with some male cockatoos). Mine, for example, earned the title of "hissy bird" when he got into one of his bad moods (it doesn't help that he was a morning bird and I'm a night owl). But if you want a bird that's likely to learn to whistle short tunes or maybe talk, a male is a good choice (they're cute when they sit on your shoulder intently staring at you as you whistle). Too bad our first 'tiel, Torque, was tone deaf! Females supposedly are mellower and just love to snuggle, but they are quieter than males. However, young birds are all colored like adult females, and most cockatiels are generally sweet birds (even when in a bad mood, they mostly just squeal and attack your fingers without causing real pain or damage). In other words, don't worry about it too much.

Cockatiels can live from 15 to 25 years, with good care. The record holder is in his thirties.


Lovebirds, little green or yellow birds with orange, pink, and blue highlights, are smaller than cockatiels, but you wouldn't know it by watching them. They're much louder, generating high-pitched shrieks that could wake the dead. They're also far more active, preferring to do things like run in hamster running wheels (shop carefully so you don't get one that might injure your bird), climb up and down ladders, hang from things, shred toys, and generally expend lots of energy, rather than sit around and be mellow like a cockatiel. They're also aggressive little birds; a lovebird often gets away with bullying a much larger bird (and quiet, peaceful cockatiels are easy victims!). (Lovebirds, by the way, are originally from Africa. Contrary to what I wrote before, the peach-faced lovebird habitat apparently is a lot drier than your average jungle.)

But tame lovebirds can also be extremely cute and adorable. They're curious, intelligent little birds, who love to climb down T-shirts, explore pockets, sit on shoulders, take baths in the kitchen sink, and play with watches, eye-glasses and anything else that looks interesting. A tame lovebird will cheep and dance to be picked up and played with, and it's hard to ignore their little beady black hopeful eyes.

(Lovebirds compared to cockatiels) In my opinion, lovebirds tend to be more willful, mischievous, and exploratory than adult cockatiels, and they are also more willing (if you're good friends) to let you do things like gently turn them over on the palm of your hand (my tiels never allow this). They are a bit less flighty, but they can be just as wary, and if they do fly and land on the floor, they can be very hard to see (and hence easier to step on) because at least my bird tends to become very quiet and just scuttle around silently. Don't forget that lovebirds have a piercing shriek that outdoes cockatiel whistling in volume and ear-pain -- and when they feel ignored, they have shrieking loud ear-piercing temper tantrums! They also tend to bite harder when annoyed; training them to bite less is very important - if you succeed your lovebird may well bite less frequently than the average male cockatiel (but you will probably never get a completely bite-free bird, because just like any friendship, you will piss the bird off on occasion if you interact with him enough). I also have the impression lovebirds potty train more easily than cockatiels.

Lovebirds should be bought hand-fed, if you hope to get a tame pet out of your purchase. Their prices are generally less expensive than cockatiels; here in Boston, they tend to be about $80. The same criteria apply for buying lovebirds as cockatiels: healthy, alert, clean birds in a clean, caring environment.

Lovebirds should also be converted to pellets as part of their diet, and should also be introduced to new foods like broccoli and lettuce as soon as safely possible. (See the cockatiel section above.) Like cockatiels, lovebirds need attention from their owners. Lovebirds can be a little nippy, but with discipline they tend to straighten out.

Female vs. male: I've heard that the opposite of cockatiels is true of lovebirds; the female lovebirds are supposedly more aggressive than the males. Our male is a sweet, if sometimes obnoxious, little bird. Once we taught him that biting is bad (by lightly shaking whatever he was perched on when he bit -- what I call the "earthquake" method), he quickly learned to enjoy things like head scratches and being carried around. "Cute" is defined as a little lovebird head peeking out of a shirt-sleeve, very obviously perfectly content to be where he is.

Lovebirds can live from 10 to 20 years, with good care.

Important notes:

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