5 Things You Don’t Know About Cockatiels

Cockatiels are phenomenal birds and perhaps the most popular bird I see in my veterinary practice these days. Why are these little animals so beloved? Here are five facts about cockatiels that may surprise you.

1. Cockatiels make great first pets — feathered or otherwise.

Without a doubt, cockatiels, which are one of the smaller species of pet parrots, are the first bird I recommend for new pet owners or families, especially those with elementary school-age children or older. They are large enough to be sturdy in the hands of a child (although always under adult supervision, please!) but not so large that they are daunting. They are extremely social and love spending time with their human flock mates. They clearly recognize their caretakers and are responsive to their voices. They are fairly easy to care for, so they can be perfect first birds for people or families learning about the responsibilities of having a pet and/or the unique care needs of birds.

2. Cockatiels are extremely smart and can be taught to talk and do tricks.

Search YouTube, and you’ll find hundreds of videos showing cockatiels dancing, singing and hamming it up. People love to see birds do silly things, and cockatiels love to perform for rewards. Simply offer them a treat right after they complete a behavior, and the performance of the behavior will be reinforced. Reward this behavior repeatedly over time, and the bird will eventually perform it in anticipation of the treat.

3. Cockatiels are relatively long lived.

Many people think that only large parrots can live a long time, but when cared for properly with proper nutrition and preventive medical care, cockatiels can live to be 20 or older. The oldest reported cockatiel is nearly 30 years old. The longevity of these birds makes them attractive as pets for people who want a long-lived pet with whom they can bond like a family member.

4. Cockatiels come in a variety of feather patterns and colors.

When you hear “cockatiel,” most people picture the typical wild-type gray-and-white-feathered bird with a yellow head and pretty orange cheek patches. Though wild-type birds are certainly the most common type of cockatiel, these attractive birds can actually have many different feather colors and patterns. The variety is due to genetic mutations of the gray wild type. Cockatiels can have not only varied feather colors but also varied eye and skin colors. For example, some cockatiels have red eyes, while others have dark, or may have gray skin on their feet, while others have pink.

5. Cockatiels need preventive medical care, just like dogs, cats and people.

Most of us take our dogs and cats (and, I hope, ourselves) to the doctor for checkups regularly, so why not our birds? As they age, birds are subject to developing many of the same conditions we develop, such as kidney failure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries with fat deposits) and arthritis. Many of these conditions can be prevented or at least treated when caught early with diagnostic testing, such as blood analysis and X-rays. Unfortunately, many cockatiel owners wait to take their pets to the vet until they are showing signs of illness, and at that point, disease may be so far advanced that it’s difficult to treat. To stay happy and healthy, cockatiels need to be fed proper nutrients, including calcium and protein, and should be screened annually for disease.

The bottom line is this: With advice from a bird-savvy veterinarian on how to provide appropriate daily at-home care and regular veterinary attention, these feisty little birds can make wonderful and long-lived companions!

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Why Does My Rabbit… Not Eat Hay?

Many healthy rabbits will turn up their noses at hay because they are offered excessive amounts of pelleted food. This is because most rabbits prefer pellets to hay. Rabbit pellets are predominantly made of carbohydrates, and like most people, rabbits love their carbs and will choose them over fiber (hay). The general rule for healthy adult bunnies is no more than one-quarter cup of timothy hay-based pellets per 5 pounds of body weight each day. Growing and lactating (nursing) rabbits sometimes need more pellets in order to consume adequate calories (ask your veterinarian for feeding advice if you own a rabbit in one of these life stages), but for most bunnies, this is enough.

Adult rabbits can get all the nutrients they need from good quality hay and don’t actually need pellets. Hay should be the main food item a rabbit eats, and you cannot overfeed him. Timothy is usually the hay of choice, but orchard grass, oat hay and meadow grass hay are also suitable for healthy adult bunnies. Most owners purchase bags of loose hay at pet stores, although hay cubes are another acceptable, though less common, option. Both forms of fiber are fine as long as the hay is relatively fresh and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for months (check the label). Certainly, if a rabbit that normally eats hay abruptly stops doing so, he should be examined by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure nothing is wrong, such as a dental problem or gastrointestinal upset. Rabbits are prone to both conditions.

While your rabbit should primarily consume hay, pellets contain carbohydrates and can be helpful in aiding thin rabbits to maintain or gain weight. Pellets are fine to feed in limited quantities, but should not be fed to the degree that they discourage your rabbit from eating his hay.

Why Does My Bird… Like to Hide Under the Paper in Her Cage?

Many birds like to hide under cage paper as part of normal playful behavior. Commonly, female birds will hide under cage paper when they are reproductively active and trying to build nests.

Hiding is of no concern at all unless birds become obsessed with this behavior and with egg laying to the point that they are not eating or drinking or interacting with their owners. Should this behavior last more than a day, the bird’s owner should contact a bird-savvy veterinarian as soon as possible so that the bird does not become dehydrated.