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When my son turned 11, we started talking seriously about getting him a pet of his own; one he'd have to take full responsibility for. We spent eight months searching for the right fit, and finally decided on a cockatiel. (read more)
IS A COCKATIEL A GOOD FAMILY PET?
When we were deciding on a pet for my son, we did a lot of research. Basically, if I'm being totally honest, I was trying to wear him down.
I needed to know that if we got this pet, he would take care of it. I already have two dogs, two kids, and all the jobs mom has to do, so I absolutely did not want another animal to take care of.
This meant I had him research every pet he thought he might want, and I gave him guidelines to rule out any pets I definitely was not on board with.
No more dogs
It had to live in his room
Nothing that was known to be smelly
Once we had those guidelines in place, he set about finding things he thought he would like.
Every month or so we would hit up a pet store to look at the pets that had made the list that month. We held hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats (shudder), and looked at parakeets, love birds, finches, conures, cockatiels, and ferrets.
BTW - Rats are SUPER smart. I just couldn't get past the tail.
Anyhow, we quickly ruled out anything rodent like just because we do have two dogs and both have very high prey drives when it comes to small, four legged animals.
That left us with bird choices, which we easily narrowed down to two. A cockatiel, or a budgie (parakeet).
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IS A COCKATIEL BETTER THAN A BUDGIE?
My son really wanted an animal that would interact with him; one that would sleep while he slept and be awake while he was awake. I was sure a bird could fit the second criteria, but I wasn't sure about the first.
Are cockatiels smart? Are cockatiels friendly? Are cockatiels cuddly? Do cockatiels bite?
These were all things I needed to know.
I knew from researching that cockatiels do tend to be slightly smarter than budgies because they have bigger brains, and I knew that the bigger the bird, the more easily it can adapt to different situations. This was important for us because we tend to travel out of town as a family once a year. During that time, the bird would be either alone or would only have someone checking in on him once every couple of days.
The last thing I wanted was a bird that would stress itself to death during our ski trips. As a parent, that's just not something I want to have to explain to my kids.
With those factors in mind, we ruled out budgies and focused on cockatiels.
It was time to dig deeper and ask the big question, "Is a cockatiel a good pet for an 11 year old boy?"
After all, this was going to be his pet, til death do us part.
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THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE BUYING A COCKATIEL
ARE COCKATIELS LOUD? - Yes, they really can be. We ended up with a male, which my son picked out when he went to the breeder's house and saw all the birds. We knew that males were more likely to vocalize, so he stood and listened, trying to find the bird who seemed to have the most to say.
Boy did he choose the bird with the most to say. Tuko is very vocal. He wakes up whistling and only really stops if you're paying direct attention to him, if he's eating, or if he's getting tired and wants to go to bed.
He whistles all day long. It can get really old, so be prepared, especially if you choose a male bird.
Also, the louder you are, the louder your bird is. He/She wants to be heard. So, if you have kids who are rowdy, like mine, expect your bird to add some really loud chirps to the fray.
Side Note - I will make a separate post about purchasing a pet store cockatiel vs purchasing a hand raised cockatiel.
SHOULD I GET A MALE OR FEMALE COCKATIEL? - This will depend on your preference. If you want a bird that is more likely to whistle, talk, mimic, and really interact, I have read that males are where you want to be. If you want a bird that is less likely to demand attention and not be quite so chirpy all day, a female might be a better choice.
ARE COCKATIELS DIRTY? - In some aspects, yes they are. I mean, they do poop wherever they want, so that's a BIG thing to consider. You are going to be cleaning bird poop on a regular basis. My son had a hard time when he realized just how much poop was involved. Now though, he does it without complaint, or I shut off the internet to his devices until it gets done.
Thanks for that, by the way, Google Wifi.
The birds themselves tend to be very clean, grooming frequently, but they don't potty train (easily) and they flick seeds all over the place when they eat.
Some of the seed flicking can be mitigated by purchasing a good mess free cockatiel feeder, and by purchasing a cockatiel cage with a seed catcher.
Truly though, if you're not all about cleaning up bird poop when your cockatiel is out of the cage, a bird might not be for you.
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DO COCKATIELS BITE? - Yes, they do, frequently. That said, ours has never broken the skin. I don't know if it's because he was hand raised or because he's just not super bitey, but I do know that if a cockatiel wants to, he can bite you and make you bleed. Don't underestimate that tiny beak.
Our bird lets us know when he needs alone time. He might want to sit on your shoulder and sing in your ear, but God forbid you try to scritch his neck if he's not feeling the love.
DO COCKATIELS TALK? - From what I've read, the males especially can after much repetition, but it's not super common. So, if you're good with whistling, but not good with having a bird repeat a word you said in frustration, cockatiels are a pretty safe bet. They're just not your typical talking bird, having small brains. That said, it does happen, never say never.
DO COCKATIELS SMELL? - No, not even a little bit. They smell like a bird, which to me has always smelled like paper? I know that sounds weird, but I really think Tuko smells exactly the same as when you open a fresh ream of paper.
Although, when he flew away for 20 hours on Christmas Eve, he smelled different when we got him back, like outside, if that makes sense.
They definitely aren't smelly animals.
OUR COCKATIEL FLEW AWAY FOR 20 HOURS
ARE COCKATIELS EXPENSIVE? - This is going to depend on whether you buy a bird from a breeder or a pet store, but even then I'm going to say the difference in cost is minimal. I think when we were looking at birds, the pet store birds were around $70. The bird we purchased from a breeder was $100.
That said, you will need things to go along with your cockatiel.
I'll definitely have to write another post about the things you'll need when you bring your new cockatiel home, but for now you can read my post about what you need if you leave your bird while you go on vacation, since the basics are all there.
Once you add up the cost of the bird and it's accessories, you're probably looking at a minimum of $300.
ARE COCKATIELS EASY TO CARE FOR? - They really are. My son gets up each morning and replaces Tuko's food and water. He cleans the perches of poop, and cleans the cage (changing the pads and cleaning perches) once each week.
Other than that, the only thing you really need to think about is giving your cockatiel attention, especially if you only have one bird, like we do. A lone cockatiel will see you as its flock, it will want to spend a lot of time with you, and it will not do well if it's left in its cage for days on end.
Since we homeschool, our cockatiel is out of his cage for something like 10 hours a day. Pretty much from the time my kids wake up until it's time for Tuko to go to bed (as soon as it gets dark). Males especially are like children, they want you, they want to spend time with you, and if you can't give them that time, they're not going to have a very happy life.
ARE COCKATIELS DESTRUCTIVE? - Yes, they are. If they decide something is interesting, they're going to tear it up. Think of a baby, anything they want to examine goes in their mouth. A cockatiel is the same way. If you leave papers, boxes, toys, cords, or anything even mildly fragile around the house, your bird might destroy it. At the time of this post I have replaced my son's computer cord twice, and have fixed the newest one with electrical tape. Tuko has also chewed through a pair of earbuds, and countless pieces of paper, some of which were important.
That's not even mentioning the time he found a lead pellet from a spilled bottle of pellets that came with my son's Christmas gift two years before we got Tuko. It must have been behind a night stand or something, and he found it. He got lead poisoning, it sucked. They are into everything.
I'll post a video talking about that below, just so you can see that you really do have to make sure you haven't left anything out that can hurt them if they chew it.
As an author, I donate my book series to my local library. I have to buy my own books and then donate them. I once made the mistake of leaving a few of the books on the counter while I got ready to run them over to the library. Tuko chewed them so badly that I couldn't donate them. They were on the counter for maybe 15 minutes.
My family and I do Universal Yums each month. Sometimes we let Tuko wander the table as we try our snacks from whichever country we have that month. This is what he did to the flag when we had The UK. Again, he was on the table for about 10 minutes.
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LEAD POISONING VIDEO
This has been an ordeal for us, almost four months of heartache, money spent, tons of vet visits, and realizing that Cockatiel's really are like flying toddlers. Tuko is going to be fine, but it took awhile to get there. If you'd like to listen to that story, here's the video.
DO COCKATIELS NEED A LOT OF ATTENTION? - If the paragraph above didn't clue you in, then let me do that now. Absolutely, they need a lot of attention, especially if you get a male, and especially if you don't have another bird. Cockatiels are flock animals, when you buy one, you become their flock. They will reward you with their lifelong devotion, but in return, they expect you to be with them OFTEN.
Here's my son's needy bird letting me scritch him.
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IS A COCKATIEL THE RIGHT
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