Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)

Also known as: cockatoo parrot, crested parrot, quarrion, weero, weiro
Synonyms: Psittacus hollandicus
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyPsittacidae
GenusNymphicus (1)
SizeLength: 29 - 33 cm (2)
Wingspan: c. 50 cm (3)
Weight80 - 100 g (4)
Top facts

The cockatiel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The smallest species of cockatoo (3), the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is most familiar to many as a popular cage bird (2) (4) (5). The cockatiel is the only species in its genus (3), and in its native range in Australia it is one of the most widespread of all cockatoos (4).

Although many colour varieties have been bred in captivity (6), the wild cockatiel has a distinctive appearance, with largely grey plumage, a yellow face, orange cheek patches, and a long, wispy, yellow and grey crest. It also has prominent white patches on its otherwise grey wings (2) (3) (5) (6). The female and juvenile cockatiel are duller than the adult male, with less yellow on the face and with fine barring on the rump, flanks, underwings and tail (2) (3). The tail of the male is dark grey, but in the female and juvenile the outermost tail feathers are yellowish with grey barring (2) (6).

In size and shape, the cockatiel resembles a small parrot rather than a typical cockatoo, with a small, slender body, pointed wings and a long, pointed tail (2) (4) (5). However, like other cockatoos it has an erectile crest that can be raised when the bird is alarmed or excited (3) (4). The cockatiel’s strong, hooked beak is grey, while its eyes are dark brown and its legs are greyish-brown (2).

The cockatiel gives a distinctive ‘queel-queel’ call in flight (2) (5) (6), and captive birds may also learn to mimic human speech (5).

The cockatiel is endemic to Australia (7), where it is found across most of the continent, although mainly in the more arid inland areas (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Only a few sightings of this species have been reported in Tasmania (2) (5), but these may have been escaped captive birds (2).

Populations of cockatiels living in northern Australia are often highly nomadic, moving about in search of food and water (2) (3) (5). This species may also make some seasonal movements in the south, arriving in the extreme south of its range in the spring and leaving again in the autumn (2).

The cockatiel occurs in a variety of open habitats (3) (4) (5), although it generally prefers those that are lightly wooded and close to a source of freshwater (3) (5). This small cockatoo may be found in open woodland, acacia scrub, farmland, savanna, orchards, and even in urban parks and gardens (2) (3) (6).

A sociable species, the cockatiel may be found in pairs or small groups, but usually congregates in larger flocks of up to several hundred birds, particularly where food is abundant (2) (3). However, within these large groups each cockatiel tends to maintain its own space, with perched birds not coming into contact with each other (3). The cockatiel is a swift, powerful flier (3) (6), and flocks often make long flights between foraging grounds, watering holes and roosting sites (3) (5).

The diet of the cockatiel consists primarily of seeds (2) (3) (4) (5) (8), although it also takes berries, other fruits and sometimes nectar (3). This species also feeds on crops such as sorghum, wheat and sunflowers, and is considered an agricultural pest in some areas (2) (3) (4) (8). The cockatiel typically forages on the ground, but also in shrubs and trees (3) (5). It uses its strong beak and muscular tongue to manipulate seeds and remove their husks (3).

Although the cockatiel may breed at any time of year after heavy rains (3) (5), breeding usually occurs between April and July in the north of its range, and August to December in the south (2). The cockatiel’s nest consists of a hollow in a tree (2) (3) (5), lined only with wood dust (2). This species’ long tail prevents it from turning around in the hollow, so it enters it tail-first (3) (5).

Cockatiel pairs form strong bonds and may mate for life (3). The female cockatiel lays up to 7 eggs (2) (3), which are incubated by both adults for 17 to 23 days (3). The young cockatiels leave the nest at about three to four weeks old, and remain with the adults for about another month (2). Male cockatiels develop their yellow facial markings at about six months old, but this species does not reach sexual maturity until about two to three years old. The cockatiel may raise up to 2 broods a year, and potentially lives for up to 20 years in the wild (3).

The cockatiel is common and widespread, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (7). This species may have benefitted from the spread of farming in Australia, due to the clearing of woodland and the provision of artificial water sources in arid areas (2) (4) (8).

Second only to the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) in popularity as a pet bird (3), the cockatiel has been bred in a number of colour varieties in captivity (6). However, it is easy to breed in captivity and so is not regularly taken from the wild (3).

In some areas, the cockatiel may be killed due to its crop-raiding habits, but in other parts of Australia this species is protected by law (3). There are no other specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for this small cockatoo. However, some studies have investigated ways to reduce the damage that the cockatiel can do to crops, for example by planting a more attractive but less valuable ‘decoy crop’ nearby (8).

Find out more about the cockatiel and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Australia:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Juniper, T. and Parr, M. (1998) Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Pica Press, Sussex.
  3. International Masters Publishing (2007) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Facts on File, Inc., New York.
  4. Cameron, M. (2007) Cockatoos. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  5. Birds in Backyards - Cockatiel (October, 2012)
    http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Nymphicus-hollandicus
  6. Forshaw, J.M. (2010) Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  7. BirdLife International - Cockatiel (October, 2012)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=1409
  8. Jones, D. (1987) Feeding ecology of the cockatiel, Nymphicus hollandicus, in a grain-growing area. Australian Wildlife Research, 14: 105-115.