Cockatoos vs Cockatiels – What’s The Difference?

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Pet birds are all the rage currently. This might be because of the relative ease of travelling with a pet bird compared to other pets, an advantage that is crucial with the current increase in international travel.

Cockatoos and cockatiels are among the leading options for bird lovers. Most people assume that both names refer to one bird species. This is understandable because of the many similarities between the birds.

Both, for example, are types of parrots belonging to the Psittaciformes order, have crests on the top of their heads, make similar noises when eating, hold back their heads when drinking water and their chicks remain bald for some time after birth.

There are, however, a few differences between the cockatiel and cockatoo. For example, the cockatiel is the only bird classified under the Nymphicus genus. Previously, the bird was classified as a small cockatoo or crested parakeet.

After some debate among taxonomists and studies that noted some differences between the cockatiel and cockatoo, the former was classified into a separate genus. On the other hand, the name cockatoo refers to one of 21 species in the Cacatuidae family.

Cockatoos are primarily found in Australia and the islands that surround Oceania including Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. Here, they occupy the forests and open country land. Cockatiels are primarily found in the Outback region of Australia.

Below are tidbits on the other factors that distinguish the cockatoo and cockatiel.

Physical Differences

Though cockatoos are much like other parrots, they differ from the other birds in the order by the lack of a texture composition responsible for the bright greens and blues in other parrots. They have a waddling gait, short legs and strong claws.

Cockatoos have a strong bill that they will use as their third limb when climbing. A muscular tongue complements the strong beak and is used to de-husk seeds when feeding. Cockatoos are comparatively larger than other parrots and have streamlined but burly bodies.

Cockatiels have smaller bodies than cockatoos but are larger than the other members of the parrot order. The primary difference between a cockatiel and cockatoo in terms of physical look lies in the tail.

Cockatiels have very long tails that make up about a half of their body lengths. Other than this, the beak of a cockatiel is smaller compared to a cockatoo’s.

Size Differences

The cockatiel grows to lengths of 12-13 inches and weighs 2-5 ounces. Cockatoos, on the other hand, attain adult lengths of 12-24 inches though this varies according to the bird’s species. A cockatiel is thus about a quarter the size of a cockatoo.

Color Differences

Wild cockatiels have gray bodies with yellow faces and crests. Their cheek patches are orange with the males sporting more vivid colors than the females. The females have bars along the undersides of their tail feathers.

In captivity, the colors of the cockatiel have mutated over time. There are now albino, cream face, yellow cheek, whiteface, emerald, lutino, pied, opaline, fawn and silver-colored cockatiels.

There is some coloration difference between males and females with the female being a bit duller than the male. Even so, this difference can be hard to pick, and the only certain choice for sexing cockatiels is genetic testing.

Cockatoos do not have plumages that are as colorful as those in other parrots. They are generally white, black or gray with a few species having small splotches of pink, yellow or red on their crests and tails.

The Major Mitchell’s and galah cockatoo species have pink tones. A few species have vibrant-colored rings around their eyes. For instance, the palm cockatoo spots a large red bare skin patch around its eyes.

In a few cockatoo species, the differences between males and females are only in eye color. Female white cockatoos, Major Mitchell’s and galahs, for example, have red eye tones while the males’ irises are dark brown.

Behavior Differences

Cockatiels are affectionate, gentle and love being petted, though they do not necessarily like being cuddled. Though generally friendly, untamed cockatiels might nip. In your pet, you can prevent the nipping by ignoring the behavior rather than scolding the bird.

Scolding your bird will make it timid around people. Being intelligent birds, cockatiels can learn different tricks over time, such as whistling or waving when the bell rings.

Cockatoos are affectionate and lively birds that bond quite closely with their owners. Their need for affection and sociable nature nonetheless mean that you should spend a lot of time with them.

When deprived of their owners’ attention, cockatoos exhibit neurotic tendencies and become depressed. Though playful, mischievous and intelligent, the birds can be loud. Moreover, cockatoos can become excitable and thus not mix well with kids.

Diet Differences

Pelleted feeds are the ideal choices for cockatiels and cockatoos. Variety is important in your bird’s diet. Most people supplement the pelleted feeds with seeds. Though this is not wrong, the seeds are high in fats and should thus not make more than 30% of the birds’ diets.

You can also offer the birds proteins in hard-boiled eggs, cooked meats and legumes in moderation. Generally, cockatiels need a teaspoon of feeds daily while cockatoos will need at least two teaspoons. Steer clear of chocolate, salt, coffee and avocados since these are toxic to the birds.

Care Differences

Two cockatiels can live well together. Even so, they might not bond so well with you. Cockatiels are quite messy, and you should clean their cages regularly then spray the birds with water once weekly.

A large cage is essential since the birds are quite playful. The ideal cage is one that is not less than 26 inches tall and 20 inches square. The bars’ spacing should be ¾ inches at most so that your bird does not get caught between them.

Clip your cockatiel’s nails and wings twice annually. You can learn how to do this or get a professional clipper to do it.

Cockatoo cages should be made of wrought iron or stainless steel to withstand the pecking by the birds’ strong beaks. Small cockatoos like the sulfur-crested, galah and Goffin’s cockatoos can live comfortably in a 24 x 36 x 48-inch cage with bar spaces of one inch at most.

Larger cockatoos like the umbrella, palm and Moluccan need a 24x48x48-inch cage with bar spaces of 1-1.5 inches. Cockatoos are diurnal and will need not less than 10-12 hours of constant sleep.

Breeding Differences

Cockatoos are monogamous, and their pair bonds will last for ages. While some species breed in captivity, others will not.

Cockatoos should be at least three years old for breeding, but hand-reared birds should not be less than 8-10 years old. The birds have a clutch size of 2-3 eggs that incubate for 24-26 days.

Cockatiels must be 2-5 years old for breeding, and the breeding pairs should have high calcium diets to guarantee proper egg development.

The females lay eggs about three weeks after mating with 3-6 eggs in a clutch. The eggs are incubated for 20 days on average.

Lifespan Differences

Cockatiels live for 15-20 years in captivity with proper care but can live for up to 25 years in the wild. Cockatoos will live for 30-70 years, and sometimes longer. In the wild, some species have been known to live for 100 years.

Wrapping Up

The above guidelines will hopefully help you choose the right pet bird for you between a cockatoo and cockatiel. Generally, cockatoos cost more than cockatiels. Their care expenses are also higher because they are larger than cockatiels.

Some people opt to keep both cockatiels and cockatoos. Though they can stay together, the cockatoo might harm the smaller cockatiel. Even if the cockatoo is initially friendly, the bird is naturally territorial.

This means that sooner or later, it will often harm the cockatiel. As such, keeping cockatiels and cockatoos together is not a prudent choice.

Updated: October 9, 2020

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