Types of Cockatiel (Popular Pet Cockatiels and Mutations)

Last Updated on December 25, 2023 by Ali Shahid

Cockatiels, beloved as pets, are adored for their friendly and affectionate demeanor. Originally from Australia, these birds have become domesticated and can now be found in households worldwide, spreading joy with their vibrant personalities and unique appearances. What makes cockatiels particularly intriguing is the array of color mutations resulting from selective breeding. 

These mutations have given rise to various types of cockatiels, each boasting its own distinctive coloration and pattern. It’s essential to recognize that, despite these visual distinctions, all cockatiels belong to the same species and share similar care requirements. Exploring the subject of color mutations not only enhances our appreciation of these birds’ beauty but also proves valuable in identifying and caring for them.

Types of Cockatiel

Understanding Cockatiel Color Mutations

Cockatiels, irrespective of their color mutations, fall under the same species, Nymphicus hollandicus, and share similar care requirements. The variations in color, commonly known as mutations, result from alterations in the genes responsible for producing specific pigments.

Cockatiels possess two pigments that contribute to their coloration: melanin, responsible for darker tones like blue (appearing as grey in cockatiels), and carotenoids, responsible for orange, yellow, and red hues. Mutations occur when a gene governing a specific pigment is altered, either deactivated, heightened in production, or influencing pigment distribution.

The “normal” or “wild-type” cockatiel features grey plumage with white wing and tail markings, along with orange patches on their cheeks. Notable color mutations include the Lutino Cockatiel, lacking melanin and appearing yellow-white with red eyes, and the Whiteface Cockatiel, devoid of carotenoids, retaining grey with no yellow or orange tones, and exhibiting a white face in adult males.

The Cinnamon Cockatiel resembles the normal grey but with tan to cinnamon brown replacing grey areas, while the Silver Cockatiel, influenced by multiple genes, lightens the grey coloration. The Fallow Cockatiel exhibits a softer brownish tinge, and the Pied Cockatiel displays white/yellow areas unexpectedly.

These mutations can manifest individually or in various combinations. However, regardless of their coloration, all cockatiels necessitate identical care and health considerations. Their membership in the same species underscores that their color variations neither impact their health nor alter their personalities.

Common Types of Cockatiels

Normal (Gray) Cockatiel

The normal gray cockatiel, often referred to as the wild-type cockatiel, serves as the foundation for all color genetics mutations. Characterized by predominantly gray feathers and distinctive orange cheek patches, this variant represents the natural coloration of wild cockatiels. It stands as the progenitor from which all other color mutations have evolved.

Pearl Cockatiel

Pearl cockatiels stand out in the realm of domesticated pets, originating from the selective breeding of gray cockatiels. Their distinct coloring arises from a genetic mutation linked to their gender. This mutation results in captivating patterns of white and gray, creating a visually striking, pearl-like appearance. 

Traditionally, the majority of pearl cockatiels have been females. However, there is a recent trend among breeders to preserve the pearling trait in males beyond their juvenile molting stage.

Lutino Cockatiel

Among the various cockatiel mutations, the lutino cockatiel stands out as one of the most sought-after. This mutation is characterized by feathers ranging from white to light yellow, complemented by distinctive orange/red cheek patches. 

Notably, the lutino cockatiel mutation holds the distinction of being the second mutation of its kind officially recognized in the United States. A distinctive feature of lutino cockatiels is their overall yellow coloring, accentuated by two prominent orange circular spots situated around the ear and cheek region.

Whiteface Cockatiel

The white-faced cockatiel is a notable color mutation distinguished by its white or grayish face, setting it apart from its counterparts. What makes them particularly distinctive is the absence of orange cheek patches and yellow hues. This mutation, marking the seventh in the lineage, made its inaugural appearance in the realm of domesticated cockatiels in 1964, originating in Holland.

Albino Cockatiel

The cockatiel variant known as the “albino,” or whiteface lutino, isn’t a product of albinism. Rather, it arises from a combination of two genes: the “Whiteface gene” and the “Lutino gene.” 

The Whiteface gene eliminates the yellow and orange hues typical in a lutino, while the Lutino gene does away with black and grey. Consequently, the albino cockatiel showcases an all-white plumage, distinct red eyes, and pink feet. Its rarity stems from the unique characteristic of having entirely white feathers.

Cinnamon Cockatiel

The “albino” cockatiel, also referred to as the whiteface lutino, is not a result of albinism but rather emerges from the interplay of two specific genes—the “Whiteface gene” and the “Lutino gene.” The Whiteface gene removes the customary yellow and orange tones found in lutinos, while the Lutino gene eliminates black and grey hues. 

As a result, the albino cockatiel exhibits a striking appearance with its entirely white plumage, distinctive red eyes, and pink feet. The rarity of this variant is attributed to its unique feature of having feathers entirely devoid of color.

Silver Cockatiel

The silver cockatiel is a mutation that imparts a subdued gray shade, creating a distinct silvery look for the bird. Within the realm of silver mutations, there are two types: dominant silver and recessive silver. Dominant silver cockatiels exhibit a light silver hue with white wing tips, whereas recessive silvers showcase a darker coloring with a more uniform distribution of color across their feathers.

Blue Cockatiel

The blue cockatiel represents a scarce mutation, yielding a distinctive blue-gray hue. Unlike natural occurrences, this mutation is a product of deliberate selective breeding. The absence of yellow pigmentation plays a pivotal role in revealing the inherent blue coloration in the feathers, giving rise to the unique and rare appearance of the blue cockatiel.

Other Less Common Color Mutations

Numerous less common color mutations exist in cockatiels, showcasing the breed’s diversity. Among these is the pied cockatiel, featuring a blend of colored and white feathers, and the fallow cockatiel, distinguished by its cinnamon hue and striking red eyes. Each mutation possesses distinctive characteristics, contributing to the individual beauty of these birds.

Physical Characteristics of Cockatiels

Cockatiels, native to Australia, are petite birds known for their distinctive features, such as a proud posture, small dark eyes, and a lengthy tail. A notable characteristic is their head crest, which they can raise or lower based on their mood and stimuli. Additionally, they possess a considerable amount of powder down in their feathers. 

The standard or wild-type cockatiel typically has a predominantly grey body with yellow, orange, and white accents. Various color mutations, including lutino, cinnamon, fallow, whiteface, pied, silver, olive, yellow cheek, and pearl, contribute to the wide spectrum of their appearances. A single bird may exhibit a combination of these color patterns.

Cockatiels display sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females exhibit visual differences. This distinction becomes evident after the initial molting, occurring around six to nine months after hatching. In the wild-type cockatiel, males have a grey body, a yellow face and crest, and a more vibrant orange cheek patch compared to females. 

Females, on the other hand, have bars on the underside of their tail feathers. Male cockatiels often boast brighter orange cheek patches, a solid grey tail, and a greater propensity for vocalization. It’s worth noting that selective breeding has introduced numerous color variations, making sex determination more challenging. 

Visual indicators may be less clear or entirely absent in some selectively bred colors. For a definitive determination of a cockatiel’s sex, a DNA test or waiting until the bird is at least nine months old and has undergone a molt is recommended.

Cockatiel Behavior

Cockatiels are well-known for their friendly and affectionate demeanor, making them sought-after as pet birds. Originating from Australia, they belong to the same avian family as cockatoos. These birds possess intelligence and a social nature, necessitating attention and interaction for their well-being.

Common Behaviors of Cockatiels

  • Beak Grinding: Cockatiels often grind their beaks when content and relaxed. 
  • Preening: Devoting significant time to feather upkeep, these birds ensure cleanliness and good condition. 
  • Vocalizations: Renowned for their vocal abilities, male cockatiels surpass females in whistling, singing, and mimicking sounds. Females, generally quieter, employ a sharp “wheep” whistle more frequently. 
  • Head Bobbing: Cockatiels may bob their heads by expressing excitement or seeking attention. 
  • Wing Flapping: These birds may flap their wings to convey energy or excitement.

Behavioral Contrasts Between Male and Female Cockatiels 

While both genders share common behaviors, distinctions exist: 

Males: Curious, confident, and vocal, male cockatiels exhibit attention-seeking actions like beak banging, hopping, and singing. 

Females: Generally quieter and more reserved, female cockatiels are less inclined toward attention-seeking behaviors. They may approach new people or situations more cautiously.

It’s crucial to recognize that individual cockatiels exhibit a broad spectrum of behaviors, with personalities varying widely. Irrespective of gender, proper care, attention, and social interaction are essential for the thriving well-being of all cockatiels.

Cockatiel Diet and Nutrition

For cockatiels, just like any other creatures, maintaining good health hinges on a well-rounded diet. This entails balancing carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and ample water intake. Ensuring a diverse and well-balanced diet is pivotal for the overall health of these birds. Cockatiels, in particular, are prone to specific nutritional gaps, notably vitamin A deficiency and insufficient calcium intake. Such deficiencies can give rise to a range of health issues, encompassing respiratory challenges, reproductive complications, and musculoskeletal diseases.

Importance of a Balanced Diet

Ensuring cockatiels thrive and enjoy robust health is contingent upon providing a well-rounded diet. The entirety of their well-being is intertwined with the quality of their nutrition. A comprehensive cockatiel diet should encompass seeds, pellets, vegetables, fruits, grains, and a modest portion of table food. 

Seeds, constituting 25% of the diet, offer essential vitamins and fats, but it’s crucial to recognize that birds may selectively favor certain seeds, potentially leading to nutritional imbalances.

Pellets, another 25% of the diet, come highly recommended as they are specially formulated for avian nutritional needs. Vegetables and fruits, comprising an additional 25% of the diet, should include dark leafy vegetables and vitamin-rich fruits. Grains, making up 15% of the diet, can involve cooked rice, pasta, and whole-grain toast.

Lastly, table food should contribute the remaining 10% of the diet, encompassing items like boiled eggs, boiled chicken, and cooked white fish. Striking this balance ensures that cockatiels receive a diverse array of nutrients vital for their well-being.

Common Dietary Deficiencies and Prevention

Vitamin A Deficiency 

Cockatiels, especially those primarily consuming seeds and nuts, are prone to vitamin A deficiency. Indicators may manifest as white spots in the eyes, sinuses, and around the mouth, potentially developing into pus-filled abscesses. 

Additional symptoms encompass wheezing, sneezing, reduced appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, and a fading of feather vibrancy. Supplementing the bird’s diet with fruits and vegetables rich in diverse vitamins, proteins, and minerals is imperative to avert vitamin A deficiency. 

Foods abundant in vitamin A and its precursors, such as cantaloupe, papaya, chili peppers, broccoli leaves, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot, spinach, and egg yolks, should be incorporated.

Calcium Deficiency 

Another prevalent concern in cockatiels is insufficient dietary calcium. Calcium plays a vital role in bone formation brain, muscle, and nerve function. Diets centered around seeds may disrupt the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio and contribute to amino acid deficiencies in birds. 

Preventing calcium deficiency entails providing a well-balanced diet that includes ample calcium. Achieving this balance involves incorporating seeds, pellets, fruits, vegetables, and grains into the bird’s diet.

Cockatiel Care and Maintenance

Cockatiels, cherished for their intelligence and sociable nature, thrive in a clean, warm, and mentally engaging environment.

Cage Size and Maintenance

For a single cockatiel, a minimum cage size of approximately 24” L x 24” W x 30” H is recommended, with bars spaced a half-inch apart or smaller to prevent escape or entanglement. 

For two birds, the cage should be at least 28”x 24”x 36”. The cage should be rust-free, with a removable metal grate for droppings. Daily spot-cleaning, removal of soiled material and discarded food, and daily washing of water and food bowls are essential. Substrate, bedding, and habitat liners should be replaced weekly, using only pet-safe cleaning agents due to birds’ sensitive respiratory systems.

Mental and Physical Enrichment

Cockatiels, highly intelligent, benefit from various toys for mental stimulation and different perches at various levels for physical exercise. Natural tree branches from a safe and pesticide-free source can be used for perching and beak work. Daily exercise, with one-hour morning and afternoon flights, is recommended.

Common Health Problems and Prevention

Cockatiels are susceptible to respiratory diseases, internal parasites, gastrointestinal yeast infections, obesity, fatty liver disease, and reproductive issues. To avert these problems, a balanced diet is crucial, as diets high in seeds lacking calcium and vitamin D can lead to issues like egg binding. Regular veterinary check-ups aid in early detection and treatment of potential health concerns.

Conclusion

For both current and prospective cockatiel owners, grasping the diverse types of cockatiels and their care requirements is paramount. These birds exhibit various color mutations, each presenting a distinctive appearance while belonging to the same species and sharing similar care needs. 

Sustaining the health and happiness of these intelligent and affectionate birds involves providing a well-rounded diet, appropriate shelter, mental and physical stimulation, and regular veterinary check-ups.

Selecting a bird that aligns with your lifestyle and preferences is crucial for those considering cockatiel ownership. Ensuring that you can offer the necessary care and attention is vital to fostering the thriving well-being of your feathered companion.

References: 

1. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Nymphicus_hollandicus/

2. https://wydawnictwo.umk.pl/upload/files/OPEN%20ACCESS/The%20Evolution%20of%20Language/106.pdf

3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/cockatiel

4. https://academic-accelerator.com/encyclopedia/cockatiel-colour-genetics

Author

  • Ali Shahid

    Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.

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