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How to Care for an Old Cockatiel

Old age’s effects on a cockatiel have much to do with long-term nutrition, care, and lifestyle. Some birds may hardly slow down at all, while others suffer mild to severe symptoms of aging.

These symptoms include decreased energy, a weaker immune system, arthritis, poor feather quality, difficulty molting, and issues with digestion or other internal functions.

Proper care can make all the difference in how enjoyable an older cockatiel’s later years can be for you and your bird. This article will provide guidance on how to take care of your old cockatiel to keep you from losing a feathered friend to an avoidable disease before his time.

Caring for an older cockatiel

With proper care, cockatiels may happily live well into their twenties. Although caring for an older bird is not complicated, there are many steps you can take to keep an elderly cockatiel healthy and comfortable.

Proper nutrition

Proper nutrition is one of the most critical factors in caring for any bird, especially an older one. A good diet throughout its life can keep a bird from developing many of the health issues older birds are prone to.

Even if a bird has had a less-than-perfect diet in her early years, transitioning her to a more nutritious, age-appropriate diet can significantly improve her health and even reverse some diseases.

Obesity, liver disease, and painful joints are just a few health issues that a diet change can at least partially address. In general, older birds should have lower fat and lower protein diets.

This means their diet should include fewer seeds, nuts, corn, or soy products and more vegetable content, including alfalfa-based pellets if possible. 

Always consult your avian vet before switching your bird to a specialized diet, as each bird is different, and it’s crucial that they get all the necessary nutrients. 

Adequate sleep

All cockatiels need about 12 hours of sleep at night, and this is especially important for older tiels. Adequate sleep is essential to maintaining their immune system, and older birds may need a little more sleep than they needed in their prime.

Lack of sleep may stress a bird, exacerbating any existing issues and opening the door to others.

Comfortable perches and environment

Older cockatiels may have aches and pains that interfere with natural perching. It’s important to keep an eye on them and notice if they seem to be experiencing foot pain or struggling to stay upright on a regular perch. 

If your bird is suffering from arthritis, loss of sight, stiff toes, or uncertain balance, you can help him out by providing shelf perches or padded perches—whatever seems best for your bird.

If he has trouble climbing or hopping from one perch to another, or from the floor to the cage, you may wish to connect these areas with thick, bird-safe rope, ladders, or other perches.

Make sure your bird is safe and comfortable in whatever environment you provide. Temperatures need to be balanced, windows should be sheltered, and your bird should get appropriate amounts of light and darkness.

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As your bird ages, you should be able to figure out what is getting more difficult for him. Birds with decreased vision may need their cage’s layout to stay the same, or they’ll bump into things and get confused.

You can still provide new toys by placing them where the old ones were or introducing them carefully so that your bird gets used to them being there.

Enrichment and interaction 

Although older birds may have less energy than young ones and may appear content to simply hang out in their cage all day long, it’s essential you still provide plenty of interaction and enrichment.

Old cockatiels still love toys, especially paper, wicker, or soft wood materials they can shred and destroy. They still need company and games that encourage them to keep moving and take an interest in their surroundings.

You may be surprised by how energetic your old bird becomes when you take the time to interact with him.

Avoiding stress

As much as possible, avoid exposing your bird to things that stress them or cause them to go on high alert, especially if they suffer from heart or respiratory issues. If your bird is afraid of dogs, don’t allow one to play around her cage.

While a short car ride or a half-hour outside may be just the enrichment your old bird needs, she might not be up to a trip to the bird store or a day at your friend’s house. 

Health checks and vet visits

As with all birds, it’s essential to pay close attention to your bird every day so that you know what is expected and can catch any signs of illness or discomfort as early as possible.

Do a quick health check every morning, weighing your bird, checking her droppings, and watching her move about for a while. The earlier an illness is caught, the more treatable it will likely be.

Find an experienced, reliable avian vet and take your bird in for regular check-ups. It’s also good to have an emergency number on hand in case any sudden health issues arise.

Issues to watch for in older cockatiels 

You want your bird to have the following good signs during your daily health check.

  • Clear, bright eyes
  • Smooth, clean feathers
  • Healthy, normal beak and nails (not overgrown or cracking)
  • Steady balance
  • Interest in surroundings
  • Good appetite
  • Healthy weight
  • Normal droppings

In contrast, a bird that is ill may show symptoms like these: 

  • dull eyes 
  • discharge from eyes or nares
  • dirty or abnormal feathers
  • overgrown beak or nails
  • difficulty balancing
  • dull disinterest
  • no appetite
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • runny or otherwise unusual droppings 

If you notice any signs of poor health, don’t try to self-diagnose. Bird diseases can progress quickly, and failing to catch and treat them appropriately can lead to your bird’s failing health and eventual death.

Take your bird to the avian vet as soon as possible.

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Difficulty molting

Molting can be more difficult for an older cockatiel. A well-balanced diet will go a long way in maintaining feather health, but you may still notice that your bird has less energy and needs more sleep while molting.

A complete molt may also take longer than it previously did.

Make sure your bird is getting nutritious food, plenty of sleep, and is not stressed in any other ways while molting. You can also make molting easier with frequent baths or gentle misting.

Make sure your bird does not get chilled after being bathed.

Fatty liver disease

This is one of the most common diseases in parrots, especially cockatiels and parakeets. The cause is directly related to nutrition; thankfully, better nutrition can reverse it to some degree. It is most often seen in obese birds.

Signs of Fatty Liver Disease include:

  • Obesity
  • Overgrown beak
  • Black spots on beak
  • Enlarged liver

Most birds develop this disease after being on a high-fat seed diet for most of their life. These birds should see a vet and be transitioned to a lower-fat diet high in vegetable content.


Gout is a disorder of the joints, bones, and muscles resulting from damaged or unhealthy kidneys. It causes a bird’s joints to become painful, leading to difficulty sitting on a perch or flying.

Again, the main cause of gout is an unbalanced diet.


Any bird can develop tumors, but they are most common in older birds. They may be benign or aggressive, so it’s important to consult a vet if you feel any lump developing under your bird’s skin.

Keeping old cockatiels with younger birds

An older tiel that is accustomed to being with other tiels will likely prefer to stay with them and may become depressed or anxious if separated. Whether your cockatiel is male or female, they all love to have friends around.

Keeping the birds together is usually fine as long as the older bird is not being picked on or pushed around. 

If you feel that the presence of other birds is stressing your old bird or if you need to feed them separate diets or medication, you can place them in separate cages but keep them close enough to see and hear one another.

Old and young Cockatiels

If your older bird is not used to being with other birds, a sudden introduction of a younger bird may be stressful and disruptive. On the other hand, he may enjoy the company, and the younger bird may encourage him to stay moving and interested in life.

It may be best to borrow a friend’s bird or foster it for a while to see how your older bird is affected before committing. 


A well-balanced, nutritious diet is crucial in keeping your bird healthy into old age. This is followed by a comfortable, enriching environment and lifestyle

While it may take a bit more attention and frequent vet visits, caring for an older bird can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience.