As a pet, a cockatiel’s lifespan can range from 10 to 25 years, with the oldest reported record being 36 years.
Young cockatiels change dramatically through the first year of their life, making it possible to estimate their age within a few months. They reach their adult size by a year old.
It can be difficult to gauge a cockatiel’s age once they are fully grown. However, there are a few indicators you can look at to estimate the age of a bird with an unknown history.
Clue #1: Leg band
If your bird was raised by an established breeder, it might wear a leg band marked with numbers and letters.
The information listed on the leg band varies between breeders. However, the last two numerals of the year your bird hatched may be marked on the band.
Sometimes it will also have the breeder’s initials, state, or other information that may help you in your quest to discover your cockatiel’s age.
Clue #2: Feather development, color, and quality
Feathers are a huge indicator when it comes to birds—and cockatiels in particular. A cockatiel’s feather development and quality can tell you a lot about its age, health, diet, and lifestyle.
Juvenile birds (under a year old) are especially distinct. Once they have their full adult plumage, estimating age becomes much more difficult.
|Newly hatched cockatiel||Newly hatched cockatiels are only about an inch long and covered with a thin tuft of yellow or white down. They begin to develop pin feathers in the first week or so. |
By two weeks old, they are four or five times as large as when they hatched and are covered with pin feathers that are just beginning to open.
|A few weeks old||By five weeks old, cockatiels’ feathers have opened. With most color varieties, chicks will all look like females, lacking the distinctive yellow faces of an adult male. |
At around six weeks old, cockatiel chicks will begin to do a lot of flapping as they learn to fly. For this reason, their wing and tail feathers may get a bit tattered.
|Under a year old||Cockatiels under a year old will generally have duller colors than adult birds, even after going through their first adult molt. Their tails will also be a bit shorter than an adult bird’s tail. |
Males will eventually lose the stripes on their tail feathers and develop bright yellow faces. Females will retain the barred tail feathers but may also be more distinctly colored.
|Adult||Once they are over a year old, cockatiel’s coloring does not change, making it impossible to say exactly how old they are without relying on other factors. |
If they are properly housed and healthy, their feathers should be smooth, bright, and undamaged.
|Older adult||A truly old bird, may be a bit duller and have a lower feather quality. However, with proper care and nutrition, even an older parrot’s feathers may be impeccable.|
Clue #3: Feet and beak
As cockatiels get older, their beaks will be a bit more scuffed and worn looking. Their feet can also begin to look less smooth—more irregular and bumpy.
There is nothing exact about this indicator, but a bird with adult feathers and a smooth beak and feet may be only a few years old.
Clue #4: Posture and movement
The way a cockatiel sits and moves can be another age indicator. Like young people, young birds are often awkward as they’re still learning to use their legs and wings. They are more likely to fluff their feathers and crouch lower on the perch when they nap.
Elderly birds may also fluff their feathers out more to keep themselves warm. Note that this can also be the sign of a sick bird, so rule out any health issues before assuming this posture is simply due to the bird’s age.
Clue #5: Energy and playfulness
Young cockatiels are extremely curious and playful. Once they reach full maturity at two or three years, they will still enjoy interacting with you, goofing around, and playing with toys, but there will likely be more purpose and calmness to their demeanor.
A bird that is getting up there in years may nap more often, especially when molting or during the winter. Once again, this can also be an indicator of poor health, so rule this out before attributing lower energy levels solely to age. An elderly bird also may choose to move around less and be reluctant to fly.
Be aware, however, that younger adult birds with weight issues or on a poor diet may also be perch potatoes! Ensure your bird is healthy and on a great diet regardless of age.
With proper nutrition and care, a cockatiel should slow down very little throughout her lifetime.
Unlike dogs, there is no tried and true equation for calculating your bird’s age in human years. Bird species differ both in their rate of maturity and their lifespan. They also tend to show few signs of age until the final few years of their lives.
Infant to toddler
Cockatiels speed through the life stages that would be considered childhood and teenage years for a human. They are equal to infants in their needs for up to about five weeks. Once they fledge at six weeks, they are similar to human toddlers in their development.
Preschool to childhood
From about four to eight months, a cockatiel could be compared to a six to 13-year-old child. They are curious, adventurous, and learning much by playing through this time.
They often enjoy running around on the floor or tabletop, practicing take-offs and landings, and even playing rather rough-and-tumble games, but they may also still get cuddly when sleepy.
Cockatiels usually go through their “teenage” stage between eight and ten months. At this point, they can be moody, independent, and unpredictable.
If they are around other birds, they may begin to show an interest in the opposite sex and develop low-key rivalries with other members of the flock. If no other birds are around, a sexually maturing tiel may show special attention to one of his human companions or even a mirror or toy.
A cockatiel is a mature adult by the time she is a year old. She will be full of energy and interested in mating, nesting, and raising a family.
She will want to be part of everything that’s going on, and her character will be distinctively developed. This stage—from one year to 8 or 9 years—could be compared to a human’s adult years from age 20 to 40.
With an average lifespan of 25 years, a ten-year-old cockatiel has hit middle-age. A bird this age is generally content. He enjoys being a part of the family and has established habits and favorite activities.
A cockatiel over 20 years old can be considered elderly—comparable perhaps to a human in her 70s or 80s.
A parrot’s cognitive intelligence has been compared to that of a human toddler, and they never outgrow many toddler-like interests and activities.
- Enjoyment of toys
- Propensity to destroy things
- Need to be entertained
- Short attention span
At the same time, an adult bird will have undeniably adult characteristics and interests:
- Interest in establishing and protecting a home area
- Strong family bonds and devotion to mates and friends
- Propensity to be somewhat self-sufficient
Why is it important to keep these somewhat contradictory personality traits in mind? Because birds are not people!
Parrot parents who are unaware of an adult bird’s natural instincts may grow frustrated or alarmed when their bird starts acting protective of a certain area or behaving hormonally. They may be unaware of the care and training needed to keep an adult bird friendly, content, and manageable.
It should also come as no surprise to them that a 10-year-old bird (so about 40 in bird years, right?) still needs toys and playtimes and occasionally throws tantrums.
Cockatiels are among the most long-lived pets, which is wonderful and weighted with responsibility. Whether your bird comes to you at two months old, ten years old, or an unknown age, you should have a plan in place to ensure that she will be well cared for the remainder of her life.
Educating yourself on estimating your bird’s age and what to expect from a bird at various ages is a great place to start.
Even if your guess never gets more specific than “not-very-old adult,” this can help you provide your bird with the best care and enjoy her to the fullest.
A cockatiel needs plenty of positive interaction, a structured routine, and a variety of foods and toys at every age.
Regular vet checks will also ensure that any changes due to age are simply that and keep ahead of any health problems. With proper care and nutrition, your cockatiel should remain healthy and energetic for most of her life.