Parakeets (also known as budgerigars or budgies) and Cockatiels have been the most popular companion birds in North American homes for generations.
For a long time, parakeets were the most common companion bird in both the US and Canada, but recently they have taken the #2 ranking behind cockatiels.
You don’t necessarily need to decide between owning a parakeet or owning a cockatiel.
You can own both. But in case you’re looking to get only one, this article should help you understand the difference between a parakeet and a cockatiel and which one is a better pet for you.
Both birds have a number of similarities, although there are some important differences, too.
Parakeets and Cockatiels as Pets
Both parakeets and cockatiels make good apartment pets.
Both kinds of birds like to vocalize, but they are not so noisy that they will disturb the neighbors.
Like most other parrots, parakeets are quiet all night (if you give them a dark place to sleep).
It’s easy to tame both parakeets and cockatiels so they can be held in the hand. Both parakeets and cockatiels have a natural curiosity, and they can both be taught tricks.
In both parakeets and cockatiels, it is typically the male that learns to talk well, while females do not.
Both species are happy with a roomy cage and an occasional chance to fly free indoors.
You don’t have to worry about their escaping and never coming back, like some larger species of parrots.
The usual advice is that parakeets are good pets for children and cockatiels are good pets for older adults.
But both pets are good company. They don’t need to be taken for walks, and they won’t ever get underfoot with the potential of causing a fall.
So, What’s Different About Parakeets and Cockatiels?
Most people who like birds can have a good experience with either parakeets or cockatiels, or even with both, but there are some significant differences between the two.
There is a definite difference in size between parakeets and cockatiels. Parakeets vary in length from 5 to 11 inches (125 to 275 mm).
A cockatiel usually measures 12 to 14 inches (300 to 350 mm) from the top of its head to the end of its tail feathers.
Or at least that is the size in North America.
English budgies tend to be larger than their American cousins, the parakeets.
Both English budgies and American parakeets are the same species of bird, but the English budgie has been bred to be bigger.
An English budgie will be 10 to 12 inches (250 to 300 mm) long.
Cockatiels and English budgies need bigger cages than the smaller American parakeets.
They may eat more, too, but the cost of maintaining cockatiels and English budgies is not a lot higher than taking care of a parakeet.
Parakeets love to fly constantly.
Outside their cages, they will explore everywhere in a room (so it’s important to protect them from any kind of hazard in a room, like a ceiling fan in operation, a hot stove, or a commode with the lid up — or a cat).
Cockatiels are more laid back. They like to spend a lot of time sitting and preening.
Cockatiels will vocalize in the morning and again in the evening. Parakeets will talk, sing, and chatter all day long.
Neither parakeets nor cockatiels are very loud, compared to conures and other parrots.
Parakeets are more vocal than cockatiels, and male cockatiels are more vocal than female cockatiels.
If noise bothers you, a female cockatiel would be a better choice.
Both parakeets and cockatiels can both be taught how to talk. Parakeets tend to imitate words more clearly than cockatiels.
Parakeets will also acquire a larger vocabulary than cockatiels.
Some parakeets have amazing vocabularies, but male cockatiels have a talent for whistling.
In the wild, whistling is the way a male cockatiel attracts a mate. Because courtship is a long process, they will whistle for hours at a time.
If you prefer a bird that can whistle tunes over a bird that can talk, male cockatiels are your best bet.
Cuddliness and Affection
Do you want a cuddly and affectionate bird? Bird owners report that cockatiels are cuddly and affectionate. Cockatiels especially love head scratches.
Sometimes parakeets turn out to be cuddly and affectionate too, but it is much more common for them not to be of a touchy-feely temperament.
The best way to enjoy parakeets is to watch them interacting with each other. This isn’t to say you can’t own just one parakeet.
You can. But parakeets are very social with other birds.
In fact, parakeets are so social that if you keep them with cockatiels (which we previously mentioned was possible), the cockatiel may become annoyed with the parakeet’s constant invitations to play.
The parakeet will constantly chase the other bird around, even if the cockatiel is not interested.
Demands on Your Time
Both parakeets and cockatiels require a lot of attention from their humans.
If you want to have a single bird that bonds with you, whether it is a parakeet or a cockatiel, the price you pay is its constant demands for attention.
If you don’t have several hours a day to visit with your bird, then it is better to get them companions so they can bond with each other while you are away.
If you decide to have just one bird, you will have a happier experience with a hand-fed bird. This is a bird that was fed by humans when it was still in the nest.
Hand-fed birds enjoy human contact and are comfortable around people.
You will get more affection from your bird for the time you spend with them if you can find a hand-fed bird.
Some owners say that the only way to get the same kind of bonding with a parakeet that you can get with a cockatiel is to find a hand-raised bird.
In the bird world, larger birds usually live longer than smaller birds.
As a slightly larger bird, a cockatiel will live longer than a parakeet.
Pet parakeets usually live 10 to 12 years, but they can live up to 15. Cockatiels in captivity live 15 to 20 years, but they can live longer.
Allergies and Respiratory Problems
If you have allergies or asthma, it is important to know that cockatiels have powder down. It comes off their feathers when they preen.
It gets everywhere. There are rare cases in which cockatiel down can cause repeated flu-like symptoms, but this condition has only been observed in people who kept multiple cockatiels.
There have been about 100 cases in which parakeets transmitted flu viruses from one human to another.
The moral of the story is not to let people who have the flu around your birds.
If you have to take care of your parakeets when you have the flu, keep other people away from them for 7 days.
A good rule for people who have lots of allergies is to visit birds before you adopt one and take it into your home.
If you don’t have an immediate reaction to a friend’s bird, you may be able to keep one of the same kind as a pet.
Common Origins of Parakeets and Cockatiels
Both parakeets and cockatiels are birds in the Parrot Family. Both parakeets and cockatiels are found in the wild in Australia.
Both kinds of birds are adapted to surviving desert conditions.
It’s likely that one of the reasons both parakeets and cockatiels are enormously popular pets is that they can do well even when their owners are not fully able to care for them.
Parakeets and cockatiels thrive on a diet of formulated pellets, a few vegetables, and fresh water.
They can survive, although they won’t thrive, on a diet of just seeds and water.
Both parakeets and cockatiels continue to be active and friendly even when they are provided with less than ideal living conditions.
It’s not fair to think of either of them as a “starter bird,” since that implies their owners would abandon them if they could, but they are birds that can do well even if with owners that are new to taking care of pets.
Parakeets and cockatiels arrived in North America from Australia through the United Kingdom.
In the 1830s, a young British gardener turned taxidermist turned ornithologist named John Gould and his wife Elizabeth set sail for Australia for a few years of birdwatching.
Gould had previously earned a fortune by publishing picture books of the birds of Europe.
Gould led the expedition, his wife drew sketches of the birds that became the illustrations for a series of books that sold for the then-fabulous price of £3 each, and thousands of wealthy Britons demanded to have their own parakeets and cockatiels.
Pet stores in England started breeding parakeets and cockatiels to produce new colors, and an enormous variety of varieties of these birds reached pet owners in the US and Canada.
The most common color for parakeets is a green bird with a yellow face or a blue bird with a yellow face. But they now come in 30 different colors.
Cockatiels in the wild in Australia are solid gray except for patches of red on their cheeks and white on their wings.
In captivity, cockatiels can have lacy or pied patterns in cream, white, gray, and soft brown.
Parakeets may edge out cockatiels for visual appeal, but how do the two kinds of parrots compare as pets?
Frequently Asked Questions About Parakeets and Cockatiels
Q. How much should I expect to pay for a parakeet or a cockatiel?
A. Parakeets may be available for $10 to $100 in pet shops, but for up to $500 for rare colors from breeders. (Prices are in US dollars.)
White and yellow cockatiels usually cost $80 to $100 from breeders, although gray cockatiels may cost as much as $200 from a breeder and $250 from a pet shop.
Hand-raised parakeets in common colors will cost $100 to $150, but they may give you a better experience with your pet.
Hand raised cockatiels will cost $150 to $300. Breeders will usually offer you special pet food and toys that will double the initial cost of your bird.
Q. Do parakeets and cockatiels bite?
A. Yes, but not very often. Most owners report one or two bites from their birds.
A parakeet or cockatiel bite may hurt, but it is not likely to break the skin.
Sometimes biting seems to be exploratory. It isn’t that the bird is attacking the owner, but rather seeing if biting is like cuddling.
Don’t stick your hand in your bird’s cage when it is excited. If your bird is already biting something, like a piece of paper or thin cardboard, don’t put your fingers near its beak.
And don’t overreact to a bird bite. If you cry out in pain, or run out of the room, the bird may realize that it has a tool for getting what it wants.
Don’t punish biting, but don’t reward it, either. If you show the bird that biting doesn’t get a reaction, they stop doing it.
Q. Can you put a parakeet and a cockatiel in the same cage?
A. Caging birds of different species, even in a large cage, is not recommended.
They can become territorial and fight each other. This is also true of male-male and female-female pairs of the same species of bird.
It’s OK to let birds fly around in the same room, but if they aren’t mated, keep them in different cages.
Q. How often and how much do parakeets and cockatiels poop?
A. All the time and a lot. However, a bird that releases really nasty droppings at the store may not be as unpleasant when you get it home.
Young birds being fed formula will have loose stools.
But you need to understand that when you let your birds out of their cage to fly around the house, they will relieve themselves anywhere and everywhere.
Keeping little squares of paper towels for fast cleanup anywhere in your home is a good idea.
Q. How much time will parakeets and cockatiels spend outside their cages if you leave the cage door open?
A. Parakeets will fly around your house every waking moment if you let them. (This results in the need for lots of cleanups all over your home.)
Cockatiels will venture out once or twice a day, but spend more of their time in their cages.
Q. Is there any time you absolutely must keep your parakeet or cockatiel outdoors?
A. No! Both parakeets and cockatiels can fly into windows, injuring themselves, and won’t be able to find their way back indoors
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