Your First Baby

   Now that you're on your way to becoming a parront, you'll need some good advice on exactly what kind of cockatiel baby you should get and from where. This is intended to be a reference, but you should always thoroughly research a new pet before bringing one home. This includes your local library (because something being on the internet doesn't make it fact!).

   There are several terms breeders use to describe how their cockatiels were raised. Pay close attention, some look the same but are really pretty different:
  • Parent raised - This means that the birds were raised completely by their parents. These birds are usually NOT tame, and it is very unlikely that they will become an extremely sweet and affectionate bird. They will need taming and training. These birds usually make the best breeders.
  • Handraised - Not to be confused with handfed. Handraised babies are little better than parent raised, they are still fed completely by their parents, the breeder just handles them everyday to make them tamer.
  • Co-parented - This means that the parent birds AND the breeder both fed the babies. Co-parenting usually involves one handfeeding a day. These birds are much more tame than parent raised or handraised, and can be affectionate, loving birds.
  • Handfed - These birds have been pulled by the breeder for handfeeding around 2 weeks of age. They are usually the sweetest and tamest of the different methods of raising birds, one reason why they cost more. These babies do not need taming.

Where to get the bird?
   Let's face it - pet stores are stores. They are there to sell you as much as they can, and they are in business to make money. But, like there are bad pet stores, there are also bad breeders. In my experience, I haven't yet seen a pet store treat any bird how it should be treated - besides the fact that it's scared to death and exposed to all sorts of pathogens every day.
   Here is a brief guide to what you should look for, wherever you buy your bird:
  • Food and water - What are they eating? It should be a widely varied diet (all seed diets, at most pet stores, is a really bad idea). Are there plenty of bowls for the number of birds in the cage? Are the bowls (especially water) clean?
  • Cages - is the paper in each cage clean? Are there too many birds in one cage?
  • Health - if there is a single sick bird in any cage, then don't buy from that store/breeder. Disease will spread to all the birds in the cage, even if they don't look it now, they probably all at least carry it. Do they get their birds avian vet checked?
  • Knowledge - does the breeder/pet store person know what they are talking about? Do they actually own a cockatiel? How long? Don't be afraid to interrogate the person you're getting your information from.
  • The bird itself - does it seem to be everything the seller said it would be? Bring along a friend to help give you another opinion.
  • Health guarantee - if there isn't one, run as fast as your legs will take you away from that store/breeder. 30 days is the standard. Most stipulate that you must take your bird to the avian vet within 3-7 days.

   A few reasons why I would never buy a bird from a pet store:
  • Usually the birds are on an all seed diet
  • There are waaaaaay too many birds in a cage
  • The pet store employees don't usually know a lot about birds
  • They usually don't have tails, or they have ratty looking ones
  • There aren't enough toys or perches in the cage
  • The water bowls are usually filthy, or not enough for the number of birds
  • They sell bald lutinos
  • The birds usually are not as friendly and need retamed (who can blame them?)
  • They usually cost a lot more
  • Many breeders sell birds that they couldn't sell, so the birds in pet stores are sometimes "rejects," and are usually older birds

What mutation?
   This is purely a matter of your pleasure. Which do you think is prettier? Although, I generally recommend picking a bird based on its personality if it is to be a pet bird. There aren't a lot of health concerns among the different colorations. The lutino cockatiel, which is either an all yellow bird or white bodied with yellow head, is notorious for night frights. A night light should be left on for this mutation, the cage uncovered. There is also the concern of inbred lutinos.
   Lutinos have been heavily inbred to obtain their unique coloring. Because of inbreeding, many lutinos have bald spots, usually on the head, but sometimes also on the wings and around the eyes. Birds exhibiting these traits should not ever be bred. Good breeders are working to breed out the bald spots, so there are "normal" lutinos to be found. Sometimes, when a new mutation is developed, there is a lot of inbreeding going on to develop that color.

What all do I need?
  • A big cage (the bigger the better)
  • Perches - as many different kinds as possible (wooden dowel, manzanita, crazy walks, cement perch..)
  • Toys - at least twice as many as will fit in the cage. 5 toys for one bird is about right. Rotate them every couple weeks.
  • Bowls - water and food bowls
  • Food - a good pellet, a sunflowerless seed mix, veggies, cooked pasta and rice, treats...
  • The avian vet's phone number and address
  • Time
  • Money

Ok, how MUCH money?
   Nobody said owning a pet was cheap. Especially an exotic animal. Here are expenses you can expect for the initial setup:
  • Cage - $50-200
  • Toys - $30
  • Food - $20
  • New bird vet checkup - $60-150
  • Perches, bowls, extras - $15
  • The cockatiel - $50-200
   The total? $225-465! And of course, toys need replaced, more food will be needed, perches get worn out, well bird checkups are needed...

Do I HAVE to take the bird to the avian vet?
   Do you HAVE to take your child to the pediatrician?
   I'm really surprised that a lot of people find taking their new bird to the vet unnecessary. After all, it usually costs more than the bird did! But it is quite necessary. Birds have developed an evolutionary trait to disguise their illnesses. After all, the sick looking bird is the one that gets eaten first, right? Easy meal. That means your bird can be sick and you won't know it. By the time you see they are sick, they are usually VERY sick; so weak they can no longer hide it. So it's easier to prevent it, and usually cheaper too, since emergency vet care can cost hundreds, up to thousands of dollars. If you take the "it's only a $70 bird" approach, you have no business owning an animal.

   I also get the "but a regular vet will do, right?" WRONG! Small animal vets simply don't have the expertise to deal with birds. Very, VERY rarely will you get a small animal vet that can treat birds correctly. I've heard many horror stories about taking birds to a regular vet, and I will just assure you that it is worthless to take them there. Go to an avian vet. Please see the "What to expect from your first Avian Vet Visit" as well.

   DO NOT EVER USE PET STORE MEDICATIONS ON YOUR BIRD!! These are worthless and can actually make things worse. "Over the counter" bird meds are actually weak antibiotics. That means, they only help make whatever bacteria is infested in your bird's body more immune to whatever your avian vet will prescribe. They also help mask symptoms that the vet needs to make an accurate diagnosis. Of course pet store personnel will tell you how great they are - because again, they are a store, in the business of making money.

Where can I get more information?
   The local library of course! :) Check out every book on cockatiels that you can, and read read read! Contact cockatiel bird clubs, they have a LOT of information at their disposal. The internet is one of the last places I would look for information. A lot of what's on here isn't "fact," but opinion. But see, you can trust me, I have a degree. :D