Breeding Cockatiels: Getting Started, Breeding Season and Set up

A mated pair of cockatiels

Cockatiel General InformationCockatiels as Pets

Cockatiel Mutations & SexingCockatiel Chick: Day-to-Day Development (Photos)

Cockatiel Nutrition / DietCommon Health Problems of Cockatiels


Breeding Cockatiels

Cockatiel breeding is not especially difficult, but it will require your time and commitment, in addition to a lot of preparation.

Before getting started, there are some things to consider:

Pet or Breeder?

Owners should realize that their cockatiels can’t be both good breeders / parents and remain devoted pets to them. Mating, nesting and raising a family will keep them busy and, as a general rule, they will concentrate on that and loose interest in their human care takers.

Of course, there are – as always – exceptions to this rule.

Cockatiel Chick

Cockatiel Breeding

Old Enough?

The first requirement is that the cockatiels are old enough to breed.

Cockatiels are physically able to breed when they are about 9 to 12 months old; however, sexual maturity is only reached when they are 15 to 24 months old.

With younger birds, breeding success is less likely and more problems can be expected, such as eggbinding (which could be fatal to your hen) or poor parenting skills resulting in babies being abused or abandoned; or simply being unhealthy.

Breeders will often try to pair up experienced breeders with the inexperienced – to allow the younger one to be guided by the know-how of the older. This is a good practice to follow.

True Pair?

There will be no successful breeding unless you have a true and compatible pair. this is the same with all breeding including breeding ringneck parrots.

Same-sex cockatiels will go through the motions of breeding. Two males will mate and work their nesting box as a true pair would – except no eggs will be laid. Two females will do likewise, except both females will generally lay eggs – which means you are going to have 8 or more eggs in the nesting box. If you see that many eggs, you should realize that most likely you have two females in which case the eggs are going to be infertile. If this is so, do not remove the eggs. Allow the females to continue to sit on them until they themselves loose interest. The reason being that if you remove the eggs, they will continue to lay new ones — depleting themselves of minerals and calcium, potentially resulting in health problems.

  • This website provides information on cockatiel mutations and sexing your cockatiel.

Unrelated Stock?

It is very poor practice to breed related birds. It increases the chance of genetic defects – especially if no new genetic material has been introduced into an aviary for some time and related birds have been allowed to breed for generations.

Lutino Pearl Cockatiel with chicks

The result can be weak or sickly babies, or babies with missing or deformed toes or feet, twisted backs, bald spots (as is often seen in lutinos) and internal genetic defects that can cause the death of the chicks.

The reason why breeders continue to pair up related birds is often availability or the desire to develop / attain certain mutations. With recessive genes, both male and female need to carry a genetic trait if they are to produce a certain mutation. The simplest way to attain that is by breeding related birds. Yet, it is not a recommended practice. Every effort should be made to find the desired traits in unrelated birds. Swapping breeding stock with another breeder presents itself as an option.

  • Note: New birds should be tested and quarantined before placing them into your aviary to minimize the risk of introducing a disease that could devastate your flock.
Cockatiel parents with chicks

Cockatiel Chick

Physical Condition:

The breeders should be in great physical condition before allowing them to breed. The plumage should be clean and smooth; eyes clear; disposition lively and they should be of good weight.

You should never allow an overweight hen or cock to breed. Obesity in females increases the chance of egg binding or other health problems. One way to tell if a bird is overweight is to check the tiel’s breast bone.

In an overweight bird, you will feel a lot of flesh on each side of the breast bone.

In a skinny bird, you will feel indentations / hard bones on each side (meaning you feel only the bones, no or very little flesh). The breast bone will be very prominent in an underweight bird, while you can hardly feel it in an overweight cockatiel.

If underweight, one concern could be disease — especially if the cockatiel had access to plenty of food. Maybe the mate didn’t allow the other to feed. In which case, several food dishes in different areas should be provided.

Although — considering that you ought to feed a variety of soft foods as well as a good seed mix, that shouldn’t happen, unless the food dishes are too closely situated. This all being said, although having seen this behavior of not allowing the mate to feed in other parrot species, I have not seen it in my cockatiels. But I am sure it exists.

If your bird is overweight, a change in diet should be discussed with your vet.

In any case, neither underweight nor obese bird should be put into a breeding program.

Planning for the Chicks:

Last, but not least, when breeding activities commence, it is time to line up homes for your chicks.

Decide Not To Breed or Reduce Breeding Activity?

In their natural habitat, cockatiels usually raise chicks in the spring and the late summer. In captivity, when food is plenty and conditions are optimal, they have been known to “double- or even triple-clutch” — which means raising one clutch immediately after the other. This prolific behavior can be detrimental to their health and should be discouraged, as it depletes them of necessary nutrients and causes physical exhaustion, potentially resulting in serious health problems – especially for the female; such as egg-binding, prolapsed uterus, egg peritonitis or even death caused by breeding related problems.

It is recommended to only allow your bird to produce two clutches per season – better yet, only two clutches a year. But more often than not, hens will get started on laying a new clutch while they still have chicks in the nest box. If this happens, you may want to consider pulling the chicks so that the parents can concentrate on the new clutch; or at least provide supplemental feedings to them.

At the same time, if you want to stop birds from breeding, the following options are available:

  • Remove the nesting box
  • Reduce hours of light in the bird area. 10 to 12 hours of light is needed to bring cockatiels into breeding condition. Fewer hours of light a day (basically simulating “winter” non-breeding season) will reduce the urge to breed.
  • Decrease Vitamin E consumption (which stimulates breeding)
  • I truly dislike the practice of separating the male and the female to stop them from breeding. They are a bonded pair and it is, in my opinion, cruel to do so.

Normal Cockatiel Breeding Behavior?

Question: We have an female and male Cockatiel and we saw them mating about a week ago today. She hasn’t been building a nest or anything. Do you think she getting ready to lay her eggs? She is looking bigger down near her tail feathers. She seems to sleep a lot also is this normal for her to do before laying eggs? Is it ok to let her have time out of the cage. I do let her out will both of them. V

Answer: Yes, I would get a nest box…

Yes, I would get a nest box for her. If you don’t want a wooden nestbox, any “box” will do (stronger shipping box with entrance hole cut in, etc.). Tear up some paper towel into small pieces and place it inside. Not too much as to bury any eggs …This being said, they may not readily accept the nest box, unless they have in the past successfully used one. Inexperienced parents or hand-raised birds may not have the know-how to successfully raise young. Pairing inexperienced birds up with experienced breeders usually raises the chances of successful breeding. However, I don’t know what the situation is with this pair. If we are lucky, they will start using the nest box. If not this time, then likely next time (which may be soon, if they are double-clutching = laying eggs in short succession, for which Cockatiels are known). The vent swells up before laying eggs, as the shape of the egg is starting to show. That usually happens about 24 hours before egg laying. I would make sure that she has a bathing dish and mineral supplements available. The bathing water will help keep the egg lubricated. One of the major risks is mineral deficiency, which would lead to soft-shell eggs, which are likely to break inside her leading to infection and often to death. That’s why calcium / mineral supplements are so important. Crushing egg shell (from chicken eggs) and/or feeding hard-boiled eggs crushed up will do; or a calcium block / cuttlebone, if she will take them (if not, take a knife and take scrapings from them and put those on top of the food that she will eat ..… I would allow her to go out of the cage whenever you deem fit until she has eggs, at which point she will likely remain close to the eggs (if she is a good / experienced breeder that is).

Newly Hatched Cockatiel
Cockatiel Chick

Breeding Season:

Breeding and nesting activities commense In the spring or late summer.

At this time, the male will “work” the nest box, chewing on the entrance hole and other surfaces of the nest box; basically customizing it to his liking. Both male and female will repeatedly inspect the nest, move the nesting material around, and spend considerable time sitting in the nest box.

The male will try to charm the female by performing a “mating dance”: he squares his shoulders, bobs his head, makes little stiff hops and leans right up next to a female to sing loudly into her ear. They will spend considerable amount of time grooming each other, which is a sign of pair bonding.

Once the female is ready and receptive to his advances, she will crouch down next to him in a typical mating stance, back horizontal, tail elevated, crest lowered – allowing him to mount her. The photo to the right shows an actual mating. As you can see, good balance is required if fertile eggs are to result from this mating – a sturdy perch is as important as leaving plenty of room between the perch and the top of the cage to allow the male to perch on the female.

The mating act itself can take as long as a full minute. He then flies off, and she commences to preen herself. The pair will mate repeatedly over the next days.

Egg-laying is likely to happen two weeks after the first mating.

To prepare them physically for the eminent job of incubating eggs, both the male and female will form brood patches on their chests – warm places where eggs will touch their skin with no barrier of feathers.

Cockatiel “Dad” with newly hatched chicks

Setting Your Cockatiels Up for Breeding: 

Lighting:

Cockatiels in captivity will breed at any time of year provided the conditions are favorable. They need 10 to 12 hours of daylight or bright artificial light, in addition to having access to plenty of food, water for drinking and bathing, and a suitable nesting site. 

Diet:

All birds, breeding or not, need a well-balanced balanced diet. A good diet will prepare them physically for the challenging task of raising a family and will also help stimulate breeding.

The diet should consist of fresh greens, soft foods, a high-quality seed mix and I love providing my birds with sprouted seeds. Birds enjoy them and it provides excellent nutrition. Some birds relish wheat-germ meal. Below are some recommended food items:

  • Soft Foods: moist (not soaked) whole wheat bread; hard-boiled eggs mashed together with the crashed egg shell to provide additional calcium; high-protein baby food cereal mixed with water; greens, pasta, cooked rice, cooked beans, corn-on-the-cob, peas, oatmeal, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and any other healthy food items that have been cooked or softened in some manner. Sprouted or germinated seeds are usually more easily accepted by “seed addicts” than fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Sprouted seeds are healthier as the sprouting changes and enhances the nutritional quality and value of seeds and grains. Sprouted seeds are lower in fat, as the process of sprouting utilizes the fat in the seed to start the growing process – thus reducing the fat stored in the seeds.Sprouted seeds will help balance your bird’s diet by adding a nutritious supply of high in vegetable proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll.Soaked and germinated “oil” seeds, like niger and rape seeds, are rich in protein and carbohydrates; while “starch” seeds, such as canary and millets, are rich in carbohydrates, but lower in protein.It is an invaluable food at all times; however, it is especially important for breeding or molting birds. Sprouted seeds also serve as a great rearing and weaning food as the softened shell is easier to break by chicks and gets them used to the texture of seeds.
  • Cuttlebone and mineral blocks. The calcium is used by the female’s body during egg production. If the hen doesn’t have enough calcium stored in her body, the eggs can be soft shelled and egg binding is more likely.
  • Supplementation: Spirulina, Bene-Bac, Echinacea and Prozyme sprinkled over all fresh foods.
  • Staple Foods: A good-quality Cockatiel seed mix and a dish filled with Petamine. I am not a supporter of formulated diets with over-processed ingredients that have very little nutrients left, with added low-quality supplements to make up for the lack of nutrition, and artificial coloring and preservatives. Good quality seed mixes in addition to fresh food are so much more enjoyed by the birds and are better for them.

Even if your birds don’t generally eat some of the above items, they usually aren’t picky when faced with begging chicks – as long as the food is soft and moist enough to easily feed to them. This, in fact, presents itself as a perfect opportunity to convert ‘seed junkies’ to a healthy diet. Do make sure to remove fresh foods from the cage and replace every few hours to help control possible bacterial and fungal overgrowth.

The best time to feed fresh / cooked foods is first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon or evening. Usually the food will go pretty quickly as they parents are busy feeding the hungry chicks. Any left-overs should be removed after 30 minutes as they will spoil. The rest of the time offer dry wholeweat bread, fruits and vegetables, and Petamine, Sprouted Seeds and Wheat-germ Meal in separate dishes to provide the parents with plenty of food for the chicks and for themselves.

  • Providing these food sources BEFORE the mating begins will signal to the parents that this is a good time to get started on a family and bring them into breeding condition.

It is vital to make sure that the breeder birds actively raising a family are provided with a good variety of food items AT ALL TIMES. 

Breeding Set-up:

  • Housing / Cage: The breeding pair will need as much space as you can possibly provide. I prefer birds in a planted aviary setting – and cockatiels do really well in an aviary; however, this option doesn’t avail itself to many bird owners.

If the cockatiels are to be housed in a cage, the cage should, at a minimum, have the following (or approximating) dimensions: 30″L x 18″W x 36″H. Remember, bigger is better when it comes to housing your cockatiels. Provide the biggest cage you can possibly accommodate. A double-door is desirable, as it will facilitate housekeeping for you.

Welded wire cages are popular with breeders as they are easier to attach boxes to and you can easily cut a hole in the side of the cage for the nesting box. The hole can easily be patched after the breeding season is over.

If you are handy and decide to build your own cages, please keep in mind that chicken wire or wire with 1″x1″ square openings are not safe for your birds, as heads get stuck in the wires. A suitable wire for cockatiel cages would be 1/2″ x 1″ galvanized-after-welding wire. Do not use wire that was welded after galvanization, as welds contain lead, which can result in heavy metal poisoning. Galvanized wire should be scrubbed thoroughly with a vinegar-and-water solution to remove the zinc from the coating. The shinier the wire, the higher the zinc content. As birds chew on the wire, they ingest some of the zinc leading to serious health problems and possibly death. PLEASE NOTE: HEATED vinegar emits toxic fumes similar to carbon dioxide. Bird owners have lost their pets by adding vinegar to their dishwashing cycle, or used it to clean coffee machines.

  • Nest Box: The nest box needs to accommodate the parents and 4 or 5 chicks. They are usually 12″ tall by 10″ or 12″ deep with a 3-inch round hole at the front of the nest box to allow the breeding pair access to the inside of the box. The nest box should also have an inspection door either on the top of the box or on the backside of the box to allow you to check on the pair, as well as the eggs and the chicks. Suitable wooden cockatiel nest boxes are readily available at most pet stores. Many breeders are using cardboard boxes in a holder in place of wooden breeding boxes. Nesting boxes are so inexpensive and convenient that I see no reason for that. Furthermore, cardboard boxes are unsanitary as there is no way to clean them. But it is a temporary option. You can put the nest box on the bottom door and use the top door to access the cage.

It is natural for breeder birds to “customize” the nesting box to their liking. They may chew on the doorway, throw out some bedding — this is a natural process. The male does so quite noisily pecking at the wood to call the hen’s attention to the home he’s providing for her and any chicks.

Add about 2 inches of decomposed non-toxic saw dust, wood shavings or other suitable materials to the bottom of the box to help stabilize the eggs and absorb the droppings from the chicks. Options for suitable nesting material are decomposed non-toxic saw dust, corn cob, shredded newspaper, clean straw / dried grass or wood shavings (i.e., Aspen shavings or wood chips). The larger wood chips the better, so the parents don’t feed it to the babies or the chicks accidentally ingest it.

Please note that some wood shavings – such as pine, cedar and redwood – give off aromatic hydrocarbons (phenols) and acids that are toxic and can cause dermatitis, allergic symptoms and irritation of the digestive tract. They should not be used in cages, aviaries, or nestboxes.

  • Several Perches (minimum 2): Remember, the mating itself usually happens on the perches. If they are not sturdy and placed correctly, the male cannot properly balance on the female during the mating process resulting in infertile eggs. If the perch is too close to the top of the cage, he won’t be able to mount and mate with the female. The dowel rods that usually come with cages tend to be slick and the birds can slide off.  Natural branch perches are preferred. They provide different gripping diameters, contain minerals that the cockatiels will benefit from as they chew on the branches and they provide the birds with a more natural environment.
  • Others: Toys should be provided. Your cockatiels are not robots and toys for them to chew on and play with are really important for their mental and physical well-being. They should have something to do other than breed.

Both the male and female also need a water dish big enough for them to bathe in. The eggs need different levels of humidity. The parents instinctively know to increase the humidity in the nest box if needed – and they do so by bathing and then settling into the nest box on top of the eggs. Birds always should have the opportunity to bathe — or should be misted — as a way of grooming themselves. 

Yadira's tiels

Cockatiel Egg-laying and Incubation

Hatching Cockatiel Chicks and Their First Days

Raising Chicks


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