Cockatiel vs Cockatoo – Most Important Differences

Confused between a cockatiel vs cockatoo: which bird to get for yourself? Below we will try to talk about the key differences and share some advice on which one to get for yourself.

With a bobbing crest on their head and very similar names – it’s easy to assume that cockatiels and cockatoos are the same bird, or perhaps similar at the least. 

And that would be half right! Cockatiels are a type of cockatoo, and the two share many similarities in terms of diet and family line. 

However, there are many differences as well, such as – their body size, the colors in their plumage, and even their behavior. Let’s delve deeper into the differences!

Cockatiel vs Cockatoo
Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel

Cockatiel Vs Cockatoos – Summary of Key Differences

BehaviorCare and maintenanceRequire more care and attention, larger cages, more expense on food and vet bills, prone to depressionCan thrive independently with mates, require less constant care, cheaper and require less food
BehaviorEnergyMore energetic and interactiveLess energetic and Social
BehaviorTalkativeMore talkative, can mimic sounds and voicesLess talkative, can only produce whistle notes
BehaviorSmartnessAmong the smarter birds, can learn many tricks and use toolsLess smart, can learn basic tricks and pick up tunes
BehaviorTrainingCan learn more tricks but requires intensive trainingLimited trick learning capacity, but easier to train with food
BehaviorProne to bitingCan bite hard if agitated, causing serious injuryCan bite, but usually not aggressive. Bite does not require serious medical attention
Physical SizeLarger in size – depends on speciesSmaller in size – same for all
Physical ColorsVaried colors, based on speciesOnly white, yellow, gray and mutations of these
Physical LifespanCan live up to 100 yearsMaximum age of 36 years
Physical Physical activityMore active and requires daily exerciseFairly active, does not need separate exercise
ExpensesMore expensive to purchase and take care of Less expensive to purchase and take care of
Food habitsSeeds, roots, plant parts, fruits,nuts vegetables, berries, grainsSmall seeds and grains, fruits and nuts

About Cockatoos and Cockatiels

Both cockatoos and cockatiels are similar, some way down the genetic line. 

While they are distinct species, both of them belong to the family of Cacatuidae (or Cockatoo family). The Cacatuidae family hosts a total of 21 species of cockatoos.  

Some of the common ones include sulfur-crested cockatoos, white cockatoos, galahs, palm cockatoos, and more. 

And one of them happens to be a type of cockatoo called Nymphicus hollandicus – or the cockatiel. 

The Cacatuidae further belong to the superfamily of Psittacoidea, along with three other families. 

The common name of the Psittacoidea superfamily is ‘true parrots’, i.e, they contain all birds that fall under the parrot species and have similar characteristics.

These characteristics are

  • A vegetarian diet of grains, fresh fruits, and nuts
  • A curved beak
  • An upright stance, and 
  • Feet with 4 toes (called a zygodactyl foot). 

Other than that, cockatoos and cockatiels are quite distinct and can be differentiated by sight alone. 

The size of cockatoos is larger, and they are stockier in build. They also have a wider color variety than cockatiels. 

Cockatiels are found in shades of yellow, white, gray, and a combination of these. 

They also have two distinctly round patches on their cheeks – though white Lutino cockatiels do not have them. 

Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
Cockatiel vs Cockatoo

Behavioral Differences 

Behavior-wise, cockatoos are much more active and vocal than cockatiels. As pet birds, they can form strong bonds with their keeper and mimic a variety of human and animal sounds. 

They are highly social and require ample out-of-cage and socialization time with other birds and humans.

Cockatiels are much calmer and cannot mimic voices. Their vocal ability is limited to whistling. 

They are easier to teach tricks and do not require the extensive care that cockatoos do. 

Which one is easier to care for? 

As pets, cockatiels are easier to care for than cockatoos. Cockatoos require larger cages and aviaries due to their size. 

Their diet is much more varied. They can eat fruits, nuts, grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and sprouts. 

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    They need socializing time every day, along with toys and play activities to keep them occupied and sharp. 

    Cockatoos are also prone to depression if they are neglected if their owner passes away or gives them away. 

    A depressed bird will not actively engage with their toys and will start plucking out its own feathers. They have a lifespan of up to 50 years and can sometimes outlive their owners. 

    Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
    Cockatiels(pictured left) are relatively easier to care for!

    Which one is more energetic?

    Cockatoos are much more likely to form strong bonds with their owner. They display wider social skills and needs. 

    Moreover, they are often kept as a singular bird and thus interact a lot with their keepers. They require constant attention or activities to keep them occupied. 

    Cockatiels are affectionate but, if kept in groups, will socialize with their own kind more than with humans. 

    Their personalities are much more laidback, and even other parrot species, such as the monk parakeet and lovebirds and more active and vocal than them. 

    Who talks more?

    Cockatoos have developed vocal ability and can mimic a wide range of human, animal, and other sounds. 

    They can be trained to produce these sounds and also learn by themselves through simulation. 

    However, they are still not as adept as some other birds like the African Grey parrots or Monk parakeets, for example. 

    Cockatiels, on the other hand, cannot mimic sounds. They can only scream or whistle and are good at copying tunes and pitches. 

    They cannot produce human-voice sounds. Cockatoos are generally louder than them. 

    Who is more affectionate?

    Both birds display affection for their owners. When reared well, both can learn tricks, talk, and socialize with their owners. 

    However, cockatoos, in general, are known to be more affectionate. 

    They demand attention from their owners, appreciate being hand-touched, and display negative behaviors of being ignored.

    Cockatiels require less attention. In fact, this in itself makes them an ideal beginner pet. They are smarter than most birds but still require less constant supervision and activity. 

    While cockatiels can also get depressed and start feather plucking – you can get them mates to socialize with. 

    Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
    Cockatoos need more affection from their owners

    Which one is noisier?

    How noisy a bird is, is often a personality trait that depends on both the bird and its owner. However, on the whole, cockatoos are much louder and bigger chatter bugs than cockatiels. 

    They can pick up a variety of noises through repetition. They are more social and prone to interacting with humans – making them an overall noisy bunch.

    Wild cockatoos in Australia are quite loud when moving in groups. 

    Cockatiels are more subdued and mostly perform bird-like sounds than mimicking humans. 

    Having said that, a bunch of wild cockatiels can also be equally noisy, but their tones are not as loud as a cockatoo’s. 

    Which one is smarter?

    Cockatoos are among the smartest birds found in the world. There are many instances of cockatoos being able to make tools, solve problems patiently and perform simple tasks. 

    They pick up tricks fast and are highly motivated by food. 

    In fact, a cockatoo can learn a trick simply from watching another bird do it! During tests by scientists, they could even adjust the tools they were using accordingly to solve the problem in front of them. 

    Both wild and captive adult cockatoos were able to perform these tasks and had similar mental capacities. Cockatiels can also catch on to simple tricks, but they are nowhere as smart as cockatoos. 

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      Which is one is likely to bite you?

      Cockatiels are generally non-aggressive birds and do not bite their owners. If agitated, they may nip at you and will only bite if they sense danger. 

      However, since cockatiels are much smaller in size – their bites are less damaging. 

      They can draw blood but will not be able to crush your finger in a way that requires stitches or long-term medical care. 

      Cockatoos, on the other hand, are known for their large bite force. They cannot bite your finger off clean, like some birds. 

      But a good bite can crush your finger and cause nerve injury. A cockatoo bite requires immediate medical attention. 

      Over-stimulated or stressed birds often end up biting their owners, and with large birds – one should always be careful. 

      Nipping, on the other hand, is a common and playful behavior and is not harmful to either bird species. 

      Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
      Cockatoo bites can be painful, they are larger birds who can pierce the skin

      Who is easier to train?

      Both cockatoos and cockatiels are highly receptive to training and hand-rearing specifically if initiated into this early on. Moreover, their crest is an easy way to find out if the bird if satisfied, stressed, or angry. Cockatiels can only be trained to a limited degree. 

      Cockatoos are much smarter and can be trained to a larger extent. However, training them is quite intensive and requires an investment of time, energy, toys, and treats. Along with training, they also require mental stimulation in the form of puzzles to keep them sharp. 

      Physical Differences

      Some common physical differences between the two are:

      • Color – Cockatiels are only available in yellow, white, and grey. Cockatoos can be red, black, salmon, yellow, white, and more. 
      • Beak size – Cockatoos have a much larger and curved beak. Cockatiels have small, pinkish beaks. 
      • Feet – Cockatoos have ashy grey or black feet. Cockatiels have pinkish feet. 
      • Crest – The crest of cockatiels is much thinner and you can spot the individual feathers. Cockatoos have thicker feathers on their crest that are bunched. 

      Which bird is bigger?

      All cockatoo species are much larger in size than cockatiels. Their sizes vary from species to species. 

      The orange-crested Cockatoo, for example, grows up to 12.8 inches and weighs around 13.4 oz. 

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        The Galah on the other hand has a size of 13.6 inches and a weight of 14 oz. The palm cockatoo can grow up to 20 inches with a weight of 42 oz. 

        Cockatiels are a singular species and have the same size for both males and females. They grow to a length of around 12.9 inches and weigh between 2.8oz to 3.5 oz. 

        Their average wingspan is 13.7 inches. Most of their length comes from a long, pointed tail. 

        You can see that even for a similarly sized cockatoo and cockatiel, by weight, cockatiels are much lighter. 

        Who is more colorful?

        Cockatoos exhibit a wider range of color than cockatiels, though the latter also has many mutations. 

        The sulfur-crested cockatiel is white and sulfur yellow. Galahs are pink and light silver. The palm cockatoo is smoke-grey with bright red cheek patches. 

        Major Mitchell’s cockatoo is pink and white with a huge crest.

        Cockatiels can be fully white, yellow, or grey. The Lutino cockatiel is fully yellow (with orange cheek patches) or white. 

        The Whiteface Cockatiel has a white face and grey body. The Silver Cockatiel has a yellow face with orange cheek patches and a grey body. They can also be mottled like the Pied Cockatiel. 

        Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
        Cockatoos have more color variations

        Who needs more physical activity?

        The larger cockatoos require way more physical activity than cockatiels. Cockatiels as pets do not need any special physical activity

        As long as you give them enough space and toys, they can remain active among themselves. A good diet also goes a long way to preventing obesity and associated diseases.

        Cockatoos, on the other hand, require lots of mandated exercises. 

        Since pet bids may not be able to fly, they are not able to burn enough calories like their wild counterparts. These birds require regular out-of-cage activities to remain fit. 

        Which bird lives longer?

        Cockatoos have a much longer lifespan. While they average around 40, there are cases of cockatoos surviving up to 100 years

        The sulfur-crested cockatoos specifically can live for as long as 120 years but average around 65 years. 

        Cockatiels have much shorter lives. They can live for anywhere between 10 to 14 years. 

        But if in captivity and cared for, they can live longer. The oldest cockatiel ever reached the prime age of 36 years! 

        What food does each bird take?

        In the wild, cockatiels commonly eat small grains, seeds, berries, nuts, and leafy vegetables. 

        As pets, they thrive on pellets and grains. Pet cockatiels can also eat other human-food items and even eggs and meat. 

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          Cockatoos eat berries, seeds, nuts, grains, roots, and plant parts. These birds often have individual personalities and will prefer one food item over the other. 

          As pets, you can feed them pellets of different food types as well as small treats like carrots and dried fruits. 

          Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
          Cockatoos can be very expensive.

          Which Is More Expensive: Cockatiels or Cockatoos?

          Cockatiels are very common companion pets and can be easily found in pet stores. 

          Cockatoos, on the other hand, are much more difficult to source and are quite expensive. Depending on the species, the price will vary. 

          The palm cockatoo, for example, is the most expensive of all. These beautiful birds can cost around $10,000. 

          The galah has a price of $2,000. At $1500, the Goffin is the cheapest of the species. Moreover, cockatoos require more food and regular vet checkups, which are added costs. 

          Can You Put Cockatiels And Cockatoos Together?

          Cockatoos are much larger in size than cockatiels and are territorial birds that do not thrive well with other birds. 

          Due to their size disparity, it is best to house them in separate aviaries. 

          You can keep cockatiels with other smaller parrots, such as budgies or parakeets. If you do keep them together (say, from childhood), keep a close eye on the two. 

          Cockatoos can and will bully smaller cockatiels, sometimes even killing them. 

          If you own both of them – it’s best to keep them in separate cages but allow some common playtime. During this time, be present and keep an eye on it. 

          Which Bird Is A Better Pet For You?

          This can be a big decision to make since both birds have long lifespans. Consider these points before investing in a pet: 

          How much time you are willing to put in

          Cockatiels are good pets for those looking for companions that do not require constant energy and attention. 

          They thrive well by themselves. However, if you’re looking for a long-term companion similar to a dog – cockatoos are a good option. 

          How much money can you spend

          Cockatoos are way more expensive to buy and maintain. Their food and vet trips cost more, as these birds are almost twice the weight of cockatiels. Cockatiels are great, cost-effective pets. 

          Cockatoo Vs Cockatiel
          Cockatiel vs Cockatoo

          Your personality

          If you’re looking for a laidback pet, cockatiels are the way to go. But those looking for a more social and interactive pet can opt for a cockatoo. 

          Your future plans

          Cockatoos can live for a long time, often outliving their owner and thriving for generations. If you keep them as pets, you need to have an outline of who will take care of them after. 

          Frequently Asked Questions

          What makes a cockatoo unique?

          Cockatoos are smart birds with the capability to solve problems and puzzles. They are social with both cockatoos and humans. 
          They can display a range of emotions and form deep bonds with their keepers. Visually, they have a large crest that makes them unique and easy to identify.

          Do Cockatiels get along with cockatoos?

          Cockatoos are territorial and do not like to share their space. While 
          both can co-exist, keepers need to keep an eye to see if the cockatoo ever starts being territorial or attacking the smaller cockatiel. Aggressive cockatoos can kill cockatiels. 

          What is special about cockatiels?

          Cockatiels are small yet interactive and relatively intelligent birds. They are great companion birds to have as pets. 
          They also display unique personalities with varied capabilities for learning new tricks and songs. Their crest, which they can raise or fold at will, is also a special capability. 

          Are cockatoos the smartest bird?

          While cockatoos are smart – they are not the smartest of all birds. Among parrots, the African gray parrots are known for being the smartest. 
          Corvids such as crows, ravens, and magpies are also extremely smart at problem-solving and tasks.

          Wrap Up

          Both birds can be great pets. But before investing, it is best to know more about their habits, diets, and characteristics. 

          If you’re a first-time pet owner or live within a smaller space – it’s best to go for a group of cockatiels because they are smaller, have lower maintenance costs, and are cheaper birds.

          Thank you for reading!

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