How Can You Tell How Old a Cockatiel Is? Age Isn’t Just a Number for These Birds

This question is extremely common among bird owners – how can you tell how old a cockatiel is? The main reason is that after the first year, it is nearly impossible to tell the age of a cockatiel. In this article, I will share some insights with you that might help.

Cockatiels, or the Nymphicus hollandicus, are a type of parrot species belonging to the cockatoo family and native to Australia.

But most of us know and love them as the smart and playful pets we have all seen in the homes of our friends or loved ones.  

Whether you adopt or buy a pet or find an abandoned cockatiel, determining a bird’s age can help you treat it better. 

For example, immature birds should not be allowed to breed and should not be given a nest box.

But how do you know if your bird has reached maturity or not? Age and maturity in bird species can differ wildly from how we age. 

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is

In this article, I take a look at cockatiel behavior and physical signs that can help you determine what their (approximate) age is. 

How To Tell a Cockatiels Age: Physical Signs

Following are a few physical signs you can use to determine the age of a cockatiel: 

Leg Band

If your cockatiel has a leg band with its birth year, finding its age should be easy. 

Some breeders mark their cockatiel’s vital information using a leg band. They also indicate if the bird was born in captivity or captured later. 

These bands contain various information about the birds and the last two letters of their year of birth.

Beaks

The appearance of a cockatiel’s beak and nails might also give you a hint of its age. 

Like human nails, a cockatiel’s beak and nails will continue to grow throughout life. However, the rate of growth slows with age. 

A younger bird will have a shorter, more quickly growing beak and nails, while an older bird will have a longer, slower growing beak and nails.

Moreover, the beaks of immature cockatiels seem larger as they are not covered by fur yet. The beak also gets more and more scuffed and worn out as a cockatiel grows older.  

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Younger cockatiels have more visible beaks

Body Size

Adult birds would obviously be larger than younger and immature birds. 

A full-grown cockatiel is around 13 inches in size. Baby cockatiels are smaller and leaner with thin bodies. Older birds will be chunkier and bigger. 

However, even adult cockatiels can be as small as 11 inches. Hence body-based identification is not very accurate. 

Also, look out for the cheek patch – it grows with age as well. A cockatiel with very large cheek patches has likely reached adulthood already. 

Pelvic Bones

This applies only to female cockatiels, especially if they are about to lay eggs.

As they mature, their pelvic bones widen, and the distance between their legs grows to allow them to easily lay eggs. 

If you have a female cockatiel, checking out this width should give you an estimate of how old it must at least be.

Tail Feathers

As cockatiels age, the quality of their feathers may decline. Younger birds tend to have smoother, shinier feathers, while older birds may have duller, more ragged feathers. 

The tail feathers also elongate. In cockatiels younger than a year, the tail feathers are equal to the body length. 

After a year, you may see their tail longer than their entire body length! If your bird still has “pin feathers,” it means they’re less than a month old. 

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
The tail feathers of an older cockatiel can be longer than the rest of its body!

Eyes

The irises of young cockatiels are typically a pale gray or blue color. As they age, their irises will darken, becoming a darker gray or brown.

Moreover, younger cockatiels have large eyes – a rather hard-to-miss feature. 

The eyes get smaller as the bird ages. Adult cockatiels have the tiny eyes that we are all familiar with.

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Baby cockatiels have googly eyes, just like human infants.

Crest

The beautiful crest on a cockatiel’s head is not only a key identifying feature but can also give you an idea of how old the bird might be. 

Adult cockatiels have relatively long crests that point a little backward. Young cockatiels, on the other hand, have short and spiky-looking crests with short feathers.

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Older cockatiels (left) have a visible bend in their crest hair, whereas younger ones have more of a “mohawk” look

 

Foot Scales

Older cockatiels will have pink feet that are scalier as well as long nails. Young cockatiels will have smooth skin on their feet. 

It’s worth noting that these physical signs are not always reliable indicators of a cockatiel’s age, and it can be difficult to accurately determine the age of a bird simply by looking at it. 

Moreover, the maximum change in body and plumage is only visible in the 1st year. After this, changes become less distinct, and guessing a bird’s age is tougher. 

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Older birds have dark and scaly legs, whereas younger ones have pink and smooth ones

How Can You Tell How Old a Cockatiel Is? Behavioral Aspects

Here are a few behavioral signs you can use to determine the age of a cockatiel:

Voice

As you might be aware, male cockatiels are capable of vocalizing very well

While males of all ages are known for their vocalization, younger birds may be more vocal and more prone to singing and squeaking. 

Older birds are less vocal or may have a more subdued vocalization, tending towards whistling. This is because they develop muscles that help them pick up more tunes. 

However, this method usually works only for male cockatiels.

Sleep

In the wild, cockatiels do not sleep a lot in order to avoid predation from large animals, other predatory birds and so on

However, as pets, they spend a lot of time sleeping! 

However, younger cockatiels tend to be more playful and full of energy, while older birds may be less active and less interested in toys and other forms of play. 

While a young cockatiel sleeps around 10 to 14 hours a day, an adult one can sleep up to 18 hours. That is, in addition to the daytime naps they take!

Courting

You can find out a cockatiel’s age from its courting behavior as well. As your cockatiel reaches maturity, you will notice them displaying signs of courting

For males, this can include struts and mating dances. This usually happens when they are around six months old.

Females can welcome affection by being more cuddly or letting their wings open when they reach the age of 10 to 18 months. 

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
On reaching sexual maturity, females will invite attention by flapping their feathers more often

They may also start burrowing or trying to build nests for laying their eggs.

If your birds display these urges before maturity, you should discourage them by putting them in separate cages. 

Movements

Another behavioral trait that gives away a cockatiel’s age is how it moves and sits. 

Young cockatiels move a little awkwardly as they are yet to learn how to use their wings and legs.

When napping, they crouch low on the perch and fluff out their feathers. 

However, they are also more interactive and social, trying to move around and play all the time.

Older birds may be more reserved and independent. They are less interested in interacting with their human parents.

Activities

There may also be some other signs, such as – older cockatiels may become more bonded to their human caregivers. 

This can manifest as increased interaction and affection, as well as a greater willingness to be handled and cuddled. 

They can also take on training easily. 

Older birds will be less active but more vocal and be sure-footed and better fliers than their younger counterparts. 

Just like human children, young cockatiels are very playful and curious. They remain this way for about two to three years of age when they attain full maturity. 

Mature cockatiels are fond of human interaction and playing with toys too, but they are much calmer. 

Cockatiel Costs And Where To Buy
Younger birds need more playtime

How To Tell How Old My Cockatiel Is: Differences By Age Group

As you can see by now, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint a cockatiel’s age once it matures unless you know when it was born. 

The best you can do is divide cockatiels into several age groups. Here’s a simple chart of how birds look and act as they grow older. 

Newly hatched baby cockatielNew-born chicks will have their eyes closed, be pink in color with few wet feathers, and be around an inch in size. 
They are totally helpless at this stage and will show little to no movement except while feeding.
After a week, they will start growing pin feathers and will slowly open their eyes. 
Only an inch long at the time of birth, they grow to four to five times their initial size in just two weeks.
These feathers start opening after the second week. 
A few more weeks later, they will be fully covered with pin feathers and be more active. 
2nd to 6th week5-week-old birds are called fledglings.
At this stage, all pin feathers unfurl, and the birds will be quite active. 
They will forage for food, try to fly, and start being vocal. Due to this reason, the wing feathers might get a little tattered.
All birds look like females at this age. This is because the distinct yellow that characterizes adult males is missing in young cockatiels.
6 weeks to a yearAt this stage, we have an almost fully grown cockatiel on our hands. 
Their plumage will brighten as they molt for the first time, and their bodies will get wider. 
Even after completing the first molt, cockatiels younger than a year will have shorter tails than their adult counterparts. 
You will be able to distinguish their genders by the tail feathers.
Males will be yellow-faced and have plain tail feathers with no stripes.
Females will have more colorful plumage and a tail with no stripes. 
Adult cockatielsAfter a year, most cockatiels don’t show any physical signs of aging. 
One thing you can look for is the length of the tail, which usually elongates after the 1st year. 
Older adults For an old bird, you may be able to see some signs, such as large and drooping cheek patches and crinkled or dull feathers. 
An easily visible change is the level of activity – older birds become much less active. 
It is important at this stage to increase the number of vet visits and make sure that your bird avoids the common diseases associated with old age, such as heart and kidney issues.

If your bird is still young, you can track its growth using our cockatiel growth chart

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Pop quiz: Young or old? Hint: Notice the deep-set eyes, curved crest hair, and dark scaly legs.

What Are Cockatiels Like, By Life Stage

Any cockatiel that receives a healthy diet consisting of seeds, fruits, and vegetables and also gets plenty of exercises, mental stimulation, love, and affection from its owner can hope to have a life expectancy of 20-25 years or more.

However, the stages of these 20 years (or more) of their lives are not divided in the same ratio as they are for us. It isn’t easy to compare them with our own.

Even when taken as a percentage of their lifespan, cockatiels grow up very fast, have more prime years than us, and only show signs of aging towards the very end. 

Instead, I have divided their life into stages similar to that of a human and tried to classify what ages they are when they show similar characteristics.

InfantsBirth & first few weeks.For cockatiels, the first few weeks after birth are their infancy.
During this time, they require frequent care and attention. In fact, you have to feed very young chicks every 2 hours! 
‘Fledgelings’ that are six weeks of age are similar to that of human toddlers.
They are curious, start exploring their surroundings, and slowly start eating on their own. 
It is important to take care of their nutrition at this stage because infants need a lot of proteins, vitamins, and minerals to grow their muscles, beaks, and wings.
Childhood & Adolescence4 to 8 monthsA cockatiel’s development is similar to a child between the ages of six and 13.
They try out new things during this time, such as solid food, chewing, and flying.
Hence, this is the best time to get them started on training. 
You will find your cockatiel very active during this time.
They will learn through play, trial, and error, and it’s important to encourage them, even in rough play. 
Teenagers8 to 10 monthsThey learn to navigate social dynamics, form flocks, and gain attraction toward the opposite gender. 
You might see your bird being moody, spoilt, or territorial.
You should discourage sexual intents during this time by teaching them that this is negative behavior. 
Young adults1 to 10 yearsAfter around a year for males and 18 months for females, cockatiels become young adults.
As adults, they will now be interested in bonding, mating, and nesting. 
From here on, your cockatiel’s behavior will remain relatively the same. 
They are still energetic but more interested in mating and raising a family.
Female birds appreciate having a nest box during this stage.
Think of it as a human progressing from their 20s to their 40s. 
Middle-aged adult~ 10-14  yearsYou can now think of your bird as a middle-aged person. 
There will be little change in its behavior at this stage. 
It would be happy and content most of the time, enjoying being a part of the family.
Any sudden change is concerning and should be looked into. 
Your cockatiel will have a certain routine, preferences, and dislikes by this age. 
Elderly~15-20 yearsAn elderly bird that is 20 (average lifespan) has now crossed into senior citizen territory. 
A very old bird will become less active and show clear signs of aging in its ruffled feathers. 
Damaged feathers can also be due to an underlying health issue. 

Despite the fact that we have compared them to human years, mentally, cockatiels remain the intellectual equal of toddlers. 

Hence, they will continue to enjoy similar things such as toys, exercises, puzzles, and music even in their “old age.” 

How Can You Tell How Old A Cockatiel Is
Another one: Notice the pink feet, straight crest, and bigger eyes.

They have short attention spans, enjoy breaking and playing with things, and will chew on everything. 

Healthy adult birds will require mental stimulation, and it would be great if you could give them new toys every few months.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell a bird’s age?

Unless the bird in question is still in the early stage of its life cycle, the only way you can tell its age is by finding out when it was born. 
Its physical characteristics and behavioral traits can only give you a vague idea of how old it is. 
You can look at different things to tell your pet bird’s age. This includes physical factors like feathers, beaks, pelvic bones, crests, or feet. 
Certain behavioral aspects, such as their voice and daily movements and activities, can also clue you in.

Can a vet tell how old a cockatiel is?

If your bird does not have a band, the best way to know their age would be to take them to the vet. 
However, even for a vet, it’s nearly impossible to determine a cockatiel’s age once it hits adulthood. 
At most, the vet can tell you if it’s a young bird, a mature bird, or an elderly one. For younger cockatiels, it’s possible to estimate the age a bit more precisely.

At what age is a cockatiel fully grown?

It can take cockatiels up to two years to be full-grown. Adulthood varies based on gender. 
Male cockatiels are fully grown or sexually mature at 12 months of age. For females, this time is around 18 months. Only fully grown cockatiels should be allowed to mate and nest. 
Despite calling it “adulthood,” these birds will continue to grow and develop further. 
I already mentioned earlier the behavioral changes seen in cockatiels when they are two to three years old.

Do cockatiels change color as they age?

During the early stages of their life, cockatiels change color as they age. Juvenile cockatiels aren’t very colorful and resemble females to a large extent. 
Around the first molt, they start changing their colors. Males lose the tail stripes and get bright yellow faces. In the females, the tail stripes become more pronounced.  
However, they will not completely change their base color and only develop markings.

Wrap Up

So, there you have it. The best way to find out your pet’s age is to check the leg band (if there’s one) or contact the breeder if possible. 

If you’re unsure of your cockatiel’s age and don’t have a way to reach out to the breeder, it might help to consult a veterinarian or avian expert for a more accurate assessment. 

Moreover, if the bird is already a mature adult, there isn’t much to worry about, even if you don’t know its age. 

There can basically be two main problems: you should segregate your males and females before sexual maturity. Hence it is important to know the age.

Secondly, if your bird is approaching its older years, you won’t know how much longer it’s going to live. 

If your cockatiel starts showing signs of old age, watch out for health issues and increase the frequency of checkups and tests. 

Thanks for reading, and hopefully, you will have many years of fun with your cockatiel! 

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Team Beauty of Birds

Beautyofbirds.com's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

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Team Beauty of Birds is separate from the “Parrot Parent University” parrot training course and its instructors.

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