Attractive and entertaining, parrots are becoming increasingly popular pets in the United States. Two of the most popular species are cockatiel and parakeets.
Whether you want to get a parrot pet or learn more about them, you might wonder what exactly the differences are.
Parakeets are the most popular pet birds in the US. They are slightly larger than a canary, with long tails and no crest. Their most common color is green, but hues can vary from white to deep blue and purple. Cockatiels are larger than parakeets, are crested, and have longer tails. They typically live longer and are healthier than parakeets.
The table below shows a quick list of facts and differences between parakeet vs. cockatiel*:
|Classification (species)||Nymphicus hollandicus||Melopsittacus undulatus|
|Native geographic range||Australia||Australia & other warm regions|
|Natural habitat||Open woodlands, savannas, and other open areas||Grasslands, savannas, woodlands, open forests, farmlands|
|Size||10 to 14 inches||7 to 8 inches|
|Weight||2.8 to 4.4 ounces||1 to 1.4 ounces|
|Appearance||Slender, streamlined bodies with crested heads and long tails that can make up half of their length||Streamlined but more robust bodies, pointed wings, and tails, and distinct plumage patterns|
|Temperament||Gentle and affectionate, they like being petted or held||Gentle, docile, and easy to tame. Bonds with owners|
|Vocalization||Vocal. Can mimic sounds and speech||Vocal. Can mimic sounds and speech|
|Nutrition (in captivity)||Quality pellets and vegetables||Quality pellets and vegetables|
|Breeding||Spring; 18 to 20 days egg incubation time||Spring; 18 to 23 days egg incubation time|
|Common health problems||Respiratory diseases, parasites, infections, fatty liver disease, reproductive problems||Bacterial and viral infections, liver diseases, hormonal diseases, tumors|
|Lifespan||16 to 25 years||8 to 15 years|
*Data in the table was sourced from scientific publications, veterinary websites, magazines, almanacs, and other official sources cited throughout this article. For comparison purposes and to avoid confusion, the term parakeet in this article refers to budgerigar parrots (Melopsittacus undulatus), commonly referred to as parakeets in the US.
15 Differences Between Cockatiel vs. Parakeet Parrots
Cockatiels and parakeets are both parrots and belong to the same family, Psittacidae. However, they are part of different genera and species.
Cockatiels are the only member of the Nymphicus genus, but they share a subfamily with cockatoos. They are very similar in appearance to their larger cousins but are smaller and more manageable to keep as pets.
Parakeets are not a species but a group of parrots that includes 115 species in 30 genera. However, the term parakeet is typically only used in the US when referring to budgerigars – or Melopsittacus undulatus species.
Like cockatiels, budgerigars are the only member of the Melopsittacus genus.
2. Native Geographic Range
Cockatiels and parakeets alike are native to Australia. However, both parrot types have been introduced to other geographic ranges.
Parakeets are now found in Europe, including Switzerland, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and South Africa. A feral population also exists in Florida.
Cockatiels are known to have been introduced in Tasmania, but individuals that were abandoned or escaped captivity have also formed flocks in numerous areas around the globe.
3. Natural Habitat
In their native geographic range, both parakeets and cockatiels live in similar habitats.
Both parrot species prefer open areas, such as grasslands, savannas, open woodlands or forests, and farmlands.
They both prefer inland rather than coastal areas; however, proximity to a source of water determines habitat selection for both species.
In periods of drought, cockatiels and parakeets alike can migrate to coastal or wooded areas.
One of the main differences between cockatiels and parakeets is their size, with the former being larger.
Sexual dimorphism is present in both species, meaning that males are larger than females.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that a larger size is synonymous with a heavier weight. Cockatiels typically weigh between 2.8 and 4.4 ounces and are about three times heavier than parakeets.
In fact, adult parakeets only weigh between 1 and 1.4 ounces. Due to the sexual dimorphism in both species, males are heavier than females.
The main difference in appearance – size aside – is the fact that cockatiels have crests, whereas parakeets do not.
Cockatiels also have long tails that often make up for half their body size. These birds have slender bodies and proud postures. In flight, their wing and tail feathers spread out into a wide fan that enables them to control altitude and stability.
Wild cockatiels are very similar in appearance regardless of their gender, even though females typically have more grey on their heads and duller color.
Budgerigars have streamlined bodies too, but they are more robust compared to cockatiels.
The tails are also shorter, while wild coloring varies from yellow on the forehead to a variegated green on the head and wings. The body is typically yellowish-green.
A distinctive trait between parakeets and cockatiels that can be usually observed in flight is the sole, long feather on the parakeet’s tail that splits the “fan” in two during flight. The side feathers on the tail are also visibly shorter than the central one.
For this reason, when flying, the parakeets’ spread-out tails have a triangular shape. Cockatiels’ tails have a rounder outline when spread out.
In the wild, cockatiels are grey with yellowish-white foreheads and bright orange or red markings on the cheeks. Parakeets are green with yellow foreheads and dark grey or black strikes on the head and wings.
However, selective breeding and color mutations made it so that both species grown in captivity can have numerous other colors.
The vast majority of cockatiels have a grey background of various tonalities, ranging from silver to dark grey. This shade typically blends with color splashes that can range from yellow to orange or red.
Rare colors include bluish and purplish shades, green, as well as the Pied variety in which the grey color is replaced by white. Albino cockatiels are also popular.
Parakeets come in an even wider range of colors. Green and blue backgrounds are the most common, including purple and mauve.
Grey is another common shade, while lutino and albino varieties are also easy to obtain through selective breeding.
Cockatiels and parakeets have similar temperaments, even though parakeets are typically more playful and less aggressive.
Generally, cockatiels are gentle and affectionate pets that like interacting with their owners. They like being held, even though they aren’t too fond of cuddling.
These birds usually aim to please, so bad behavior is easy to correct by ignoring it while rewarding positive behavior.
However, untamed cockatiels tend to nip other pets and their owners.
Parakeets may also nip sometimes, but this is rare. They bond with their owners, especially when kept alone.
If bonding with a partner, though, they are more likely to ignore humans and other pets – after all, they aren’t called lovebirds for nothing.
Both parrot types can mimic human speech and other sounds, and they can both learn to talk.
Parrots are naturally vocal and make a lot of sounds ranging from chirping to beak clacking, screaming, or shrieking.
They also learn to mimic sounds in their environment, from songs to other pet sounds (such as barking or mewing), common household sounds like the doorbell and even human speech.
While cockatiels and parakeets are both vocal, cockatiels tend to be somewhat less talkative compared to parakeets.
Speech and vocalization aside, another similarity between cockatiels and parakeets is the nutritional requirement.
In the wild, both parrot types live in the same habitats. They are both primarily herbivores and consume the same foods.
Things don’t change in captivity, and according to vets, both cockatiels and parakeets do well on a diet made up of up to 80% quality bird pellets and 20% to 25% fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, the diet can consist of up to 60% pellets, 20% seeds, and 20% fruits and veggies.
Fresh food should ideally include pale vegetables with higher water content, such as lettuce or celery. Berries, apples, and, on occasion, small quantities of cooked egg or lean meat can supplement the bird’s diet.
Reportedly, avocado is toxic for both cockatiels and parakeets, and it should not make it to their meals.
As cage birds, cockatiels and parakeets are easier to care for compared to other pets. However, they are social birds that suffer from solitude.
In the wild, both cockatiels and parakeets live in flocks that can count over 20 individuals. This is why both birds crave interaction and bond with their owners when kept alone.
Busy owners who can’t interact or spend too much time with their bird pet can improve the parakeet’s or cockatiel’s life quality by providing them with a partner.
These two birds can also get along with one another if kept in a large cage or aviary.
Both cockatiels and parakeets are monogamous and typically choose a mate with which they bond long before breeding.
These species are cooperative breeders, meaning that both partners are involved in raising the young.
Typically, budgerigars build nests in a pre-existing cavity, so providing the pets with nesting materials and a box or hollow wood stick is desirable.
Cockatiels take advantage of existent nest holes, and males only inspect them for safety, so a breeding box is typically sufficient.
Parakeets reach sexual maturity about six months after hatching; they typically breed in spring and lay five eggs per season on average. Chicks hatch after about 18 to 23 days.
Cockatiels also breed in spring, but they reach sexual maturity in 13 to 18 months. They lay up to seven eggs per season that have an incubation time similar to parakeets.
13. Common Health Problems
Similarities between the two species also occur from a health standpoint.
Both parrot types are prone to respiratory issues, bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, and internal parasites.
Reproductive problems can occur due to selective breeding, typically signaling hormonal imbalances.
An improper diet can lead to obesity and fatty liver or renal problems in both cockatiels and parakeets.
A difference is that parakeets are more likely to develop tumors compared to cockatiels and other bird pets.
14. Exercise Requirements
Cockatiels and parakeets are active birds that need regular exercise.
Free flying is encouraged for both species, either in an aviary or a secured room (closed doors and windows, fans turned off, and no other pets in the room).
The cage or aviary should be spacious and not overcrowded. Cage enrichments, such as mirrors, sticks, bird gyms and baths, and other toys can keep these birds occupied and happy.
Both cockatiels and parakeets can live relatively long lives in captivity.
Which Is Right For You?
Size and appearance aside, there aren’t many differences between cockatiels and parakeets. Which is right for you is a matter of preference.
Typically, cockatiels are louder than parakeets, but they don’t vocalize as often as parakeets do. Parakeets are not as loud, but they are much more “talkative.”
Both species form bonds with their owners and can learn to speak. However, cockatiels can nib or bite more often. Taming both bird types is generally easy, though.
The main difference is the space requirement. Cockatiels are larger and, therefore, need larger cages if you don’t have enough room for an aviary.