Can Cockatiels See In the Dark: the Answer May Surprise You

Cockatiels in the wild typically look very similar to one another. But in captive cockatiel breeding, cockatiels can display a variety of unusual colors and patterns.

This includes cockatiels with black eyes and cockatiels with red eyes. In most cases, red-eyed cockatiels are not albinos but rather belong to a color mutation called lutino.

The different cockatiel eye colors are one reason why many people think cockatiels can see in the dark. But can they? What does your cockatiel see when the lights go out? Read on to find out!

Can Cockatiels See In the Dark

Cockatiels can see in the dark, but only quite dimly. This is thought to be one of the reasons cockatiels can be so prone to night frights in very low light conditions.

Read on to learn lots more about cockatiel eyesight, including the reasons why your bird sees the world differently than you do.

Learn About Avian Eyesight

In this interesting YouTube video, you can learn about the similarities as well as the differences between avian eyesight and human eyesight.

How Well Do Cockatiels See in the Dark

Birds have evolved to have different vision strengths than humans to help them adapt for optimal survival in their wild habitats. In the case of cockatiels, they are diurnal like humans so they do not need to have excellent night vision abilities.

As Avian Avenue Parrot Forum explains, cockatiels do not typically forage for food, seek mates, build and defend nests and groom their feathers at night.

As Cockatiel Cottage points out, cockatiels need to get a minimum of 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to stay healthy.

So at night, cockatiels use the benefit of darkness to stay hidden high up in trees and get the sleep they need to be surrounded by the safety of their family unit and flock.

How Do Cockatiel Eyes Work

Science Connected explains some of the major similarities differences between avian eyes and the eyes of humans and other animals.

Similarities between people eyes and cockatiel eyes

The main way that cockatiel eyes are similar to people’s eyes is in how the eyelets in the light.

A cockatiel’s eyes get to light the same way our own eyes get light – by allowing ambient light to flow in through the lens, cornea, and vitreous area and all the way to the very back of the eye.

At the back of the eye are photoreceptors – light sensors.

Differences between people eyes and cockatiel eyes

And here is where cockatiel eyesight and people eyesight start to look quite different.

For starters, bird eyes have around double the number of photoreceptors in their eyes that people’s eyes have. This gives bird eyes a wider range of vision as well as the ability to see a different degree of detail.

Cockatiel bird eyes are also larger compared to the size of their heads and bodies than nearly any other animal on the planet.

As Audubon explains, the difference is basically similar to trying to watch a movie on your laptop computer versus on a movie theater screen.

You just see the movie a lot better when you go to the theater!

Bird eyes are also placed differently than people’s eyes, giving cockatiels a different field of vision. Whereas people’s eyes are placed in the front of the head, cockatiel eyes are placed on either side of the head.

And last but certainly not least, bird eyes have the ability to see in ultraviolet light. People’s eyes can’t do that because people’s eyes only have three types of light-sensing photoreceptors. We are missing the fourth type – the UV photoreceptors.

How Well Do Cockatiels See During the Day

What does this all add up to?

Well, during the daytime, cockatiels can see better than people can. Their eyes see in more detail with a wider field of vision and a greater degree of color and intensity variations.

This is why your cockatiel can see a bird of prey sailing so far up in the sky and let out a shriek and it takes you several minutes and a pair of binoculars to spot the hawk.

How Well Do Cockatiels See During the Night

However, once darkness falls, neither you nor your cockatiel could see that same hawk.

Cockatiel’s eyesight is sufficiently poor during the night that your bird relies on their other senses to try to stay safe and avoid predation.

As we mentioned in the introduction here, cockatiels are quite prone to a phenomenon owners call night frights.

Night flights are not fully understood, but they do occur in all companion parrot species to some degree. However, cockatiels seem especially prone to having night frights.

As Northern Parrots points out, there are some things owners can do to minimize the likelihood and frequency of night frights.

One of the most effective tools you can use is to simply allow a little bit of steady and constant ambient light in the room where your cockatiel sleeps at night.

It is important that this light be steady and constant rather than intermittent, such as a beam of light from opening or closing a door or a car’s headlights streaming in the window.

Intermittent light can increase the potential for night frights.

But steady constant ambient light that simply raises the visibility slightly in the sleeping area is similar to a full moon night in the wild. It is easier to see what is making that rustling noise in the next branch or where that draft came from.

So it is less likely your startled, frightened cockatiel will react with thrashing, beating wings, and rapid heart rate, all of which can cause bleeding and even fatality.

Some owners also like to let their birds sleep in uncovered cages at night for this same reason. However, an uncovered cage can also create the potential for drafts, which are not good for cockatiels.

If your cockatiel suffers from night frights, adding a small light in the room but keeping the doors closed and window shades drawn may help to reduce low vision-related frights.

Do Lutino Cockatiels See Differently Than Other Cockatiels

This article would not be complete without a mention of the characteristic pink or red lutino cockatiel eyes.

As The Native Cockatiel Society of Australia explains, lutino cockatiels are the result of a specialized color mutation that filters out the grey spectrum color pigments.

So lutino cockatiels are born with pink or red eyes.

While lutino is a similar type of mutation to whiteface (which has normal eyes) and albino (which has pink eyes), it is not the same as either mutation.

True albino animals in any species are quite rare. Albinos often have more light sensitivity because their eyes lack pigment that functions kind of like sunglasses in the presence of intense light.

Lutino cockatiels may be born with light pink or red eyes that darken to a very dark red as they grow up. Sometimes very dark red lutino eyes even look black in some lights.

There is some disagreement in the parrot community about whether lutino cockatiels are more light-sensitive and thus more prone to night frights.

In other words, scientists do not yet know whether lutino cockatiels are truly more light-sensitive or able to see better at night than non-lutino cockatiels.

Observing your own bird is the best way to decide.

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