Cockatiels are currently the second most popular companion parrot species in the world. They are relatively small, social parrots that can bond easily with everyone in the family even if they have a mate or another parrot friend.
Cockatoos, however, are a completely different story. This is true even though out of all the parrot species, cockatiels and cockatoos are the most closely related to each other.
This means that choosing between a small sociable companion bird like the cockatiel and the larger, more demanding, and powerful cockatoo is a decision to weigh very carefully.
In this article, learn what you need to know before you make this choice.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel
As Lafeber pet company explains, cockatiels and cockatoos are genetically related.
However, this is pretty much where the similarities end. Making the choice between a cockatoo vs cockatiel is one that can impact every other choice you make for decades to come.
Meet a Cockatiel and a Cockatoo
In this sweet YouTube video, you can see and hear the differences between a cockatiel and a cockatoo.
The liner notes to this video point out how important it is not to mix species, especially when you are trying to care for a flock that includes such differently sized parrot species.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Size Differences
While cockatiels and cockatiels do look remarkably similar in their overall appearance, they are very different in their actual size.
Cockatiels top out at around 14 inches long and typically weigh between 80 and 180 grams (with females typically weighing more than males).
Cockatoos, on the other hand, can reach lengths of over two feet and weigh more than two pounds, as Psittacology points out.
And in fact, while there are only one species of cockatiel, World Parrot Trust explains that there are 21 different species of cockatoos, seven of which are currently considered to be endangered.
There can be moderate size differences between cockatoo species, which makes it important to research the full adult size of the specific cockatoo species you are considering.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Longevity Differences
Thanks to the groundbreaking work done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg through her Alex Foundation, we now know that parrots are capable of complex thought, including mastery of abstract concepts that were formerly thought to be exclusive to human beings.
This is so important to know! It means that, regardless of species, anytime you make a commitment to a parrot, you are bringing a sensitive, intelligent, and highly emotional animal into your world and your life.
Rehoming such an animal causes intense emotional trauma to the bird and may make finding a new forever family even harder.
As World Parrot Trust highlights, cockatiels typically live for around 20 years, although 30 years is not uncommon.
Cockatoos can easily live twice this long – many birds live into their 60s.
What this means is that, as long as you provide appropriate care to your new bird, you can expect to be spending the next 20 to 60 years of your life together.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Volume Differences
Cockatiels can be moderately noisy parrots, especially when they are left alone and are screaming for companionship.
But a cockatiel at its loudest cannot even begin to compare with a Moluccan cockatoo, which is both one of the most popular cockatoo species in the pet trade and also considered one of the 10 loudest parrots around the world.
According to Parrot Forums, a Moluccan cockatoo holds the world record for the loudest parrot sound at a whopping 135 decibels.
How loud are 135 decibels? Purdue University compares this volume level to the sound of a military jet plane taking off!
Cockatoos are not only volume-intensive, but they are sound-intensive as a whole.
Cockatoos are natural mimics and can easily master vocalizations that include car alarms, dog squeaky toys, ringing phones, jackhammers, and other noises you may not want to listen to all day every day.
With a cockatiel, you will get a whistling bird that may learn a few words. Male cockatiels tend to be more vocal than females.
With a cockatoo, no matter the species, you will have a noisy daily existence – these birds are not for the noise-intolerant.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Temperament Differences
All parrots will go through a period when they are no longer juveniles and are reproductively mature and ready to breed.
This can cause the parrot to exhibit hormonal behaviors such as excessive calling, nest seeking and guarding, aggressive behavior, and biting and egg-laying in females (even if they are kept alone).
But where a hormonal cockatiel might give you a hearty nip or two, a hormonal cockatoo can turn your whole life upside down.
Cockatiels retain the ability and inclination to maintain bonds with everyone in the family throughout puberty and into adulthood. This holds true even if the cockatiel also has a bird friend or is in a mated pair.
Cockatoos, like most larger parrot species, are much more likely to choose one family member to bond with and become aggressive towards other family members once they hit puberty.
Cockatoo owners often term this period “the terrible too’s” (as in “too” for “cockatoo”). But the myth is that the bird will grow out of it.
But as Northern Parrots points out, the reality is that this is normal wild cockatoo behavior and the bird is not likely to grow out of it.
This can mean a cockatoo is not a suitable pet for a family where everyone is going to want to develop a lasting bond with the new bird.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Housing Differences
Earlier in this article, you learned about the size differences between a cockatiel and a cockatoo (on average).
According to Bird Cage, you should always choose the largest cage size you can afford and accommodate.
For cockatiels, this means that the minimum cage size you should plan to get would be 20 inches by 20 inches by 24 inches, with cage bar spacing of between one-half and five-eights of an inch.
Cockatoos will need a much larger cage. On average, cockatoos require a minimum cage size of 36 inches by 48 inches by 48 inches, with cage bar spacing between one and one-and-a-half inches.
A cage of this size can easily take up half of a small bedroom, not including the space required when you open the cage top or front door to let your bird out for free time.
Cockatoo cages should be made of chew and bite-resistant stainless steel or powder-coated bird-safe metal. These types of cages are extremely heavy and can be difficult to install and move.
It is important to consider whether you have space and physical strength to handle a cage of this size.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Messiness Differences
As PetMD points out, both cockatiels and cockatoos produce large quantities of a special type of dander used to preen and care for their feathers.
For this and other reasons, both cockatiels and cockatoos are considered to be especially messy parrot species. Neither is suitable if you or anyone in your family suffers from allergies.
Cockatiels and cockatoos are also notoriously messy eaters who will readily drop and scatter part of anything they are eating. In the forest and grasslands of their native territories, this serves to help spread seeds and feed small foraging mammals.
In your home, it simply means you will always need to keep a dustpan and broom, and vacuum cleaner handy.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel Handling and Training Differences
While all parrots are prone to biting to some degree, cockatiels are sometimes nicknamed the “lovebirds of the parrot world” and for good reason.
They are widely regarded as being relatively easy to tame and train. As long as cockatiels are handled gently and appropriately, they are typically affectionate with humans and enjoy being cuddled and having their neck feathers scratched.
Cockatoos, on the other hand, are large and powerful parrots who are capable of causing lasting scars with their bite. While reports of actual bite strength vary, you can see photos of cockatoo bites that may make you think twice about owning a cockatoo.
Cockatoo vs Cockatiel: Which Species Is Right For You
Regardless of whether you decide to choose a cockatoo or a cockatiel, it is always a good idea to check with local parrot rescue organizations to see if they have a bird in need of rehoming.
This can be especially wise if you choose a cockatoo since the juvenile personality will not prepare you for the personality changes your bird will undergo in puberty and adulthood.
You can get a better sense of how comfortable you feel handling each parrot species and hear the volume of their calls before you make a lifetime commitment.
Best of all, charities often also give you the basic supplies, which can save you money on initial setup costs.