A medium parrot native to Australian wetlands, scrublands and bushlands, the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is an abundant species, with an estimated wild population in excess of 1 million.
Like the majority of parrot species, cockatiels are cavity nesters, using natural tree hollows or purpose-built cockatiel nest boxes to raise their young. Keep reading to learn more about cockatiels’ nesting habits and preferences.
Cockatiel nests are commonly established in a cavity in the trunk of a waterside tree, which is then lined with wood dust. Both males and females take an active role in site selection and the incubation duties that follow.
In the wild, breeding for cockatiels is triggered by the arrival of the rainy season, with the wet weather prompting cockatiel pairs to begin nesting, as it signals the wider availability of grains and seeds in the weeks ahead.
Cockatiels are nomadic birds, moving to wherever the food sources are most abundant, and a nest site needs to be located within easy reach of plentiful supplies of grain and freshwater while young are being raised.
To learn more about typical nest location choices and parental roles in raising young, then please do read on.
Cockatiels are cavity nesters in the wild
Typical for parrot species, cockatiels are cavity nesters, and seek natural hollows in tree limbs or trunks. As granivores, cockatiels need frequent access to fresh drinking water, and this is a vital consideration when they select a tree hollow in which to lay their eggs.
Cockatiels are nomadic and move from place to place determined by the availability of food. They do not form loyal associations to a nesting territory and once the breeding season is over, they will quickly move on, often as part of a larger flock in search of another food supply.
Nesting sites in tall trees that are in or near to water, and within easy reach of feeding grounds, are preferred, so if these are present in a backyard, then they may offer a suitable spot for breeding cockatiels to raise their young.
Open areas without dense woodland are preferred so they have a clear view of the surrounding landscape.
Captive Cockatiels nest in nest boxes, which mimic their natural cavities
Natural cavities in dead or dying eucalyptus trees are a particularly popular choice for nesting cockatiels.
Cavities that have been hollowed out by other animals or birds are used, and a cockatiel pair claim an entire tree for themselves and will not tolerate other pairs using a different cavity in the same tree.
Cockatiel nests are located at least 1m to 1.8m (3ft 3 in to 6ft) off the ground, but are often found at higher altitudes too, upwards of 2m (6.5 ft).
A pair of Cockatiels perched together
Cockatiels are cavity nesters and will seek a hollowed out chamber in a tree trunk or limb in which to set up home.
No data exists for the size of cavities preferred by cockatiels in the wild, although it is known that breeding pairs seek a relatively large hollow with a spacious inner chamber in which they can raise their young. Cockatiels enter the nest cavities tail-first.
Cockatiel hatchlings inside of a nest box
Cockatiels nesting follows the annual rainy season, as this is when food supplies are at their most naturally available. In South Australia, nesting usually takes place from August to December, while further north, it’s much earlier in the year – from April to July.
Laying takes up to two weeks, with between 4 and 7 eggs usually added to a clutch on alternate days until the clutch is complete. Eggs are then incubated for between 17 and 23 days. Young cockatiel chicks develop reasonably quickly and are ready to fledge by the time they reach five weeks.
The timing of cockatiels laying their eggs depends on their region. In the northern limits of their range, laying takes place between April and July. Further south, in South Australia, it’s most common between August and September.
Temperatures in cockatiels’ native Australia can vary greatly between summer and winter, and the species adapts well to both extremes of heat and cold. In winter, they will either fly off in search of warmer surroundings or seek shelter in a cavity until the conditions improve.
Cockatiel pair incubating eggs inside of the nest box
Parrots in general are not among nature’s most skilled nest-builders and cockatiels are no exception, preferring instead to use a ready-made tree hollow or cavity. This chamber is then lined with wood dust before eggs are laid on the base.
The cavity may be a natural hollow or an abandoned hole previously used by another bird species.
Male cockatiels inspect a potential nest site for safety and suitability before giving it the seal of approval. Only basic preparations are needed to ready the chamber before the eggs are laid. The female enters the cavity and begins laying, and then is joined by the male to take turns incubating once the clutch is completed several days later.
Pair of Cockatiels perched on a branch
Cockatiels’ eggs are plain white and smooth with no markings. They are rounded and typically ‘egg-shaped’, measuring 25.5 mm by 19 mm (1 in by 0.75 in).
Between four and seven eggs are typical for a cockatiel clutch, although on occasion, fewer may be laid. Eggs are laid on alternate days until the clutch is complete, and incubation does not begin until the final egg has been added.
Much of the information we have about cockatiel nesting relates to birds kept as pets, and in the wild, the roles are less clearly recorded.
It is believed that incubation duties are shared, with the female taking the larger share of the brooding. Males are likely to incubate more during the daytime, while females take over when night falls.
Close up of a single unhatched Cockatiel egg
Five weeks after hatching, young cockatiels are ready to fledge. For the first month after leaving the nest, they remain close to their family group but gradually drift into larger nomadic flocks.
It is most common for wild cockatiels to have one single brood in a season, although it is not unheard of for a second clutch to be laid and raised successfully. In captivity, it is recommended to limit breeding to two broods in a year.
Young juvenile Cockatiel
Cockatiels do not begin to incubate their eggs until the entire clutch is complete, so what may initially seem like an abandoned nest may well be an incomplete set of eggs waiting for the female to lay for the final time.
If disturbed or harassed by predators, or if the eggs fail to hatch, the pair may give up and choose to desert the nest and attempt a replacement clutch in a different location.
Cockatiel pairs will never nest on the ground, seeking the security of a higher cavity that offers protection from predators and the weather.
In colder weather, it’s not unusual for cockatiels to spend nights inside tree cavities for shelter and warmth. Wild cockatiels roost from dusk until dawn, and will seek a safe, upper branch to perch on, usually surrounded by their flockmates.
In the wild, cockatiels are drawn to nesting spots near water, where tall trees – particularly eucalyptus – offer shelter, food opportunities and nesting hollows. Plentiful nearby supplies of seed, fruit and grain are also a sure way to tempt visiting cockatiels.
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