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How Smart Are Cockatiels? [Experience, Anecdote & Science]

When it comes to owning a pet bird, its only natural to want to know how smart they are and what they are capable of. But what about cockatiels? Are these birds known for their intelligence and is there any literature published from the scientific community to back this up? I spent some time researching and here is what I have been able to find.

So, how smart are cockatiels? Cockatiels are known for their intelligence. Studies have confirmed that they, and other similar sized parrots, posses an abundance of neurons in their forebrain which is contributes to higher cognitive function. Whereas anecdotal evidence shows that they are able to quickly learn and problem solve. They also appear to have an impressive memory and show signs of emotional intelligence with other birds and of humans too.

Cockatiels are renowned for their appearance, but do not let this take away from the fact that these are highly functional and competent birds.

Let us now take a closer look at some of the signs that indicate cockatiels possess a higher intelligence and some ways that you can ensure they remain mentally sharp for the duration of their lives.

How Are Cockatiels So Smart?

Intelligence is often closely related to brain size and functioning and this is true for cockatiels as it is for all other birds and mammals.

Scientists, across a number of different interests and disciplines, are constantly looking at new ways to test intelligence. Different species are often used as part of this process.

Recent research has even discovered that ounce for ounce birds have significantly more neurons in their brains than mammals or primates!Essentially, cockatiels, along with many other species of parrots, posses more neurons in their brains relative to size. In other words, they have as many neurons in their brains with much larger species, including primates! compared with other species of the same mass.

And they have most of these neurons in the forebrain; which is closely tied and related to cognitive abilities.

The studies further concluded that birds are capable of making and using tools, leveraging insight to solve complex problems, understand patterns of cause-effect relationships, recognize themselves in a mirror and even planning for their future needs.

Moreover, their small but powerful brains are also wired through a unique neural circuit that only birds are known to posses. Its been named the Pontine Nuclei. Essentially, it allows for faster and more effective mental processing and sophisticated behaviors. Parrots and cockatiels are known for having very active neural pathways in these systems. (source).

But how can we see intelligence in our cockatiels? They demonstrate it to us through their behaviors. The most obvious examples will now be discussed below.

Signs That Cockatiels Are Smart

We can sit here and look through the research all day to find support for the notion that cockatiels are smart. However, a much more interesting way to acknowledge their intelligence is by looking at some of their behaviours.

A lot of cockatiel owners are often soon blown away by the competencies of their new bird. While some are more outwardly obvious signs of brainpower, others are more subtle.

Let us now take a look at the most common ones below so you can start to observe these for yourself in this species of bird.


Cockatiels, like most other types of parrots like parakeets, are able to vocalize sounds, mimic words, and in some cases even whistle. They do so as a form of communication – both to humans and to other birds.

However, it is important to note that not all cockatiels will end up doing these things – especially without teaching.

Nonetheless, being able to communicate is a sign of intelligence; a skill that they are capable of learning.

Just like in young children, cockatiels are most receptive to learning sounds when they are young. They can do this in as little as 3 months of age.

You can look to teach your cockatiel words such as hello, goodbye or goodnight. But you will need to be repetitive and get your tiel to learn to recognize and associate the word with an action.


Cockatiels are able to think creatively, and be able to solve problems that they face in their environment. In fact, its important they do so to remain sharp.

A prime example of this in action is some of the toys in which are available for pet birds. These are often puzzles that must be used in a certain way. The challenge mentally stimulates the bird, and often rewards and treats are offered in exchange for their use.

Beyond just toys, cockatiels will leverage items within their cage to overcome challenges and to optimize their lifestyle.

For example, they have innovative ways of acquiring food and water; and will be keen to make the process easier.

One such problem that some cockatiel owners report to have is for their bird to have escaped! This can happen with cages that do not have sufficient locking mechanisms or have not been set up correctly. You need to remain vigilant and careful – these birds are clever and will attempt to escape if given the opportunity.


Birds in the wild rely on their memories in order to find food and stay away from predators. It comes as no surprise to learn that cockatiels possess this capability too.

Its a trait that has been passed down in generations of birds; it has been essential to the survival of this species up until only ever so recently, as they became domesticated as pets.

Their impressive memory goes hand in hand with their ability to learn specific words, or how to use toys in a certain way. Often, a cockatiel will recognize how to play with a toy more effectively, and will remember how to use it for next time.

Plus, cockatiels are known for memorizing their daily schedule; whether this be wake/sleep times or when they expect you to come and visit them.

Taking it one step further; cockatiels even have the ability to remember how specific people treat them. They learn to recognize who will treat them well, and those who have not previously.

Social Skills and Emotions

Cockatiels have emotions, contrary to popular belief. While they may not be as advanced as in other species, birds still do have periods of happiness, sadness and everything in between.

Cockatiels are known for their ability to not only communicate with other birds, but also to empathize and show affection. They can bond closely with humans and other birds and even become depressed when isolated, alone for too long, or become bored.

Hand-trained cockatiels will show loyalty and affection for their owners. There are plenty of owners whom can confirm that their bird is keen to even ride on their shoulders!

In fact, they are even known to feel grief at the passing of a fellow bird if kept with them in the cage. Starvation often ensues, as they begin to give up on life in response to the tragedy.

How To Ensure Your Cockatiel Remains Smart

Cockatiels leverage their brainpower in many ways, and need to do so to remain happy and fulfilled.

They require routine and consistent mental stimulation; or otherwise will become down, bored and likely to partake in self-destructive behaviors like pecking at their own feathers.

To keep your cockatiel sufficiently mentally stimulated, you must be proactive and set up their habitat accoridngly.

Along with frequently seeing them, this will keep them occupied and will give them the opportunity to think creatively and use their brains.

Perches are important – because they ensure your cockatiel can get exercise and experience new perspectives. This will keep their environment interesting as they can move from regularly throughout the day. Its generally a good idea to get multiple perches and place them at different intervals in their cage.

When it comes to perches, you should look for those that are made out of all natural wood and have not been sprayed with any toxic chemicals. This perches from Amazon is ideal. You get you get 2, they are are easy to setup and add to the cage and are very stable.

Toys and Games come also strongly recommended by avian specialists. This will preoccupy your bird and give them a chance to think. This bundle is an Amazon Best Seller. You get a number of toys that are to be used differently and are therefore much more entertaining for your cockatiel.

Socializing is also imperative. Cockatiels are social birds and do not do well when left alone. This is true whether it be human attention, or from other birds.

Hence, you should be seeing them routinely throughout the day. Some owners like to talk to their cockatiels in an attempt to teach them words. Either way, just being with them does these birds a lot of good.

Get a sufficiently large enough cage to ensure your cockatiel can move around, spread their wings, and to not feel too confined. Generally, open, wide square top cages (like this one) are recommended as it provides your birds with more space.

Letting them out of their cage from time to time is also a good way to keep things interesting. Of course, you need to ensure their safety when doing so; closing off the room, ensuring windows are closed and so on and so forth.

While letting them out is not always required, especially if you purchase a big enough cage up front, it does give them a sense of freedom that can lift their mood and keep them mentally alert.


Cockatiels are very intelligent birds; especially when we consider their size. If you own a cockatiel already, you have probably seen evidence of this. But, scientific study is starting to confirm your suspicions.

When it comes to owning a cockatiel, we must consider their intelligence and do all we can to provide a rich, comfortable and mentally stimulating environment for them.

Perches, toys and socialization are excellent here.

This will make sure that your cockatiel remains in good spirits which goes a long way in their longevity and ensuring you give your bird a good, fruitful life.