Cockatiel vs Cockatoo

Did you know that the cockatiel and the cockatoo belong to the same bird family, as different as they both look? The distinctive thing about the cockatoo family is that they all have crests on top of their heads. Let’s look at cockatiel vs cockatoo.

The cockatiel bird was originally described by Scottish writer and naturalist Robert Kerr in 1793 as a miniature cockatoo (Nymphicus hollandicus). It was previously considered a crested parrot or small cockatoo, however, more recent molecular studies have assigned the cockatiel to its own subfamily called Nymphicinae (Wagler in 1832). Now it is classified as the smallest of the Cacatuidae (cockatoo family).

cockatiel vs cockatooAll these birds are all native to Australia and favour the Australian wetlands and bushlands.

The cockatiel is a bird that is a member of its own part of the cockatoo family endemic to Australia.

If you look at the cockatiel vs cockatoo, they are both prized as household pets and companion parrots worldwide. Cockatiels are the more popular choice, probably due to size and cost.

They are easy to breed with, and as a caged bird, a cockatiel is second in popularity only to the budgerigar.

A 1984 study of protein allozymes signalled the cockatiels closer relationship to cockatoos than to parrots, A cockatiel is also not considered under the broader tailed parrots as they were before, so they have a much closer relationship to cockatoos than to other parrot types.

The cockatiel is now officially and biologically classified as a genuine member of the Cacatuidae on account of sharing all of the cockatoo family’s biological features, namely, the erectile crest, gallbladder and powder down.

The facial feathers covering the sides of the beak are all things that are rarely found outside the family Cacatuidae.

As I have said before, the cockatiel family all share a distinctive erectile crest and this crest expresses the bird’s emotional state.

When the crest is straight up vertical, the bird is startled or excited.

When the crest is oblique that is its neutral or relaxed state.

When the crest is flattened or close to the head the bird is angry or defensive. Sometimes if the crest if flat but protrudes outwards at the back, the cockatiel or cockatoo is trying to appear alluring or flirtatious.

In contrast to most cockatoos, the cockatiel has long tail feathers that makeup about half of its total length at 30 to 33cm long.

The cockatiel is the smallest of the cockatoos which are generally a lot larger.

cockatiels vs cockatoos

Cockatiel vs Cockatoo

There are 22 different types of Cockatoos in the Cockatiel Family. Here are just a few of them:

Citron-Crested Cockatoo

Bare-eyed Cockatoo

Ducorps Corella

Goffin Cockatoo

Lesser Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Little Corella

Long-Billed Corella

Major Mitchelle’s Cockatoo

Mollucan Cockatoo

Palm Cockatoo

Bare-eyed Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Umbrella Cockatoo


And of course the Cockatiel

cockatiel vs cockatoo
My Bare-Eyed Goffin Cockatoo with my Lutino Cockatiel


Here are some of the obvious and not so obvious differences when it comes to cockatiels vs cockatoos:

  • The cockatiel is the smallest member of the family and are the only members of the Nymphicus genus.
  • Out of all of these parrots, cockatiels are the most popular pet.
  • Most cockatoos are solid white or black, but some have yellow, red and pink as well. Cockatiels, as found in the wild, are mostly grey with colour in their faces.
  • Some species of the larger cockatoo types can live more than 100 years, while cockatiels have an average lifespan of about 14 years in captivity and 25 years in the wild.
  • Cockatiels are generally calmer and easier to keep than other larger cockatoos. Cockatoos require much larger cages and more stimulation each day to keep them entertained.
  • Cockatiels and Cockatoos normally get on fine with each other as they are not aggressive by nature, but because of the size difference, always supervise them if you place them together. It is better to keep them in separate cages.


  1. Hi

    Thank you for bringing up such an interesting subject.   I did know that cockatiels and cockatoos are related, as you can see the similarities between them. The size of them doesn’t make a difference, as often in nature you have short and tall plants that belong in the same family.

    I find both birds to be interesting but if  I have a choice I would pick a cockatiel, as I find them more endearing.  I found the difference in life expectancy to be surprising.  I did not expect such small birds to live that long.

    How many cockatiels can you have in a standard sized cage?



    1. Yes, Antonio, these little pets have amazing longevity if well looked after. 

      To answer your question, I wouldn’t keep more than two cockatiels in a standard sized cockatiel cage, otherwise, I would either move them to an aviary or a large parrot cage.

  2. After reading your article i have benefited greatly. You discuss in your article about the Cockatiel vs Cockatoo. You compare between the two types of bird and you are highlighting differences.

    I never even realized that all these birds were from the same family, so I have learned a lot by reading this. You have made me want to get a cockatiel as a pet.

     Thank you very much for sharing your article.         

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