The Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) is a small and rather atypical cockatoo with a distinctive pointed yellow crest. At around 30 to 33 cm long, Cockatiels are small by cockatoo standards—most cockatoos are 50 or 60 cm long—and the only species which can breed in its first year. They are endemic to Australia and are found largely in arid or semi-arid country, but always near water. They are absent from the most fertile south-west and south-east corners of the country, from the deepest Western Australian deserts, and from Cape York Peninsula, but can be found in vast numbers elsewhere.
For many years, the relationship between the Cockatiel and other cockatoos was unclear. Cockatiels are small by cockatoo standards at 30 to 33 cm (most others are 50 or 60 cm long) but have several significant characteristics, including an erectile crest, a gall bladder and powder down patches. Recent genetic studies have confirmed the position of the Cockatiel within the family Cacatuidae: currently it is placed as the only species in its subfamily, Nymphicanae, however it is clearly more closely related to the Calyptorhynchinae (black cockatoos), than the Cactuinae (white cockatoos), and despite its obvious differences, is thought to have diverged from the black cockatoos quite recently.
Cockatiels are small and slender, with long, pointed wings, a bare cere, a long tail, and a prominent yellow crest, which is normally held erect except when the bird is resting or (sometimes) feeding. The plumage is generally mid-grey, lighter underneath, with an orange ear patch and a prominent white blaze on the wings. Both sexes have yellow facial feathers: the female has a yellow wash around the beak and eye, in the male, yellow covers most of the head and the fore part of the crest.
The Cockatiel's scientific name reflects the experience of one of the earliest groups of Europeans to see Cockatiels in their native habitat: travellers from Holland thought they were so beautiful that they named them after the mythical beauties, the nymphs.
They are popular household pets in the United States, England, Australia, and many other parts of the world; but like the Budgerigar, they are native to the deserts of Australia. All pet Cockatiels are bred in captivity; Australia no longer permits export of native wildlife, whether endangered or not.
Cockatiels are popular as pets in part because they have such a calm temperament by nature. If hand-fed as babies, they have very loving dispositions towards their owners.
Although Cockatiels are part of the parrot order, they are better at imitating whistles than at talking. Some, however, do learn to repeat phrases; the males are better at mimickry in general than are the females.