Welcome to You Ask Andy

Sharon Lewis, age 10, of Three Rivers, California, for her question:

What sort of bird is a cockatiel?

Sharon and her three sisters had their tonsils removed and a thoughtful friend gave them a get well present. It was a handsome little bird called a cockatiel. He is rather a rare pet and naturally his four foster mothers want to learn all they can about him. As a matter of fact, your faithful reporter had quite a job finding the right information about him. And, as usual, when tracing down the details on rare pets, he turned up a few "bewares."

The cockatiel, alias the "cockteel," is a native Australian bird. He is a cousin of the chatty parrots and macaws, the handsome cockatoos, the pretty little parakeets, the charming budgies and lovebirds. All these unusual birds are classified in the order Psittaciformes    meaning the parrot clan. They have strong, hooked parrot beaks and four parrot toes    two in front and two behind. These feet are excellent grippers and some parrots use them to hold their food and even to crack open tough nuts.

The cockatiel and several other smallish parrots, however, do not use their sturdy hands as knives and forks. Our rare little visitor from Australia measures about 13 inches from the tip of his sturdy beak to the tip of his slender tail. The little beauty wears a feathery crest on his head. Most of his neat satiny plumage is grey, accented with snow white patches on his wings. His face, head and fancy crest are yellow. He completes his colorful costume with a pair of yellowish red ear muffs.

Since he is such a rare American pet, most likely he was taken from his ancestral home in the Australian grasslands. There he lived freely with a flock of friends and relatives. Maybe they shared their territory with flocks of wild budgies. During the daytime, the feathery groups fly off in search of seeds, grains and other vegetation on the parrot menu. They are chatty all the time, using a noisy language of whistles, shrieks and screams. At night they roost in shrubs    where in springtime the parents build their nests.

The charming budgie has become a famous world wide pet. Given the same loving care, the cockatiel could be equally charming. However, he is a recent immigrant to America and there are sensible regulations about bringing in unusual pets from abroad. Members of the parrot family have been known to infect their owners with a couple of dread diseases. So beware. To be on the safe side, check to make sure that your little darling was held in quarantine long enough to guarantee him a clean bill of health.

Another warning concerns those ecology minded people in faraway Australia. They are determined to protect their amazing wildlife from pet raiders who are eager to carry their cherished animals off to other lands. Andy could not find out whether their stern laws apply to your little darling and his kinfold. But if it's all right to have him he is almost sure to become a treasured member of your family if you pamper him as you would a budgie.



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