What is the cockatiel’s background?

The cockatiel originated in Australia, which is home to about fifty parrot species. In their homeland, cockatiels are sometimes called quarrion, weero, cockatoo parrot, or crested parrot. Small flocks of two to twelve birds gather together to live in Australia’s interior, feeding on seedling grasses and other plants. Their habitats can range from open eucalyptus savannas to arid grasslands, and they are found across much of the Australian continent, except for coastal areas. (Only the parakeet and the rose-breasted cockatoo are found in as many parts of Australia as the cockatiel is.) Cockatiel flocks depend on rainfall for water. Once a steady supply of food and water are available, the breeding season begins.

In the wild, cockatiels are active in the early morning and late afternoon. These are the times they usually head toward a water source to drink, being sure to leave quickly rather than become a meal for a passing bird of prey. They spend a good bit of their day on the ground searching for food, but they are likely to spend midday blending into their surroundings by sitting lengthwise along dead tree branches that are free of foliage. That’s when their natural gray coloration comes in handy, because they blend in better with the surroundings than other, more brightly colored birds do.

The cockatiel was first described by naturalists who visited Australia with Captain James Cook in 1770, and the first specimen may have come to the Royal College of Surgeons Museum in London as a result of this trip. Cockatiels
were recorded as being kept in captivity in Europe by the 1840s, and their popularity as pets began to rise about forty years later. By the 1940s, they had overtaken parakeets in popularity worldwide, but cockatiels dropped back to second place in the 1950s, where they have remained ever since. The Australian government imposed a ban on exporting all native birds in 1894, so the cockatiels kept in North America and Europe have resulted from domestic breeding efforts in those countries for more than 100 years.

Cockatiels have been kept in captivity about as long as parakeets have (since the 1830s). For the first 100 years or so, cockatiels were available in one color— gray—while parakeets began to be available in a variety of colors. Cockatiel breeders only began developing color mutations in their birds in the late 1940s, and now nine mutations are available: lutino, cinnamon, albino, silver, pied, fallow, pearl, whiteface, and yellowface. Breeders have also combined these mutations into almost infinite varieties and are developing new ones all the time.

A link to dinosaurs?

In 2001, scientists announced that a 130-million-year-old feathered dinosaur fossil had been discovered in China. It was the first dinosaur found with its body covering intact, and it was identified as a Dromaeosaur, a small, fast-running dinosaur closely related to Velociraptor, with a sickle claw on the middle toe and stiffening rods in the tail. According to the American Museum of Natural History, Dromaeosaurs are advanced theropods, which is a group of two-legged predators that includes Tyrannosaurus rex. Dromoaesaurs had sharp teeth and bones that are very similar to those of modern-day birds. The fossil was found in Liaoning Province in northeastern China. It was described as looking like a large duck with a long tail. The animal’s head and tail were covered with downy fibers,
and it had other featherlike structures on the back of its arms and on other parts of its body. The first feathered dinosaur was found in China in 1995. This discovery, Sinosauropteryx, was also a theropod dinosaur, and it was also found in Liaoning Province. Sinosauropteryx dates from between 121 and 135 million years ago, and it falls in between Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, which lived about 150 million years ago, and Protarchaeopteryx robusta, which lived at about the same time as Sinosauropteryx but probably could not fly, despite the presence of feathers on its body.

Several other species of feathered dinosaurs have been found in the same region, and scientists believe that some species of dinosaurs developed feathers to help them keep warm. Fossils of birdlike dinosaurs and dinosaurlike birds have been found in Madagascar, Mongolia, and Patagonia, as well as in China. The Eoalulavis, found in Spain, was one of the earliest birds that could maneuver well during flight, thanks to a feather tuft on its thumb called an alula. This feature is found on birds today, and it helps them with takeoffs and landings. Some scientists theorize that birds evolved from dinosaurs, while others are still seeking an earlier reptile ancestor for birds.

The cockatiel at a glance

Native land: Australia
Also known as: quarrion, weero, cockatoo parrot, crested parrot
Length: about twelve inches from the top of the head to the end of the tail
Weight: 80 to 100 grams (2.8 to 3.5 ounces)
Life span: up to thirty-two years
Colors: Cockatiels come in a wide variety of colors. Their native or “wild” color is gray. From that, breeders have developed several mutations, including cinnamon (cinnamon-colored body feathers instead of the normal gray), albino (completely white body feathers with pink feet and red eyes), silver (silver to whitish body feathers), fallow (grayish-yellow body feathers and red eyes), lutino (light-yellow body feathers), pearl (scalloped wing feathers instead of solid-colored ones), pied (a mix of yellow, white, and gray body feathers), whiteface (a white face instead of the normal yellow with orange cheek patches), and yellowface (a very faint yellow cheek patch).

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