There are numerous types of cockatiels that contribute to their status as the second most popular pet birds in the world. Known for being friendly, social, and intelligent, they have the remarkable ability to mimic human speech, ambient noises, and even music when trained. With an average lifespan of 15 years in captivity, they form profound bonds with their owners over time.
This article discusses the variations of cockatiel that are available today for sale. Cockatiels have been bred for over a century in order to find different plumage colors and types.
You’ll learn about the prevalence of each coloration type, what kind of genes control its coloration, and any other factors that affect its life and temperament. If males and females look different, we’ll note that too. Keep reading to get started.
Basic Cockatiel Characteristics
Before we list off the 12 types of cockatiels sold today as pets, let’s go over the basics. Cockatiels are medium-sized members of the order Psittaciformes. This order describes parrots. They measure about 12” to 13” tall and weigh about 3 ounces.
Most cockatiels are descendants from the gray cockatiel, which is the most common color, or morph. This morph, as well as others, has a red cheek spot underneath the eye. All cockatiels have long tail feathers.
Cockatiels have a crest of long, slender feathers that they can fluff up or smooth down depending on their moods. The best way to determine the emotional state of a cockatiel is by looking at its crest.
They flatten the crest when they are angry and let it stand up straight when excited. There are a multitude of intermediate positions that describe various moods.
12 Types of Cockatiels
When making this list of cockatiel morphs, we’ve tried to keep with the chronological development of each morph, from first seen to most recently bred.
1. The Gray Cockatiel
The Gray cockatiels were the birds first identified by European explorers upon their expeditions through the foliage of the Australian continent back in the early 1800s. They normally have a gray body, a yellow face with orange cheek dots, and white bars on the wings.
All subsequent color morphs of cockatiels originate from the gray cockatiel. The gray genes are dominant, so they take precedence over recessive genes.
It’s only when two gray cockatiel parents both have recessive genes that a chick with recessive coloration is hatched. Other types of mutations are sex-linked and lutino / albino genes.
Continual captive breeding of cockatiels for the last century has led to the discovery of mutations, many of which are still being explored today.
2. Pied Cockatiel
The Pied is a word that means “having two or more different colors,” and pied cockatiels certainly fulfill this label. They are multicolored, having both yellow and gray on the feathers that would normally be all gray in a Gray Cockatiel.
There are two divisions of pied cockatiels: heavy and light. Light pied cockatiels have a mostly gray body, with just a few yellow patches on their upper breast and neck. Heavy pied cockatiels are almost totally yellow. Gray remains only on their upper back and their flight feathers.
Sometimes completely yellow birds are born – these have black eyes. This trait is a recessive mutation, so both parents must either be pied themselves or have a hidden pied gene.
3. Cinnamon Cockatiel
Cinnamon cockatiels are visually very similar to the gray cockatiel’s pattern arrangement. However, the gray feathers are light cinnamon brown. These birds are more rare among the casual pet trade but remain popular among breeding and showing circles.
The cinnamon gene is a sex-linked trait. This means that the sex of the parents, as well as their possession of recessive/dominant traits (what they look like and what genes they have) dictates what their chicks will look like.
A cinnamon cockatiel female hatches only when her father has the recessive cinnamon gene. A male cinnamon cockatiel hatches when his father has the recessive gene and his mother is cinnamon.
4. Lutino Cockatiel
Being lutino is a similar status as being albino. Lutinos look similar to albinos, but they retain most of their non-gray colored feathers. Instead of having the gray body like the normal cockatiel, their bodies are white with some yellow tinges. All lutino cockatiels have the red-orange dot on their cheeks and a yellow crest and face.
The lutino mutation is associated with a bald spot gene because of intensive inbreeding back when the gene was discovered. Breeding two lutinos together is discouraged to prevent baldness and other health problems. This trait is sex-linked.
5. Pearl Cockatiel
Pearl cockatiels are a dappled mixture of gray, yellow, and white. They are some of the most aesthetically pleasing cockatiels according to breeders. Depending on their sex, pearl cockatiels can be difficult to identify. This is due to the males’ tendency to molt in feathers almost exactly the same as the normal (gray) cockatiel after they are a year old.
Only females continue to have pearl feathers after they are a year old. This is also a sex-linked mutation.
6. White-faced Cockatiel
The White-faced cockatiels appear much like their name suggests. These birds are similar in pattern to gray cockatiels, however, they are in ‘grayscale.’ The yellow circles on their cheeks and head are white, and there is no red or orange dot on their cheeks either.
White faced cockatiel males have more pronounced white feathers on their faces than females do. Females have a faint white dot where the red dot would be if they were a gray cockatiel. Crests are white on both males and females.
Being white-faced is a recessive mutation that doesn’t rely on the coloration of the parents.
7. Recessive Silver Cockatiel
Silver cockatiels are relatively recent additions to the portfolio of color morphs. These birds are completely light gray, hence their name ‘silver,’ with red eyes. These birds can be either a dominant type of silver or a recessive type of silver. Let’s examine both.
Recessive silver is better understood than dominant. Both parents of the recessive silver chick must be recessive silver themselves, or one parent can be recessive silver and the other carry the trait.
8. Albino Cockatiel
Albinism is common among animals, especially birds, mammals, and reptiles. It’s a mutation that stops the creation of pigment that colors the skin, scales, or feathers. It increases in frequency when the gene pool is small, something that often happens when breeding birds.
Genetically, scientists have found that the albino gene stems from a mixture of two mutations: white face and lutino. This gene is also connected to a baldness gene that expands bald patches with each generation. Long story short: don’t breed two albino cockatiels together!
9. Fallow Cockatiel
The fallow cockatiel color morph is very similar to the cinnamon morph, but it is only recessive, not linked to the sex of the parents. Adult fallow cockatiels should present similar to the gray cockatiel, but with a few differences. The feathers on the back and the wings are a light brown like cinnamon or cocoa powder, and the eyes are red.
It’s easy to get fallow cockatiels confused with cinnamon ones, but remember to check the color of the eyes.
10. Yellow-cheek Cockatiel
Yellow-cheek cockatiels are some of the most recently developed color morphs. These birds have, you guessed it, a yellow patch on their cheeks instead of a red-orange patch. They’re very rare because the orange patch is an emblem of cockatiels that many breeders don’t want to lose.
Feathers elsewhere on the bird are usually gray, with a completely gray or completely white head. Some yellow-cheek pied cockatiels have been bred, and they are white with a slight yellow dot on the cheek.
11. Blue Cockatiel
Get ready to be confused by names! The blue cockatiel is not blue at all when resting. It’s completely white from crest to tail. However, once it opens its wings, they have blue patches on their tails.
Blue cockatiels are the rarest type of cockatiel found in captivity. In fact, it’s difficult to even find pictures of these birds.
12. Emerald Cockatiel
Emerald cockatiels piggyback off of optical illusions to get their name. While they have zero green pigment in their feathers, the overlay of pigments like yellow and gray creates a mild green effect. Their name is a bit dramatic, but then again, so is this bird.
The emerald trait is limited to the body in most cases. The birds usually have yellow heads and crests, and the bright red-orange patches on their cheeks.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.