Cockatiels are small, usually grey birds with a movable crest, long tail, and white “racing stripes” on their wings. (They are, by the way, native to Australia and I think are considered desert birds.) They are also available in all white, and all sorts of other shades of grey. Mostly, the color doesn’t matter (though white ones are said to be more prone to panic). Adult males usually have a yellow face, which often, but not always, distinguishes them from the females (two of the biggest exceptions to this rule are with Lutino cockatiels (cockatiels without the grey pigment), in which both genders have yellow faces, and apparently adult pied cockatiel males may have grey faces like females!).
In general sweet-tempered, a tame cockatiel will often love to do things like: take showers with you, wolf-whistle, eat off your plate of spaghetti, demand headscratches, demand to be let on your shoulder for a ride, and in general make cute noises and ask to be picked up and played with. If they learn to associate crackers or corn chips with the sound of crinkling bags, beware! You’ll have a cockatiel demanding whatever crunchy food it is you’re eating out of a bag. Cockatiels are generally quiet and clean, but they produce lots of “cockatiel dust,” which resembles a cross between dandruff and fine grey greasy powder.
(Tiels compared to lovebirds) Cockatiels seem more content to just generally hang out on your person than the more active lovebirds (which would climb all over you and explore sleeves, collars, etc.); however, in my experience, they don’t like a lot of physical touching (except for having their heads scratched), and they are more flighty (literally) than lovebirds. They are also active in demanding headscratches by plunking their heads down or by butting your face . Their voices can be piercing and persistent but nothing like a shrieking lovebird! Their biting style tends to be rapid and not as precisely and deliberately applied as a lovebird’s, but it can still hurt! Finally, older cockatiels are apparently far more easy to tame than lovebirds (especially with poor hand-feeding or no hand-feeding).
Cockatiels do have some minimum maintenance requirements
They want nice big cages (big enough for them to stretch their wings), and they should be converted to a high-nutrition diet. This means DO NOT LET THEM EAT JUST SEEDS if at all possible. A good choice is to feed them a diet of pet bird pellets (but NOT JUST pellets), fresh veggies, and treats like whole-grain bread, bits of chicken meat, boiled egg (boil for at least 15 minutes), and an occasional bit of fresh seed. (Recently, vets are finding that too much of a dry pellet diet can cause problems like kindey failure from lack of moisture – fresh, moist food is good, as is some percentage of seed.) If your bird refuses to eat new foods, though, certainly don’t let it starve! Work with patience. It’s the owner’s job to get to know the pet and its needs, and to help introduce it to healthy foods safely.
A cockatiel also needs companionship. If you can’t devote at least 15 minutes to half an hour per day of intensive company to your bird, either don’t get it in the first place, or buy it a cockatiel companion (make sure to quarantine the new bird for at least a month first, though).
A hand-fed cockatiel (which comes “pre-tamed”) will range in price from $40 to $130. Look for an alert (and curious!) bird with clean feathers, a clean vent, clear eyes, and good posture; make sure the pet shop or breeder keeps the cages, food bowls, and water bowls mostly clean as well. See if the seller has a guarantee — a contract that says you can bring back the bird if an avian veterinarian’s exam shows the bird is sick. Birds hide sickness very well (it’s a bird thing), and so careful tests must be made.
Female vs. male difference
From what I have observed of my male cockatiel, I agree with the general assertion that males seem to be quite vocal and somewhat easily offended – watch for a personality change after adolescence (as happens with some male cockatoos). Mine, for example, earned the title of “hissy bird” when he got into one of his bad moods (it doesn’t help that he was a morning bird and I’m a night owl). But if you want a bird that’s likely to learn to whistle short tunes or maybe talk, a male is a good choice (they’re cute when they sit on your shoulder intently staring at you as you whistle). Too bad our first ‘tiel, Torque, was tone deaf! Females supposedly are mellower and just love to snuggle, but they are quieter than males. However, young birds are all colored like adult females, and most cockatiels are generally sweet birds (even when in a bad mood, they mostly just squeal and attack your fingers without causing real pain or damage). In other words, don’t worry about it too much.
Cockatiels can live from 15 to 25 years, with good care. The record holder is in his thirties.