Cockatiel Family

Find out where the cockatiel really belongs.

Q:I have gotten a lot of mixed info on Cockatiels and hope you can give me the correct info. Are they in the Parakeet family or the Cockatoo family? Is their proper name Cockatiel Parakeets? Is the Cinnamon mutation sex linked? Is there a difference between the Cinnamon, and Fallow, and if so what is it? Thank you very much for your time.

Linda RubinLinda S. Rubin explains:

Many cockatiel enthusiasts will be surprised to learn that according to the latest research – the top ranking companion bird in America, the cockatiel – is now recognized as a full fledge member of the cockatoo family. Researchers David M. Brown, a Ph.D. student at UCLA and Dr. Catherine A. Toft, professor at the Center for Population Biology at UC Davis, conducted a study, “A Cockatoo’s Who’s Who: Determining Evolutionary Relationships Among the Cockatoos.”  The study was published in volume 11, No. 2., of the Exotic Bird Report in the Psittacine Research Project, Department of Avian Sciences at the University of California at Davis. Results indicated that the cockatiel is indeed a cockatoo!

Brown and Toft constructed an evolutionary tree by sequencing a segment of mitochondrial DNA (a region of the ribosomal 125 gene) from 15 of 19 cockatoo species. They found that the cockatiel is most closely related to the black cockatoos in the genus Calyptorhynchus (the Red-tailed, Yellow-tailed, White-tailed and Glossy Cockatoo), and the Gang-gang Cockatoo of the genus, Callocephalon.  Also, species such as the Gang-gang, Red-tailed Black and the Cockatiel, which are all sexually dimorphic, are more closely related to one another than to any other species of cockatoo. Because the genders of these species can be identified by outward coloration, Brown and Toft suggest this shared trait of sexual dimorphism is more likely to be inherited from a common cockatoo ancestor.

The researchers found that the Palm Cockatoo was the first to diverge from a common cockatoo ancestor, followed by a group including the Gang-gang, Red-tailed and the Cockatiel. The Galah (Rose-breasted Cockatoo), Major Mitchell’s (Leadbeater’s) Cockatoo and the two major groups of white cockatoos were found to follow later, which indicates that the smaller grey cockatiel inhabited this planet well in advance of these later species.

The cockatiel, with its distinctive cheek patches, under-tail barring, erectile crest, powder down and grey coloration has much in common with the larger black cockatoos. Sharing an affinity for endless head scratching sessions – with the advantage of a gentler voice and smaller size – many cockatiel enthusiasts have long regarded the cockatiel as a true miniature cockatoo and now the science of DNA research appears to reinforce the theory. To learn more, or to make a donation to upcoming projects, contact: The Psittacine Research Project, Department of Animal Science, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616-8521 or email:

Yes, the Cinnamon mutation is inherited through the sex-linked recessive mode of inheritance. The Cinnamon mutation is a modification of melanin pigment, often reducing the brown tones to a lighter dilution; eyes are plum-colored at birth and turn darker over time. The Fallow mutation is inherited as an autosomal recessive mutation and is much lighter in comparison to the Cinnamon. The Fallow demonstrates a further dilution of melanin pigment, often appearing light tan, although different strains of Fallow can range from light creamy-tan, to darker tan tones. All Fallows have red eyes and females display a yellow facial mask similar to the male. Fallow females also carry a more intense yellow wash splashing the upper breast, which most Fallow males lack.

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