History of the cockatiel

Neitokakadun historia

Kretschmer and Schmid are behind this old illustration, published in Paris, 1979 (Merveilles de la Nature, Bailliere et fils)

The Cacatuinae subfamily originates from Australia, and they have partly spread also to Asia and Pacific areas. During its history, Australia has suffered from several severe dry seasons, causing the local fauna to escape to search food from richer areas. It is possible that a cockatiel was one of those economic refugees. Sometimes a species was separated in two while the other part escaped whereas the rest stayed. After a long period of isolation and geographical walls, due to separate developing, the species halfs could no longer reproduce together. It is very likely that this was what happened among cockatoos. (Lewis, 2007, Brown & Toft 1999)

Neitokakadun historia: James Cook

For long already, the Aboriginals have used the meat and eggs of the cockatiels as their nourishment. The first report about cockatiels can be tracked to 1770, to the time when a British sailor and explorer James Cook made a journey to Australia, formerly known as “New Holland.” There are some diaries left from his journeys, but even though mentions about cockatiels are quite a few, it is conjectured that at least one cockatiel was taken to England with the crew. First explorations to inner Australia were done in the 1800s. In those times cockatiels were truely imported to Europe and after the first color mutations appeared the popularity of the species grew rapidly.

At first, people imported only a few cockatiels at the time. Knowledge about parrot care and management was back in the days still very lousy. Due to stress, different climate, incomplete care and lack of knowledge only few survived. In 1894 the Australian government decided about the import and export prescription to protect the local flora and fauna. This ban still exists and means that no Australian wild animals shall be exported from the country. Therefore the cockatiels in today’s Europe, USA, etc. are mostly descendants of those birds that were imported in the 1800s.

Behind the name

In 1926 RAOU (the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union) confirmed the name of the species to be “cockatiel.” It is said that the name was invented by a man named Jamrach who formed it from the Dutch word “Kakatielje” – which was a Dutch sailor’s variant of the Portuguese word ”cacatitho” (some sources also say ”cacatilho” or ”cacatielho”), meaning a “little cockatoo.” (Source: http://www.thewonderofbirds.com/dictionary/cobblers-coracoid.htm#cockatiel)

The history is filled with disagreements about the taxonomy and scientific name of the cockatiel. In old literature, cockatiel was also called ”Crested Parakeet,” ”Cockatoo Parrot,” ”Yellow Top-knotted Parrot” and ”Corella.” In Australia, the species is known by the names “cockatiel,” “weero” or “weiro.” One can sometimes also hear the eastern version, “quarrion.” Among Aboriginals, the cockatiel is also known as “wamba,” “wee-area,” “bula-doota” and “woo-ra-ling.”

Known as the “bird man”, John Gould wrote the first scientific description about cockatiels. A naturalist called Gmelin gave the species the first scientific name, Psittacus novaehollandiae, originally used actually from a different species. The name referred the then name of Australia that was “New Holland”. Quite soon the name was renewed. This new name, Psittacus hollandicus, was given by doctor Robert Kerr and published in 1792. This would literally mean “New Holland’s parrot” and was closer to the current scientific name.

In 1832 Wagler suggested the family name to be Nymphicus. The word refers to the Greek mythology, to the nymphs. Nymphs were female nature spirits and lesser goddesses. The meaning of the word would be “girlish” (Lantermann, 2006). Inspiration to the name might have been born because of the slender, petite body form of a cockatiel. Nymphs often socialized with gods and goddesses and were especially favored by the god Dionysos and his son Pan’s followers, the satyrs. Also, muses that were the fairies of poetry, art, and science, can be counted as nymphs. So literally translated the scientific name, Nymphicus hollandicus, means about “New Holland’s nymph.”

Fun fact: Cockatiel in Finnish – the author’s native, that is – is “neitokakadu.” “Neito” is an elderly Finnish word for maiden or damsel and “kakadu” means “cockatoo”.

Timeline of the Cockatiel

1770 – James Cook visits Australia.
1788 – Psittacus novaehollandiae (Gmelin)
1792 – Psittacus hollandicus (Kerr)
1832 – Wagler represents the genus Nymphicus
1833 – Leptolophus auricomis (Swainson)
1835 – Calopsitta guy (Lesson)
1845 – Cockatiels arrive to the Western World.
1846 – Cockatiels are shown in Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
1850 – Cockatiels are breeding in Germany. The cockatiel hobby is mainly for the rich people.
1863 – London Zoo is manages to breed cockatiels.
1894 – Australia bans taking animals away from the country.
1910 – the USA gets its first breeding pair.
1912 – Leptolophus auricomis pallescens (Mathews)
1912 – Leptolophus auricomis intermedius (Mathews)
1912 – Leptolophus auricomis obscurus (Mathews)
1951 – Pied is found in San Diego. Cockatiel becomes more popular.
1958 – Lutino is found in Florida. The popularity of the cockatiel explodes and more and more breeders are appearing.
1960 – Australian fallow is found somewhere around 60’s. Recessive silver is born in Europe in late 60s.
1967 – Pearl is found in Germany.
1968 – Cinnamon is found in Belgium.
1971 – Fallow is found in Florida.
1976 – Whiteface is found in the Netherlands.
1979 – Dominant silver is found in the UK.
1980 – Olive (USA), Platinum (Australia) and Yellowcheek (Germany) are found in the 80s
1982 – Faded, aka West Coast Silver is found in Australia.
1989 – Pastelface is found in the UK. Dilute is found in Australia.
1990 – Suffused is found in Australia in the late 90s.
1996 – Yellowface is found in Florida.
1998 – Pewter is found in Australia.
2001 – Australian Yellowface is found.

Several color mutations are appearing.