Tickell was born at Cuttack in India. He was educated in England, returning at the age of nineteen to join the Bengal Native Infantry. He served in Bengal until 1840, when he was made commander of Brian Hodgson's military escort to Katmandu. He returned to Bengal in 1843, and after his promotion to Captain in 1847 he was moved to lower Burma.
During his time in India, Tickell made important contributions to the country's ornithology and mammalology, with field observations and the collections of specimens. He contributed to volume 17 of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Volume 18 included a report by Tickell from Burma. He wrote under the pen-name of "Ornithognomon" and "Old Log". Hume noted that many of the notes written as "Ornithognomon" in the Field were based on observations of Wilson.
Tickell retired in 1865 and settled in the Channel Islands. In 1870 his eyes suffered an inflammatory attack which made him blind. Tickell had been working on a book entitled Illustrations of Indian Ornithology, but his deteriorating eyesight forced him to abandon it. Before his death he donated the unfinished work to the Zoological Society of London. He died in Cheltenham.
A number of birds were named after Tickell, including:
- Rusty-cheeked Hornbill, Anorrhinus tickelli
- Tickell's Thrush, Turdus unicolor
- Tickell's Flowerpecker, Dicaeum erythrorhynchos
- Tickell's Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus affinis
and one species after his wife:
- Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Cyornis tickelliae
- Walden, Arthur Viscount (1876). "Notes on the late Colonel Tickell's manuscript Work entitled "Illustrations of Indian Ornithology"". Ibis 18 (3): 336–357. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1876.tb06930.x.
- Hume, AO & CHT Marshall (1879). Game birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon. Volume 1. p. 174.