Tickell was born at Cuttack in India. He was educated in England, returning at the age of nineteen to join the Bengal Native Infantry in 1829. He served in the 31st Bengal Native Infantry during the Kol campaign (1832-33). He was made commander of Brian Hodgson's military escort to Katmandu from 1834. He returned to Bengal in 1843, and after his promotion to Captain in 1847 he was moved to Arakan, 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, living for a while in France before settling in the Channel Islands. In 1870, while fishing on the coast of Brittany, he suffered an eye inflammation which made him blind. Tickell had been working on a seven volume work 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. With his excellent artistic abilities, the work included paintings of the birds in natural habitats as well as ink vignettes showing scenes from Indian life. 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
- "Biographical notices of the Original Members of the BO, of the principal Contributors to the First Series of the Ibis, and of the Officials: Colonel S.R. Tickell". Ibis Jubilee Supplement: 211–212. 1908.
- 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.
- Tickell, S.R. (1840). "Vocabulary of the Ho language". Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 9: 1063–1090.
- Tickell, S.R. (1840). "Grammatical construction of the Ho language". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 9: 997–1007.